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St Paul's bomb plotter encouraged attacks by others, court told


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St Paul's bomb plotter encouraged attacks by others, court told

A Muslim convert and supporter of Islamic State who plotted to bomb St Paul’s Cathedral and a nearby hotel also encouraged others to launch similar attacks, a court has been told.

Safiyya Amira Shaikh, 37, from Hayes, west London, has admitted preparing terrorist acts and disseminating terrorist publications.

At a sentencing hearing at the Old Bailey, Alison Morgan QC, prosecuting, said Shaikh was a violent extremist who had pledged her support to Isis. She had not just planned an attack but also encouraged others to commit attacks of a similar kind, Morgan said.

Shaikh’s online propaganda postings were sophisticated and prolific, the court was told, including pictures of executions, glorification of past atrocities and spreading threats to carry out mass murder.

Shaikh visited St Paul’s to scout out security and the best place to leave a bomb, Morgan said. She initially intended to carry out the attack at Christmas but later put it back to Easter.

She gave undercover intelligence officers, who were posing as co-conspirators, measurements for the size of the improvised explosive device she would require.

In one exchange, Shaikh said: “Killing one kufar [non-believer] is not enough for me.” In another, she admitted that watching beheading videos had been difficult at first “but now I love”.

Morgan said Shaikh created some of the images and video material she posted on the Telegram communications channel. “She kept a list of those suspected to be spies and created a false profile of herself as a man,” the prosecutor said.

Shaikh was previously known as Michelle Ramsden and converted to Islam in 2007 after being impressed by the kindness of a neighbouring Muslim family. Her family did not approve and she became increasingly isolated, the court heard.

She became “disillusioned by the moderate version of Islam followed by the mosques” she attended, and by 2016 she had stopped attending mosques, Morgan said. That year she was referred to the government’s counter-terrorism Prevent programme.

In August 2019, Yousra Lemouesset, a Netherlands-based Isis supporter who has since been convicted of terror offences, paid for her to fly to Amsterdam. On 18 August, Shaikh was stopped at Luton airport and subjected to a search in which her phone and passport were confiscated. She was not allowed to leave the country.

Among the images she posted shortly afterwards was one with the message in bloody letters: “Pigs You Will Soon Pay For Your Crimes.” In later messages she said that if approached by the police at her home address, she would detonate a device to kill them and herself.

Morgan said the choice of St Paul’s as a high-profile target was Shaikh’s idea.

Shaikh described the Easter Sunday suicide bombings that killed western holidaymakers in Sri Lanka last year as “attacks which really inspired me”. Shaikh said she wanted “action and revenge deep from my heart”.

Her plan was for her attack to take place “in the foreseeable future”, Morgan said. On 7 September, she carried out a reconnaissance trip. She stayed at the Great St Helen’s Street Hotel in the City of London and was in contact throughout with undercover officers, who were posing as co-conspirators, informing them at one stage: “Just had a pizza.”

She also sent them pictures of the inside of St Paul’s after she looked around the next morning. “Under this dome,” she messaged, “I would like to put the bomb.”

In another posting, Shaikh said: “Always wanted to be a warrior soldier of Allah. I just don’t want to waste any second. If I am going to die, I want to do most I can till end.” She said she wanted to achieve martyrdom.

Morgan added: “It’s been suggested [in a psychiatrist’s report] that it is the role-player who is instigating … We say that’s not right. She is reciting a plan she has.”

Shaikh met an undercover officer, who was posing as the wife of her co-conspirator, to be measured up for a suicide vest. She told the officer “about the route to her beliefs, said that moderate Muslims are not true, only those who fight. She gave her measurements, including her bra size.”

Shaikh had been in contact with Anjem Choudhary, a convicted British jihadist, and had listened to the recorded online lectures of the Yemeni militant Anwar Al-Awlaki, who was killed by a US drone strike.

She was eventually arrested on 10 October last year. In police interviews, Morgan said, Shaikh attempted to diminish her role although she admitted to a previous drug addiction and said she wanted to go to heaven.

The hearing continues.