A baby-faced British schoolboy who plotted to kill Australian police in an Anzac Day terror attack from his parents suburban home warned a teacher, ‘You are on my beheading list’, a court heard today.
From his bedroom in Blackburn, Lancashire, the boy, who is now 15, had been radicalised by Islamic State propaganda online, urged Australian Sevdet Besim, 18, to behead police officers at an Anzac Day parade in Melbourne.
Manchester Crown Court was told today that the attack would ‘in all probability’ have resulted in a number of deaths if it was not thwarted.
As they discussed their plans for the attack, the boy – who was acting in the role of ‘organiser’ – encouraged Besim to break into the home of a vulnerable person living alone, to get his ‘first taste of beheading’ and told him to make a martyrdom video, the court heard.
He told Besim he could either attack police with a gun, a car or a knife and advised him to kill an officer by running them over before beheading the victim and moving onto the next target.
As well as the Australia plot, the schoolboy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had been researching potential targets in Britain and teaching himself how to detonate devices and explosives. On his hit list were a police station and a town hall as well as defence and aerospace firm BAE Systems.
He also showed gory videos of bloodied bodies in school, told a teacher he was ‘on his beheading list’ ahead of another member of staff, and had an Isis flag as his mobile phone screensaver, the court heard.
The boy, now 15, became Britain’s youngest convicted Islamic terrorist in July after he admitted inciting terrorism overseas, and is being sentenced in Manchester this week.
Outlining the case at the start of the two-day sentencing hearing, prosecutor Paul Greaney QC said the boy’s plot with Besim, who is thought to have used an online pseudonym ‘Illyas’, had the aim of beheading police officers.
‘It is clear that the purpose of this proposed attack was to promote the ideology and agenda of Isis,’ said Mr Greaney. ‘A striking feature of the case is that, at the time of the offence, the defendant was aged just 14.
‘It is clear that he had been radicalised by Isis propaganda accessed by him over the internet and the evidence establishes that the contact with his Australian collaborator was instigated by a well-known Isis recruiter and propagandist named Abu Khaled al-Cambodi, himself an Australian, who has promoted the idea of terrorist attacks in his homeland.
‘There is no doubt that there was a determination on the part of the defendant and Sevdet Besim that the plot should be carried through and the contact between the two included frequent references to the production of a martyrdom video by Besim for al-Cambodi which, no doubt, al-Cambodi intended to use for propaganda purposes.
‘In the event, fortunately, the authorities here and in Australia intervened and a plot that would in all probability have resulted in a number of deaths was thwarted.’
Mr Greaney detailed the background of the Muslim defendant and said that in the period leading up to his offending his family circumstances ‘appear to have been difficult’ when his parents were said to have separated.
From the age of 12, the bespectacled schoolboy was ‘undoubtedly a troubled young person’ and was excluded from school on a regular basis for regular abusive and disobedient behaviour, Mr Greaney said.
The youngster was said to have ‘strong religious convictions’ and was disruptive when he attended a large secular school where most of the pupils were white.
On one occasion he praised Osama bin Laden and stated his own desire to become a jihadist and a martyr, the court heard.
The defendant was referred to the Government’s counter-extremism programme Channel after his mother explained to the school that he spent all night on his computer studying foreign affairs and ‘seemed to have the weight of the world on his shoulders’.
Mr Greaney said: ‘She stated also that he spent time talking over the internet to persons that he had not met.’
It led to him moving schools but his poor behaviour continued and more exclusions followed, the court was told.
While there he threatened a male teacher on ‘many occasions’ and on one date he said he would ‘cut his throat and watch him bleed to death’.
Another male teacher logged a comment from the youngster that he was plotting to kill someone, the prosecutor said.
The voluntary Channel programme closed his case in July 2014 after the school noted no particular features of radicalisation.
But later that year his behaviour at school escalated and in one lesson he was heard talking to other pupils about beheading, the court heard, and pushed his phone into the face of a teacher as it played a video showing dead and bloody bodies on the floor.
Mr Greaney said: ‘He regularly mentioned death and unpleasant methods of torture. He also spoke of his desire to be a suicide bomber, stating that if he had to choose where to detonate his bomb it would be on a plane in order that he could maximise the fatalities.’
In one class he was reported to have said to a teacher: ‘You are on my beheading list,’ and said the teacher was now on the list above a colleague.
A second referral to Channel took place in November 2014 but the youngster continued to threaten to kill teachers and told one ‘your time has come’ as he referenced terrorism and beheadings.
In one lesson on the death penalty alongside the comment ‘killing another person is immoral’, he had written: ‘You could not be more wrong.’
Mr Greaney said: ‘In a meeting with officers from the Channel programme he similarly expressed the view that killing could be justified on religious grounds and to a social worker the same day he described the Charlie Hebdo attackers as his heroes.’
The court heard that the defendant’s extremist views had earned him the nickname ‘The Terrorist’ among his classmates.
The prosecutor told the court that by early March this year ‘a tipping point’ had been reached, and that teachers had become concerned for their own personal safety.
The teenager told Channel workers that he knew he was going to be killed or go to jail and he blamed the Channel process for radicalising him after previously saying it had prevented him going to the school of his choice.
Mr Greaney said: ‘He said that he had a new identity on the internet and was in contact with many adults through that means, something that in the event proved to be quite true.’
The boy was arrested at his home on the morning of March 25 on suspicion of making threats to kill, and his phone was examined.
The prosecutor said: ‘The screensaver for the handset of the Samsung Galaxy was the flag of Isis. The handset also contained a video showing the events immediately preceding a beheading by members of Boko Haram along with photographs of other beheadings, including by Jihadi John, to whom (the defendant) had referred in discussions at school.
‘Isis propaganda was found on the handset, including three editions of an Isis magazine, one of which contained excerpts from a speech by an Isis spokesman calling for lone wolf attacks in home countries.
‘Footage of an anti-Shia lecture by an extremist preacher was also discovered. There were hundreds of photographs showing Isis fighters, prominent individuals associated with Isis, dead Syrians and other Isis calls to arms.’
Mr Greaney went through evidence of the boy’s social media contact with other extremists around the world.
He said: ‘And so, putting [the defendant’s] behaviour at school together with his activities over the internet, a clear picture emerges of a young person who was, by March 2015, thoroughly and dangerously radicalised and committed to Isis and the idea of violent jihad, and who was, moreover, wired into the Isis network.’
The teenager apparently first made contact with al-Cambodi, whose real name is Neil Prakash, through internet messaging applications in early January, the court heard.
Initial discussions took place about travelling to Syria, the routes that might be used and possible support from al-Cambodi, who treated the defendant as ‘a little brother’, the court was told.
Mr Greaney said: ‘[The defendant] indicated that he was prepared to carry out an attack and had been observing targets around Lancashire and said that he was “preparing to see my lord”.’
Conversations followed from March with Besim, the alleged Australian end of the plot, in which the defendant showed he knew and was in contact with al-Cambodi.
As ‘Illyas’, Besim introduced himself to the defendant on March 16 on an encrypted messaging application with the words: ‘I’m the brother from Australia.’
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