“Osama bin London”: “Bin” caught, “bin” convicted.
LONDON – Clad in mud-smeared combat fatigues, the young Muslims trained on picturesque British farmland, hurling imaginary grenades, wielding sticks as mock rifles and chopping watermelons in simulated beheadings.
A four-year inquiry, which came to a close Tuesday with guilty pleas from the last two of seven gang members, has exposed a network of alleged British terrorism training camps meant to prepare recruits for mass murder.
Security officials believe hundreds of men “” including a gang that made a failed attempt to bomb London’s transit network “” passed through camps set up across the English countryside.
Investigators say it was a worrying discovery at the heart of Britain’s homegrown terrorism: training camps once thought to be exclusive to northern Pakistan or Afghanistan are being held in sleepy rural England.
“The exposure to that ideology “” that radicalism, that extremism, that ‘them-and-us’ mind set “” starts here on our streets in Britain,” a former extremist, Ed Husain, told Britain’s first police counterterrorism conference in Brighton.
Husain said British officials had been too tolerant of Islamic radicalism taught in universities and mosques during the 1980s and ’90s.
The two training camp ringleaders “” one who claimed to be the “No. 1 al-Qaida in Europe” and the other who nicknamed himself “Osama bin London” “” will be sentenced next month on charges of running the camps and inciting participants to murder. Five others were each sentenced Tuesday to at least 3 1/2 years in prison on charges of attending terrorism training.
And after those 3 1/2 years or so, then what? Deportation? Loss of citizenship? Something like control orders?
Their convictions “” two Tuesday, one last year and the rest last week following a four-month trial “” could be reported for the first time Tuesday after a judge lifted restrictions banning publication of details of the case.
Prosecutors told a court hearing that the men set up camps in idyllic spots across England to train in military skills.
National parks in the Lake District of northern England, the New Forest in the south and quiet corners of the southern counties of Berkshire, Kent and East Sussex were all used for training, including a former school.
“This was not innocent activity taking place on a camping weekend,” said Peter Clarke, Britain’s most senior conterterrorism detective.
Officials fear the case shows that British Muslims can be radicalized, trained and funded to carry out terror attacks “” without ever leaving the country.
The British camps also offer a glimpse of the training centers that British-based Islamic extremists allegedly hoped to open in Oregon before authorities upended the plot.