A 25-year-old Islamic State supporter planning a ‘lone wolf’ attack on a military site researched how to weaponise a drone to kill British soldiers, a court heard today.
Hisham Muhammad, of Whitefield, Greater Manchester, allegedly researched how to develop designs and buy products to adapt drones to carry and drop weapons.
He had visited a nearby Army barracks when police found knives, bear claws, axes, combat clothing and camouflage make-up at his home, the Old Bailey heard.
Hisham Mohammad (left) and Faisal Ahmad (right) are both on trial at the Old Bailey in London. They are pictured together in a court sketch today
Today, Muhammad and his cousin Faisal Ahmad, 24, who is said to have known of his terror plot, appeared in the dock after being arrested at their house in June last year.
Opening the prosecution case at the court in London, Anne Whyte QC said: ‘Hisham Muhammad is charged with preparing acts of terrorism.
‘In summary, it is alleged that he held extremist views which were aligned to the sort of radical version of Islam advocated by terrorist organisations such as Islamic State, that he had accepted the propaganda exported by the type of organisation and had decided to commit what we call a lone wolf attack here in the UK.
‘He had researched and downloaded extremist material from the internet. This material glorified violence and martyrdom in the name of an extreme and ultra conservative view of the Islamic faith.
‘He had researched how small drones might be adapted to drop some sort of device from them designed to harm others. He had also obtained a variety of weapons and researched how to use knives to lethal effect.
‘He had purchased blade sharpening implements and had used them. He had also researched military locations and police equipment.
‘As you will hear, on May 23 last year, his research included expressing false interest in joining the British Army and in visiting Castle Armoury Barracks in Bury.
‘By the time of his arrest, he was planning we say some sort of physical attack using knives and other weapons, possibly involving the armed forces or the police. We will never know if he had got as far as identifying a particular target or type of individual.’
The research allegedly included visiting Castle Armoury Barracks in Bury, Greater Manchester
On Ahmad, she said: ‘It is alleged that he knew that his cousin had formed radical views and was planning a terrorist act of violence but failed, without reasonable excuse, to draw this to the attention of the police.’
The cousins, who are also brothers-in-law, both grew up in Bermuda and have wives who lived in Senegal throughout the alleged crimes.
Muhammad had lived in Gambia where Ahmad joined him after living in America, and both moved to the UK in 2013 without their wives, the trial heard.
Muhammad was arrested along with Ahmad after his landlord allegedly found Muhammad’s weapon stash at their three-bedroom terrace house share last June.
Anne Whyte QC, prosecuting, said the pair’s landlord Onkar Singh called police on June 4 last year after finding alleged terrorist material at his home he first rented to Ahmad’s mother.
Mr Singh, his friend Gavin Weston and nephew Daniel Singh called police after finding a huge stash of weapons and what appeared to be home-made bombs, jurors heard.
The Bomb Squad and police were called and Ms Whyte said two balaclavas, camouflage clothing, knife sharpening blocks, army recruitment documents, a tomahawk axe, machete, two axes on the floor, cardboard training knives and wooden sword were seized.
There were also two grip claws behind a heater, a toy AK47 assault rifle and a pizza box which had been used for stabbing practice, it was heard.
Muhammad denies one count of preparing acts of terrorism and is on trial at the Old Bailey
The QC said: ‘The diagrams and notes in the exercise book indicated that basic research and development was being undertaken aimed at releasing one or more expendable store from a commercially available model aircraft.
‘The approach taken by Hisham Muhammad in creating these images, notes and objects was variable and could be used to deliver a range of payloads.’
She added: ‘Due to the unusual and unidentified nature of some equipment in the house, the police took the precaution of ensuring the attendance of a defence explosive ordnance disposal operator, somebody called Sergeant David Podmore.
‘For example, in the front small bedroom there was the plastic bucket seen previously by Mr Singh containing two Tupperware boxes and a switch.
‘Mr Podmore also examined a variety of test tubes which contained miscellaneous items and substances including powders which tested as probably flour.’
Landlord’s ‘surreal’ experience of coming across what he thought could be a bomb
Giving evidence, landlord Onkar Singh described the ‘surreal’ experience of coming across what he thought could be a bomb in his rented house.
He told how takeaway worker Muhammad had failed to pay the £600 rent on his property.
Mr Singh said his ‘heart sunk’ when he visited him to discuss it and saw the condition of the house.
The witness said: ‘He agreed to move out but said he needed a few days to sort himself out.’
Upstairs he found a ‘tub with wire sticking out’ and a collection of knives on a windowsill, the court heard.
Mr Singh said: ‘I found it a bit unusual. It seemed a bit odd.
‘Once I saw the knives I just wanted to get out the house.’
He returned with a friend and his brother-in-law and took photographs of the suspicious items, including a printout of images of guns, he said.
Mr Singh said his brother-in-law Daniel was ‘in shock’ at what they had found and they went straight to the nearest police station in Bury.
Cross-examining, Bernard Richmond QC, for Muhammad, said there had been ‘no effort to hide’ any of the objects.
He said: ‘There was no attempt to justify its existence or explain it away. It must have been a rather surreal experience.’
Mr Singh, a car salesman, answered: ‘It was yeah.’
Francis FitzGibbon QC, for Abu Ahmad pressed the witness on what he had made of the scene.
Mr Singh told jurors: ‘At the time I did not want to make any allegations of what was going on. I just did not think it looked right.
‘Why is there a switch in a tub? It could be a bomb.’
Jurors heard he found a notebook of sketches of improvised explosive devices in the room.
Ms Whyte QC said: ‘On a shelf in the same room, they found more lollipop sticks attached together with a battery and electrical component.
