Skip to comments.From Gloucester to Afghanistan: the making of a shoe bomber
Posted on 03/04/2005 8:07:58 PM PST by Pikamax
From Gloucester to Afghanistan: the making of a shoe bomber
Saajid Badat this week pleaded guilty to plotting to blow up a plane. What drove this quiet football fan to thoughts of terror?
Mark Honigsbaum and Vikram Dodd Saturday March 5, 2005 The Guardian
He seemed the model British Muslim citizen - a poster boy for integration whose knowledge of the Qu'ran and achievement at grammar school made Gloucester's close-knit Islamic community proud. When in November 2003 anti-terrorist police turned up at the terraced house in the Barton and Tredworth district of the city that Saajid Badat shared with his parents, Muhammed and Zubeida, his father never suspected a thing.
Seeing officers at the end of his road, he invited them in for tea only to be told it was his house they were raiding, and his son they were after. Even when police found plastic explosive, a specially adapted shoe and a length of detonating cord hidden in a green case under Saajid's bed, his family and neighbours could not believe the charges.
Badat, 25, was a Hafiz - a person who could recite by heart all 30 chapters of Islam's holy book. Now with his guilty plea on Monday he admitted that he had signed up for a plot of mass murder - the most significant terrorist conviction of an al-Qaida inspired conspirator in Britain since the September 11 attacks.
"He knew better than anyone that the Qu'ran forbids the killing of innocent people," said Usman Bhaima, a Liberal Democrat councillor and friend of the family. "There was not the slightest doubt in his parents' or the community's mind that he was innocent.'
But following Badat's surprise guilty plea at the Old Bailey on charges of terrorist conspiracy, the Muslim community in the cathedral city were having to come to terms with the fact that "Hafiz" Saajid Badat was a master of deception.
Forensic tests found the detonation cord on his device was an exact match for the one carried by Reid - it had simply been cut in two. Intelligence sources believe that, like Reid, Badat had collected the cord and explosive at a terror training camp in Afghanistan and smuggled it into Britain with the intention of blowing up a transatlantic airliner.
But on December 14 2001, three days before he was due to board a flight for United States, Mr Badat emailed his controller to say he had had a change of heart and backed out. "His mother is inconsolable and his father is heartbroken," said Mr Bhaima. "They had no idea he was about to change his plea. They had no idea what happened when Saajid was overseas.'
But as his parents come to terms with the fact that their son was a would-be suicide bomber, the bigger question is this: was Badat a one-off or are the prime minister and the Metropolitan police commissioner Ian Blair right when they claimed last week that there are "hundreds" of other Saajids plotting terrorist acts? Just as pertinent is what turned this ordinary Gloucester grammar school boy into a willing terrorist recruit and why, in the end, did he back away from the murderous plot?
Badat refused to comment during police interviews so detectives have no answers to these questions - ones that also worry senior officers and government. Answers may come at his sentencing on March 18 when his lawyers will argue for leniency.Muhammed and Zubeida have avoided the media since their son's conviction.But according to Mr Bhaima, who has been acting as an unofficial spokesman for the family, they may be as much in the dark as anyone.
"No one can explain it," said Mr Bhaima. "I have known Saajid since he was a child. He is a very nice chap - very hard working, very industrious. If he saw someone doing something wrong he would tell them to go on the straight road."
Badat's own straight path should have begun in 1990 when, at the age of 11, he won a coveted place at Gloucester's historic Crypt grammar school for boys whose former alumni included Sir Robin Day.
Muhammed and Zubeida had arrived in Gloucester from Malawi in the early 1970s. While Muhammed found work in the local Wall's ice cream factory Zubeida, a part-time seamstress, concentrated on raising their four children. Though Saajid had an older sister, he was the first born male and his academic success made his father immensely proud, said Mr Bhaima.
By all accounts he had no trouble fitting in at the Church of England school. Former classmates and teachers recalled him as a friendly and popular student. "He was well motivated and hard-working - a credit to his family and to the school," said William Armiger, the then headmaster. In 1997 he graduated with 10 GCSEs and four A-levels and enrolled on a sociology course in London. A keen footballer he supported Liverpool, playing for the Asian Stars, a Sunday league team on weekends.
Although his strict religious beliefs forbade him watching Liverpool games on TV - it is a basic belief of Islam that images of living things should not be made - Badat found a solution: he listened to the games on radio. At this stage there was little sign of his disillusion with wider British society.
