LONDON, (Reuters) – Seven Britons linked to a plot to blow up U.S. financial institutions, including the New York Stock Exchange, and stage a series of attacks in Britain were jailed for a total of 136 years by a London court on Friday.
Prosecutors said the men were part of a group headed by senior al Qaeda operative Dhiren Barot and described as “one of the most dangerous and ambitious terrorist cells ever to operate in this country”.
Barot is currently serving a life jail term after admitting last year he had planned bomb attacks in Britain and the United States.
Six of the men, Mohammed Naveed Bhatti, Junade Feroze, Zia Ul Haq, Abdul Aziz Jalil, Nadeem Tarmohamed and Omar Abdur Rehman pleaded guilty to conspiring with Barot to cause explosions between 2001 and 2004.
The seventh, Qaisar Shaffi, was found guilty on Wednesday.
Barot, a Muslim convert, was considered by some U.S. officials to be either al Qaeda’s cell leader in Europe or at least the head of bin Laden’s organisation in Britain.
In early 2001, he had carried out surveillance on the NYSE, Citigroup, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and Prudential in New York, Washington, and Newark, New Jersey.
After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, he turned his attention to Britain and had plotted coordinated attacks using a radioactive “dirty bomb”, limousines filled with gas cylinders and the blowing up of an underground train beneath the River Thames.
Had their plans come to fruition, Barot’s trial judge said they would have caused “carnage and butchery … on a colossal and unprecedented scale”. His seven accomplices had helped put the plans together and scope out targets.
Peter Clarke, head of London’s Counter Terrorism Command, said the men were vital to the plots. “They were the planning team and were needed by Barot to contribute expertise in areas that he was lacking,” he said. “They were the trusted few who researched, carried out reconnaissance and supported Barot.”
At Woolwich Crown Court in south London, Feroze was jailed for 22 years; Bhatti and Tarmohamed to 20 years; Ul Haq to 18 years; Jalil to 26 years; Rehman and Shaffi to 15 years.
Last month, the High Court cut Barot’s jail term from 40 to 30 years after it was ruled the initial sentence was too harsh.