‘Mr Podmore examined them and X-rayed them. Some of the component seemed to correspond to sketches found in a notebook in the property.
‘The sketches included details and notes for building or modifying a drone to drop a potential improvised explosive device or IED.
‘The first, though simple enough to look at, corresponded to sketches in the exercise book of a point impact initiation system – i.e. of a released device that is designed upon impact to ingite.
‘The other items with the various lollipop sticks attached together consisted of various lengths of lollipop sticks, with a home made hinge and an electrical servo switch which Sergeant Podmore assessed as being a possible improvised underling release mechanism for a drone.
‘When all the evidence is taken together, research into and development of adapting a drone to enable it to drop some sort of harmful device.
‘Whilst this research and development was by no means complete, you will be able to see it was not as unsophisticated as it looks.’
She added: ‘The Crown suggest that these exhibits are highly relevant. Essentially, Hisham Muhammad had been practising stabbing and slashing movements on cardboard and clothing.
‘There were two pointed eggs which had been punctured and drained, each containing brown powder on the drawer unit in the small front bedroom.
‘The powder was found to be a mixture of crushed chilli seeds and shards of glass.
‘They can be used, we suggest, as a blinding disorientation device of the sort that might immediately precede a physical attack.
‘Michael Leather, an expert in explosives considered the contents of this exercise book and also examined a number of other exhibits recovered from the property.
‘The sketches and notes, he thought, appeared to show how individual parts of a projectile such as an IED, could be produced.
‘The projectile described in the notebook included an ignition system with a push switch mounted in a modified test tube fitted to the end of a battery, a basic ignitor consisting of a wire wrapped over a match stick, a sealed container, possibly a metal pipe and a tail fin.
‘This type of projectile would have to be dropped nose first – designed to land on its nose thereby activating a switch in order to ignite a charge.’
Muhammad claimed he only researched ISIS propaganda to find out whether the Manchester Arena bombing or Lee Rigby’s murder actually happened.
He was visiting an extremist jihad websites regularly shortly before he was arrested, the Old Bailey was told.
Muhammad visited the ISIS propaganda website My Revenge eight times between May 21 and May 30 on his Samsung tablet device before police and the bomb squad was called to his home.
Ms Whyte said: ‘The data from the tablet was downloaded and reviewed. The Crown suggest that its contents strongly suggest that Hisham Muhammad possessed a radical mindset though ultimately, this will be an issue for you to decide.
‘The Crown say that it is no coincidence that Hisham Muhammad was accessing this sort of material in late May. By then he had determined upon some sort of attack and his preparation was becoming more pronounced.
‘My Revenge is a video in French published by one of the IS media wings called Al Hayat. The website address for this video was accessed a total of eight times between May 21, 2018 and May 30, 2018.
‘The combination of the audio and subtitles encourages lone wolf attacks – exhorting the viewer to kill non-believers whether by shooting or detonating a suicide belt.
‘In one scene a man in combat clothing holds a knife aloft and a subtitle appears which says: ‘Kill them wherever you can find them’.’
Muhammad, who denies preparing an act of terrorism, was also said to have researched British police and armed forces and other ISIS propaganda videos into late May, the jury heard.
When he was interviewed by police, Ms Whyte QC said: ‘As to his use of the internet, he said he liked to research.
‘He suggested that he did not believe that the Manchester Arena bombing or the Westminster Bridge attack had occurred and questioned whether the video of the killing of soldier Lee Rigby was real.
‘He said that Islamic State could be something America made up. He was asked for his views on Islamic terrorism. He said that innocent people shouldn’t be hurt, and said he disagreed with Boko Haram, Al Qaeda and Islamic State.’
Jurors heard Muhammad claimed eggs filled with glass shards and chilli powder seized in his flat were ‘Japanese culture regarding the ninja’.
His cousin and co-accused Ahmad, meanwhile, was also said to claim skewers found in the house were used for ‘kebabs’ and that he hadn’t heard of a ‘Jihadology’ website.
Ms Whyte QC said on May 29 he attended Castle Armoury Barracks after expressing an interest in joining during an Army recruitment event the week before.
She said: ‘May 23 is therefore an extremely important day in the chronology of the events that you will have to consider.
‘After Hisham Muhammad returned from Bury, he researched on Google the weak points of the human body for assault purposes and immediately after this, he entered search terms about types of police, including armed police in the UK and in Manchester.
‘These were, we say, all acts of preparation. He was using the internet and what he could learn about his local area to plan some sort of physical attack.
‘He wanted to know where soldiers might be. He wanted to know where best to stab or assault someone and he wanted to know as much as possible about the British police including armed police officers, no doubt because they would be the first to respond to the sort of attack he was contemplating.
‘And all of this activity took place in the context of his immersion in extremist pro Islamic state propaganda and publications.’
Ms Whyte said Muhammad’s cousin and house-mate Ahmad, charged with failing to notify the authorities about the terror plot, raised concerns over his cousin to his wife in Senegal three days before they were arrested.
She said he sent messages: ‘It looks like we going to have some problems. It looks like the lonely madness is getting to sham (Hisham).’
She added: ”Not me I’m worried about I’m worried what he will do even though he is on the right path it don’t look like he is worried about you lot he just want,’ and the message concluded with an emoji of a gun.’
Referring to his police interview, she added: ‘Asked about a reference to a katana, he said he and Hisham were both into Japanese culture.’
The jury heard the pair had admitted engaging in defrauding members of the public though a bogus escort agency to police.
Muhammad denies one count of preparing acts of terrorism.
Ahmad denies one of ‘having information which he knew or believe might be of material assistance in preventing the commission by another person of a act of terrorism and failing to notify the authorities’. The trial continues.