LONDON, England (AP) — An al Qaeda operative who planned to blow up landmark London hotels using limousines packed with gas tanks, napalm and nails, and plotted to attack the New York Stock Exchange and the World Bank was sentenced on Tuesday to life in prison.
Dhiren Barot, a former airline ticket clerk and Muslim convert, pleaded guilty last month to conspiring to commit mass murder on both sides of the Atlantic. After his sentencing, he could be transferred to the United States to face a four-count indictment if U.S. officials request the transfer.
Barot trained for years at terrorist camps around the world to refine skills with weapons, bomb-making and chemicals, said the prosecutor, Edmund Lawson. He became quickly inspired to plot a “memorable black day for the enemies of Islam,” Lawson said, quoting a passage from Barot’s notebook.
Barot, a 34-year old who was born in India but raised in Britain, wrote to leaders of the terrorist network in documents that detailed a series of synchronized strikes in Britain and several attacks targeting U.S. financial targets such as the New York Stock Exchange and Citigroup headquarters in Manhattan, the World Bank headquarters in Washington and the Prudential building in Newark, N.J.
Barot put the U.S. plot on hold after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Lawson said, but the plan for Britain “was in its final stages.”
In a detailed proposal submitted to al Qaeda financiers in Pakistan, Barot planned to use a six-man team to detonate limousines crammed with gas cylinders in underground parking garages — a plan that Barot said would kill “hundreds if the building collapses.”
Lawson said Barot also wrote in documents that he wanted to add napalm and nails to the limousine bombs to “heighten the terror and chaos.” He also considered adding radioactive material, Lawson said, but decided a dirty bomb should be used in a separate attack.
“You have chosen to use your life to bring death and destruction to the Western world,” Judge Neil Butterfield said as he passed the sentence. “You planned to slaughter hundreds, if not thousands, of wholly innocent men, women and children.”
London hotels including The Ritz and The Savoy, and the Waterloo, Paddington and King’s Cross railway stations were identified as targets.
Barot’s lawyer Ian MacDonald called Barot’s plans “rough and exploratory” and said they were far from fruition.
“There is no evidence as to when an attack was due to be carried out,” MacDonald said.
Scotland Yard pointed to Barot’s capture as a victory against terrorism.
“For well over two years we have been unable to show the British public the reality of the threat they faced from this man. Now they can see for themselves the full horror of his plan,” said Peter Clarke, the head of Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorist branch.
Jailing Barot was the first major blow against homegrown terrorists since suicide bombings in July 2005 against London’s transit network that killed 52 commuters. Details of Barot’s plots — which included blowing up a subway train as it passed below the River Thames — resurrected fears of the strikes against three subways and one bus last year.
The July 7, 2005, bombings opened a divide between Muslims and non-Muslims, prompting an ongoing debate over the country’s segregated communities and the extent of religious tolerance in Britain.
Butterfield said Barot’s actions only made things worse for Muslims in Britain.
“In this country there are thousands and thousands of ordinary, decent, hardworking, law-abiding Muslims — British citizens just like you — who have to live their lives under a deep cloud of suspicion and distrust caused by you and others like you,” Butterfield said.
Inayat Bunglawala, a spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, said terror trials such as Barot’s may harden views against Muslims.
“These kinds of incidents are building up and it does appear Muslims have become folk devils in popular mythology,” said Bunglawala.
On Monday, Lawson showed clips of a reconnaissance video taken by Barot during a 2001 visit to New York.
The footage zoomed in on the World Trade Center’s towers as a man is heard mimicking the sound of an explosion. It was found spliced into a copy of the movie “Die Hard With A Vengeance.”
Barot, who will have the possibility of parole after 40 years, is wanted in the United States and Yemen on separate terror-related charges.
Under the alias Issa al-Britani, Barot was named in the report of the U.S. commission investigating the September 11 attacks, as an associate of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged September 11 planner.
The Associated Press, The British Broadcasting Corp., and Times Newspapers Ltd. successfully challenged a court ruling that threatened to prevent news media reporting details of Barot’s sentencing hearing.
Butterfield had ruled that publishing details of the case could prejudice trials of Barot’s seven co-defendants, scheduled to take place in London next year.