An Iraqi doctor was sentenced to life imprisonment on Wednesday for his part in two terror plots in Britain. The twin attacks in June 2007 – an improvised car bomb at Glasgow International Airport and a foiled nightclub bombing in London - were revenge acts for Britain's role in invading Iraq. But British police believe Bilal Abdulla probably acted with a group of conspirators in the United Kingdom and not on the orders of Al Qaeda in Iraq, as had been suggested at the time.
The sentencing of Mr. Abdulla at a court in London came on the same day that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced a complete withdrawal of British combat forces in Iraq by next July. On a visit to Iraq, Mr. Brown said military operations would end on May 31 and 4,100 service personnel would leave within two months. Several hundred British soldiers, however, would stay on to train Iraqi troops.
The BBC reports that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said in a joint press conference with Brown that Iraq had reached an agreement on extending Britain's military presence into 2009, a highly contentious issue in Iraq. But the two leaders said it wasn't likely to be used beyond the July deadline.
Mr. Brown said people had been given an "economic stake in the future of Iraq" and said: "I am proud of the contribution British forces have made. They are the pride of Britain and the best in the world."
In their joint statement, the leaders said the role played by the UK combat forces was "drawing to a close" but the partnership between Britain and Iraq would "continue to take on new dimensions" and be strengthened.
Bloomberg reports that British troops in Iraq peaked at more than 40,000 in 2003. Since 2007, Britain has drawn down troops and shifted more servicemen to NATO operations in Afghanistan. Most of its military personnel in Iraq are currently stationed at an air base outside Basra. British troops in Afghanistan are now more than double the size of the deployment in Iraq.
Brown has been under pressure from officers to ease the burden on the British army, which has been pushed to the limit by the twin deployments. He has said diminished violence in southern Iraq fully justifies the exit....
The U.K. won't be able to re-deploy all of its remaining troops in Iraq to Afghanistan when their mission is over without doing long-term damage to its forces, General Jock Stirrup, chief of defense staff, who is accompanying Brown to Iraq today said.
"We cannot just have a one to one transfer from Iraq to Afghanistan," he said, speaking at Basra airbase. "The net result must be a reduction in our operational tempo because the forces have been overstretched for too long. That's what we will do in 2009."
Western governments have long warned that Iraqi-based groups allied with Al Qaeda may strike at targets in the West. The botched 2007 attacks in Glasgow and London were initially seen as Iraqi-born plots, but British detectives later concluded there was no firm link, Reuters reports. Police sources said Abdulla, the Iraqi who masterminded the attacks, had no direct links to Al Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni-based extremist group.
Although in a sense the British cell came under the broad al Qaeda "franchise," one senior source said: "I don't think there's any direct guidance or leadership coming from anyone."
While not inspired by al Qaeda in Iraq, British police said the June 2007 [designs of] plotters were very different to previous planned attacks in Britain since September 2001, most of which had direct or indirect links to training camps in Pakistan.
The Guardian reports that Abdulla, who held dual British-Iraqi nationality, was on a watch list of MI5, the domestic intelligence service. Government sources said MI5 had kept an eye on Abdulla for up to 13 months but he wasn't suspected during that time of preparing a terrorist attack, either alone or with other suspects.
Abdulla, who was born in the UK but grew up in Iraq, had travelled between the two countries several times in the years leading up to the attacks, most recently in May 2006, when, the prosecution in the trial claimed, he had joined insurgents fighting US-led forces in his homeland.
A document recovered from his laptop following the attacks included a statement addressed to an Iraqi insurgent group described as the Soldiers of the Islamic States of Iraq. It read: "God knows that the days I spent with you were the best and most rewarding days of my life."
Prosecutors said this proved Abdulla had been actively involved in the insurgency when he returned in 2006. Abdulla denied the charge, saying he did not write the document and adding that the group had not existed before he left Iraq to take up a job as a doctor in the UK.
On Tuesday, the jury in the London trial found Abdulla guilty of conspiracy to murder and to cause explosions, reports CNN. His defense said that his acts were designed to draw attention to the plight of Iraqis. During sentencing on Wednesday, the presiding judge dismissed this plea and said Abdulla was an educated man, a "religious extremist," and a danger to the British public. The concurrent life sentences imply a minimum of 32 years in jail.
A codefendant, Jordanian doctor Mohammed Asha, was acquitted Tuesday of the same charges and faces possible deportation. A third man in the plot pleaded guilty to lesser charges in April and was deported to India. That man's brother, Kafeel Ahmed, drove a blazing Jeep loaded with propane gas into Glasgow International Airport terminal and set himself on fire. He later died of his injuries. Abdulla was also in the car and was later detained by police.
Mr. Asha is appealing the deportation order on the grounds of an innocent verdict in the trial, reports the British Press Association. His lawyer said the order was based on a lapsed visa during his pretrial imprisonment. But Asha wants to stay in Britain and continue his career as a doctor, and accuses the British government of "sour grapes."
The Times (of London) reports that Kafeel Ahmed, an Indian engineer, was the only casualty of a conspiracy to kill hundreds of people. Born in India, Mr. Ahmed studied in Belfast and became president of the Islamic society and later, while living in Cambridge, England, became a roommate of members of fundamentalist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. In his will he wrote about "the call of jihad" and apologized to his mother for lying to her about his "project."
Ahmed was forced to return to India in June 2005 because of a family illness but returned to the UK twice in September 2006 and May 2007.
While overseas, Ahmed's plotting with Abdulla was revealed in series of late night web chat recovered from a laptop computer.
They revealed the two men discussing their terrorist plans, using in thinly veiled code about plans, projects and timetables.
At one point, Ahmed wrote: "Bro, inshallah, I think we are gonna start experiments sometime soon."
Abdulla replied: "Oh cool" and added a smiley face symbol.