The al-Qaeda extremists who brainwashed an autistic Muslim convert into launching a failed suicide nail bomb attack in a family restaurant are still on the run, it can be disclosed.
Nicky Reilly, 22, tried to detonate a series of nail bombs, mixed in soft drink bottles with caustic soda, paraffin and aluminium foil, in the Giraffe restaurant at Exeter’s Princesshay shopping centre in May this year.
But when he attempted to assemble one of the bombs in the lavatory cubicle of the restaurant it exploded in his hands. He pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey to attempted murder and preparing of an act of terrorism.
Police sources have told The Daily Telegraph he was groomed by two men on the Youtube website who claimed to be living on the Afghan-Pakistan border and to be in touch with al-Qaeda.
“We believe these men were living abroad but we are still investigating whether they were who they claimed to be,” the source said.
The men discussed with Reilly, who called himself Mohammad Abdulaziz Rashid Saeed Alim, whether to attack police officers and civil servants or the general public, in the end persuading him it should be an attack on the public.
Reilly left a typed suicide note at the flat he shared with his mother which referred to “Sheikh Osama” and said “We love death as you love life.”
His mother, Kim, said: “He is a vulnerable person who’s been radicalised and that is like an easy target, easy prey for them. Someone has brainwashed him – he has done the work and they are walking free.”
Investigations are also continuing into radicals in this country who may have played a part in encouraging Reilly, who has a low IQ and suffers from Aspergers syndrome, to become a suicide bomber.
Reilly visited dozens of websites and learned how to make bombs from videos he had downloaded on Youtube, a video-sharing website, where he used the log-in Chechen233 and gave his name as Rashid.
He had watched 4,262 videos since joining in November 2006 and his favourites included dozens of videos about the September 11 attacks and ambushes on Allied forces in Iraq.
The source added: “He suffers from a form of autism which means he is essentially a highly suggestible simpleton and it is difficult for him to comprehend the end result of his actions.
“His access to the internet means he came across bomb-making instructions but it could easily have been a chess club — he has had ideas put in his head.”
Reilly, known to friends as the Big Friendly Giant, after the Roald Dahl character, converted to Islam in 2002 at the age of 16 but did not begin researching bomb-making until the beginning of this year.
On May 22, wearing an improvised suicide vest and carrying a rucksack containing the bombs, Reilly travelled by bus from his home in Plymouth, boarding the 11.02am bus to Exeter and arriving in Paris Street at 12.24.
He lingered at the bus stop and then entered the Giraffe restaurant at 12.39 pm at the newly opened Princesshay shopping centre where he bought a drink from a member of staff and sat at the bar for a short period.
Then he went to the toilets where he locked himself in a cubicle and set about mixing his home made bombs.
Reilly had brought with him around 500 nails, three glass soft drinks bottles containing paraffin and three containing caustic soda which he was mixing with aluminium foil when they started to react, sources said.
But Reilly was unable to get out of the toilet cubicle because the lock on the door jammed and he was badly injured in the attack.
There were 35 diners and members of staff in the restaurant and 20 more eating outside when three loud bangs were heard from the toilet at around 12.50pm.
In police interviews he readily admitted that he had become increasingly driven to violent action in revenge for the persecution of Muslims and had come up with the idea of becoming a “martyr.”
He also revealed that he had considered attacking Charles Street police station in Plymouth, Drake Circus shopping centre in Plymouth and Devonport dockyard.
Reilly appeared yesterday by video link at the Old Bailey where he pleaded guilty to two charges against him and will be sentenced next month after psychiatric reports.