This undated photo made available by West Midlands Police shows, left to right, Irfan Khalid, Irfan Naseer and Ashik Ali, all from Birmingham, England, who were today found guilty at Woolwich Crown Court of being "central figures" in a terrorist bomb plot, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013. The three young British Muslims were convicted Thursday of plotting terrorist bombings that prosecutors said were intended to be bigger than the 2005 London transit attacks. A London jury found Irfan Naseer, 31, and Irfan Khalid and Ashik Ali, both 27, guilty of being central figures in the foiled plot to explode knapsack bombs in crowded areas � attacks potentially deadlier than the July 7, 2005 explosions on subway trains and a bus which killed 52 commuters. Judge Richard Henriques told the men � who had been arrested in September 2011 � they will all face life in prison when sentences are imposed in April or May for plotting a major terrorist attack in Birmingham, a city of roughly 1 million people located 120 miles (nearly 200 kilometers) northwest of London. (AP Photo/West Midlands Police)
LONDON (AP) — They were very ordinary would-be terrorists, with big plans but bad luck.
On Thursday, a jury convicted three young British men — including an unemployed pharmacy graduate nicknamed Chubbs — of being ringleaders of an al-Qaida-inspired plot to explode knapsack bombs in crowded parts of Birmingham, England's second-largest city.
The men had pleaded not guilty, but were recorded discussing plans for attacks that one said would be "another 9/11."
A jury at Woolwich Crown Court in London found 27-year-old Ashik Ali; Irfan Khalid, also 27; and 31-year-old Irfan Naseer — nicknamed Big Irfan, or Chubbs — guilty of multiple counts of preparing for terrorism.
Judge Richard Henriques told the men they face life in prison when sentences are imposed in April or May.
"It's clear that you were planning a terrorist outrage in Birmingham," the judge said.
The jury agreed with prosecutors that the trio were the senior members of a home-grown terror cell inspired by the anti-Western sermons of U.S.-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in Yemen in a U.S. drone strike in September 2011.
Prosecutors said the men hoped to detonate up to eight knapsack bombs — either on timers or in suicide attacks — in a bid to cause carnage on a scale larger than the July 7, 2005, London transit bombings, which killed 52 commuters.
Police said the terrorist conspiracy was the most significant uncovered in Britain since a plot to blow up airliners in mid-air was foiled in 2006. However, no targets had been chosen and no bombs built when the men were arrested in a police swoop in September 2011 in Birmingham, central England. Twelve suspects were arrested in all, several of whom have pleaded guilty to terrorism offenses.
The senior investigating officer, Detective Inspector Adam Gough, said the men were "the real deal" and, if successful, would have perpetrated "another 9/11 or another 7/7 in the U.K."
But they did not succeed — through a mix of misfortune and their own mistakes.
Prosecutors said Naseer and Khalid traveled to Pakistan for terror training, where they learned details of poisons, bomb-making and weaponry and made "martyrdom videos" justifying their planned attacks.
On their return to England in July 2011, they began to recruit others to the plot and to raise money by posing as street collectors for Muslim charities.
They also began experimenting with chemicals, the prosecutor said, aided by Naseer's university degree in pharmacy.
But many of the group's plans soon went awry. Four other young men dispatched by the plotters to Pakistan for terrorist training were sent home within days when the family of one man found out. The four have pleaded guilty to terrorism-related offenses.
Rahin Ahmed, an alleged co-conspirator described in court as the cell's "chief financier," tried to increase the group's budget by trading the money it had made from bogus charity fundraising on the financial markets.
He lost the bulk of the terror cell's money through his "unwise and incompetent" trading, prosecutor Brian Altman said.
Among evidence found by investigators was a partially burned note written by Naseer detailing how to make what an expert witness said would have been a viable bomb.
But no evidence of a successful bomb was recovered. Among the pieces of evidence at the four-month trial was a sports injury cool pack, which prosecutors said Naseer had mistakenly believed would contain ammonium nitrate, a key bomb-making ingredient.
Fatally for the plot, by mid-2011 the men were under surveillance by police and the intelligence services. Their car was followed and their safe house bugged.
The men were recorded criticizing the London transit attackers for not packing their bombs with nails. They also discussed tying sharp blades to the front of a truck and driving it into a crowd.
Naseer was heard talking about the possibility of mixing poison into creams such as Vaseline or Nivea and smearing them on car handles to cause mass deaths.
But their main plan was for knapsack bombs — "Seven or eight of them in different places with timers on," Naseer was recorded saying. "Probably to go boom, boom, boom everywhere."
Khalid said the attack would be "revenge for everything, what we're doing is another 9/11,"
On the recordings, the trio spoke of themselves as martyrs and jihadi warriors — but also, tellingly, compared themselves to the hapless would-be bombers of British comedy film "Four Lions."
Ali was recorded saying to his ex-wife: "Oh, you think this is a flipping 'Four Lions.' We're one man short."
Raffaello Pantucci, a terrorism expert at the Royal United Services Institute think tank, said the foiled plot bore the hallmarks of a decentralized al-Qaida, in which local cells operate independently, often after receiving rudimentary training.
He said that "the time spent training foreign fighters by al-Qaida or affiliated networks is now being constrained because there is the threat of drone strikes" on the Pakistan-Afghan border.
"The command and control element is drawing back," he said. "It has a negative impact on their capacity to launch attacks because people aren't being trained as well. There is sometimes a clownish element to it."
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