However, David Lamper, then a teacher at the Crypt and now headmaster, noticed that while Badat was always punctual and polite he took his religious beliefs seriously.
What his Christian contemporaries may not have realised is that throughout his schooldays Badat was also studying hard at the local Masjid-E-Noor mosque, and commiting the Qu'ran to memory. His father, who had made several pilgrimages to Mecca, was apparently eager for him to become a cleric.
Mr Bhaima denied newspaper reports this week that he and Saajid had clashed over Muhammed's desire that Saajid delay university to concentrate on his religious studies. Saajid simply continued his religious studies at the same time as attending university in London.
It was in London that Badat, who had been a worshipper at the controversial Finsbury Park mosque in north London, may have first come under the sway of fundamentalists.
In 1998, Mr Badat suddenly quit his degree course and began a three-year world tour, visiting India, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
Intelligence sources believe it was there that he became a fully-fledged terrorist recruit, learning the basics of explosives at a camp in Khalden, run by Osama bin Laden, before graduating to Daruntag camp to prepare for his suicide mission. His co-conspirator Reid was also trained at the camps, and both would be controlled by Nizar Trabelsi, who is now in prison for planning to attack a US base in Belgium.
Badat next returned to Europe via Saudi Arabia. On the very day of al-Qaida's attacks on September 11 2001, he was at the British embassy in Brussels claiming to have lost his passport and receiving a replacement - without the incriminating stamps from Afghanistan.
On December 10 he returned to Britain carrying the shoe bomb and explosives that could not be detected by airport screening. Reid, who had followed a near identical course, stopping at the embassy in Brussels to play the same lost-passport trick, boarded a flight from Paris to Miami on December 22 wearing his explosive footwear.
The shoe bomb was powerful enough to punch a hole in the plane and had passengers not overpowered Reid the crash would have killed all 200 people on board. Badat's bomb was equally viable.But on December 17 he emailed his handlers that he was pulling out and hid the explosives and detonator in his parents' house.
"He was on the devil's path but God stopped him," said Asam Hassanjee, a Halal butcher who counts Mrs Badat among his valued customers. "When it came time to plant the bomb Allah came into his mind straight away and reminded him that the Qu'ran forbids you to kill people.'
Mr Hassanjee said Badat's reversal was genuine - proof that he had not only learnt the Qu'ran by heart but had also taken its message to heart - and urged the judge show him leniency. 'There was no lose of life or limb or property," said Mr Bhaima, echoing widespread feeling in the community. " His strongest belief was that killing is unlawful."
That may be a charitable interpretation. Police point out he never got rid of the bomb, meaning he could have just been waiting for an opportunity to use it. After renouncing his part in the plot, Badat had enrolled at the moderate College of Islamic Knowledge and Guidance in Blackburn to train to become an imam.
It was a totally different ideological environment to the Afghan terror camps. Confined to the college grounds, he studied the sayings of the prophet Muhammad but also learnt about other religions and citizenship.His choice of college may indicate that Badat was backing away from extremism and returning to the Islamic mainstream.
"Everybody knew him as a quiet person, somebody dedicated to what he had to do. He was good at his studies," said college administrator Ahmad Talha.
But Badat did not stick the course. Instead he quit after two years, returning to his family and the Gloucester community. In the weeks and days leading up to his arrest on November 27 2003, Badat lead the traditional Ramadam recitals at the Masjid-E-Noor mosque. Dressed in flowing robes and sporting a long beard, he appeared concerned to set a good example to other young men in the community.
But many did not swallow his attempt to cultivate a pious image, whispering about his time in Pakistan - a well-known gateway to Afghanistan and the terror camps.
Ironically, Gloucester's Muslim community is one of the most integrated in Britain and one of the most progressive. Gloucester Muslims holiday in Europe, take trips to the nearby Forest of Dean, and see education as the key to betterment and success.
But sources in the community say that Badat is not the only intelligent youngster locally who sympathises with the idea of violence.
"There are small pockets of young people in the community who would be pro Saajid ... [thinking] that something needs to be done to correct the injustice, that they should do things to challenge what is going on," said a source.
He added that these sympathisers so distrust the authorities that some would not report terrorists in their midst.
In a week that has seen the first admission of guilt by a British terrorist plotting an al-Qaida-style atrocity, that is grim assessment - one that will alarm the security services and ministers.
However, Mr Bhaima argues that Badat is a simply a young man who was led astray. "He went overseas at an impressionable age and came under the sway of the wrong people. Thank Allah he came to his senses in time."