LONDON // A British court has heard that an ordinary teenage student became so radicalised over the internet that he made a "suicide vest" bomb and planned to detonate it in a crowded shopping mall. As a UK terrorism expert warned that the West must brace itself for a new wave of violent terrorists, a court in Winchester will continue to hear evidence tomorrow of how the teenager converted to Islam, changed his name to Isa Ibrahim and planned for martyrdom.
Mr Ibrahim, now 20, from Bristol, has denied making explosives with intent, and preparing terrorist acts in April 2008, but has admitted making an explosive at his trial in Winchester. Prosecutors claim that Mr Ibrahim - who changed his name from Andrew to Isa after converting to Islam in 2007 - developed a "mindset of martyrdom" after listening to radical Muslim clerics on the internet. He came to believe that the UK was a "dirty toilet", admired the suicide bombers who killed 52 commuters on the London transport system in 2005, and thought the September 11 attacks were a "justified response" to western aggression.
Mr Ibrahim, a former pupil at Bristol Cathedral School before continuing his studies at City of Bristol College, spent hours alone in his small apartment trawling the internet for speeches by the likes of radical cleric Abu Hamza and watching videos of US soldiers being shot and blown up in Iraq. Yet only months before he started constructing explosives at his home - again, from instructions on the internet - he seemed a "normal" teenage student, wearing jeans, hoodies and "bling" jewellery, and smoking marijuana with his girlfriend.
Rhianna Fadden, a fellow student, told the jury that Mr Ibrahim had suddenly changed at the start of last year. He shaved his head, grew a beard and began wearing "Muslim robes". "He moaned about no mosques being near college as his mosque was in a different area," she said. "During January , I was walking between lessons and Isa had A4 papers he had printed from the internet. "There were instructions on how to make a bomb and instructions on the ingredients needed. I thought he was just messing about."
Later, Mr Ibrahim was caught on CCTV cameras at the Broadmead Shopping Centre in Bristol. He spent an hour there, walking about making notes but not entering any of the 100 or so shops. Mark Ellison QC, prosecuting, told the court that Mr Ibrahim's notes included the location of bins, lifts, escalators and exits, and described the food court as a "dense area". He also calculated the time it would take for him to leave the mall without running.
"It seems he may well have been exploring how something could be put into one of the bins before leaving the centre without running and drawing attention to yourself," Mr Ellison said. Mr Ibrahim was arrested in April of last year as he walked towards the city centre. Police then searched his one-bedroom apartment and found a quantity of homemade high explosive stored in a biscuit tin in the refrigerator.
Officers also found a homemade white cotton vest with a central panel at the front and back and straps going over the shoulder - the sort of vest "used sometimes by what are known as suicide bombers", Mr Ellison added. As Mr Ibrahim's trial continued, Prof Michael Clarke, director of the Royal United Services Institute - an international research institute in London - warned that Britain's police and security services must prepare themselves for a new generation of violent and highly trained Islamic terrorists.
Home-grown jihadists intent on murdering civilians in high-profile outrages "will not wither away", he said, adding that he feared that recent police successes in arresting would-be terrorists had turned Britain's prisons into "universities of terror". Mr Clarke said that, in the future, the security services in the UK might look back on their successes in the past eight years - achieved by a combination of good surveillance and good luck - as the "golden age of counter terrorism".
He added: "The phenomenon will not wither away in the near future: it is likely to be generational. All the available evidence is that radicalisation of alienated Muslim youth in the UK can take place very rapidly as long as it is based somewhere on personal contact." Mr Clarke said the evolution of recruitment and terrorist techniques of British cells was entirely possible as they learnt from previous mistakes.
Latest research has shown that while semi-trained British terrorists are having less contact with core al Qa'eda figures in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the organisation remains an "inspiration" for British cells, which recruit potential terrorists and groom them for violence. firstname.lastname@example.org