Four members of a ‘Musketeers’ terror cell have been jailed for life for plotting a Lee Rigby-style attack.
The men, who were found guilty at an Old Bailey trial on Thursday, were said to be poised to strike police and military targets on British soil.
Naweed Ali, 29, Khobaib Hussain, 25, and Mohibur Rahman, 33, served time together behind bars, and dubbed themselves the “Three Musketeers”.
Ali, Rahman and Hussain were told to served a minimum term of 20 years for their “significant role” in the planned attack.
A fourth man, Tahir Aziz, 38, was brought into the plot shortly before arrests were made. He was given a minimum term of 15 years for his role.
The men were arrested in August last year after MI5 bugged one of the men’s car and uncovered a pipe bomb and meat cleaver hidden in a JD Sports bag.
They claimed the incriminating evidence was planted by an undercover police officer known as”Vincent”, the boss of a fake firm called Hero Couriers
Vincent was cross-examined over 12 days and repeatedly rejected the allegations against him.
After deliberating for more than 22 hours, jurors unanimously convicted the men of preparing terrorist acts.
Mr Justice Globe noted that the four-and-a-half-month trial came amid four terror separate attacks in Britain.
He said: “But for the intervention of the counter terrorism unit of West Midlands Police and the security services, there would have been not dissimilar terrorist acts in this country using at the very least the explosives and or one or more bladed weapons.”
How the ‘Musketeers’ tried to evade detection
The jury had heard how the gang called themselves the Three Musketeers on encrypted Telegram exchanges.
It was led by former law degree student Hussain, from Birmingham, and included his friend and next-door neighbour Ali and committed jihadist Rahman, who they met behind bars.
Ali and Hussain were jailed for joining a terrorist training camp in Pakistan while Rahman, from Stoke, was in prison for possessing an al Qaeda propaganda magazine which contained bomb-making instructions.
Primark salesman Aziz, who was keen not to be “left behind” later joined the plot.
The gang had tried to evade secret services and police and even attempted to double deal with an MI5 contact of Rahman’s to extract information.
They were also covertly photographed meeting on a boating lake and in a park days before their arrests, the court heard.
Authorities set up an undercover operation at Hero Couriers, where Hussain and Ali were offered driving shifts.
Two days later, Ali arrived for his first shift and left his Seat Leon car at the Birmingham depot, MI5 then searched it as part of an operation to bug the vehicle.
Instead, they found the JD Sports bag in the foot well containing a partially-constructed pipe bomb and meat cleaver with the word “kafir” – non-believer – scratched on it in readiness for an imminent attack.
An imitation gun, cartridges, a 9mm bullet, latex gloves and industrial tape were also recovered.
Police immediately arrested all four men and seized a large sword which had been stashed in Aziz’s car.
The trial was partly held behind closed doors to avoid putting security services on the spot in public.
Ali, Hussain, and Rahman refused to leave Belmarsh Prison to attend the sentencing hearing.