The joker who wanted to be a bomber

Irfan Naseer at school Always the joker: Irfan Naseer at school

Three men have been found guilty of preparing acts of terrorism including what could have been a massive bombing campaign against targets in the UK.

Irfan Naseer, Irfan Khalid and Ashik Ali, all from Birmingham, face life sentences for their plan to become suicide bombers. This is the story of how a school joker became one of the most dangerous men in Britain.

Irfan Naseer wanted to be the next big thing.

Start Quote

He just couldn't comprehend everybody moving on and he was struggling to move on from school days. He wanted to prove something”

End Quote Anas Zein Al-Abdeen, former school friend

For most of his adult life, he had struggled to find his place in the world, but by 2010, he had stopped struggling.

He didn't seem to care that his mates called him Big Irfan, Chubbs or Chubby.

Because in his own world, he had become a different kind of big man.

He was going to be a bomber.

And he was going to show the world a thing or two, even if pressing the trigger on a homemade detonator would be the last thing he would ever do.

He and Irfan Khalid, described in court as his right-hand man, left their Birmingham homes twice to join training camps linked to al-Qaeda deep within the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan - the second trip ending in the summer of 2011.

Khalid and Naseer at Birmingham Airport Training trips: Khalid and Naseer at Birmingham Airport

Their plan was simple. The men joined the camps to receive broad training in bomb-making, weapons and poisons from al-Qaeda contacts.

Armed with this knowledge, they would then bring it back to the UK and spread it to other recruits. It was up to the men themselves to decide what to do with the skills, rather than wait for commands from the other side of the world.

On their return, they began seeking recruits for a bombing campaign. They already had Ashik Ali in the team. Naseer organised a Pakistan training camp trip for four other men from Birmingham - and identified others he wanted to be part of his plan.

None of the men realised they were already being monitored by MI5 and the police. In fact, they were being watched so closely that investigators knew that the four recruits had been sent overseas.

And so during the summer of 2011, the security services sat quietly listening and assessing Naseer's plans. Over the course of three months at Woolwich Crown Court, the jury were told that "Big Irfan" and the others were full of big talk - and bigger plans.

Raising cash

In one bugged conversation, the men criticised the 2005 London bombers, saying they had forgotten to add nails to their devices to make them more lethal.

Naseer talked about martyrdom and the merits of various forms of attack, from using rifles on the streets to time bombs. Khalid joked about them being "suicide bombers driving around ready to take on England".

Another conversation revolved around whether they could fit blades to a car and cut people down in the street.

None of this yet amounted to a specific attack plan and so investigators sat tight and continued to listen.

What was clear was that Naseer and the others were considering plans and timetables. They had begun raising cash and were looking for somewhere safe to operate away from prying eyes.

Naseer talked about opening an Islamic shop to provide a cover story for recruitment and plotting in its back rooms. Khalid agreed, saying in one monitored conversation that it would provide "beautiful cover". But in the end, they settled on a small flat provided by Ashik Ali.

Naseer and others collecting cash Charity collecting: Naseer, Khalid and money man Rahin Ahmed under surveillance

As for the cash, Naseer and his recruits went onto the streets of Birmingham during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, rattling collection buckets and wearing high-visibility tabards.

They sought donations for a local madrassah project and a legitimate international development British charity, Muslim Aid.

But the real plan was to con ordinary people. They collected some £13,000 from Muslims who regard it as a religious and moral duty to give to charity during Ramadan.

Rahin Ahmed, another member of the cell, said he could make more money by investing it in online currency trading - he lost £9,000. Ahmed has separately pleaded guilty to fund-raising for terrorism.

Undeterred with the disastrous bungling of his associate, Naseer maintained his resolve. He warned the others to be on their guard for Satan, who could enter their dreams and make them doubt the righteousness of their path.

He said that if they allowed doubts to enter their mind, then "you're not gonna do it, bro, you're not going to press the button".

'The real deal'

Investigators were increasingly concerned by this kind of talk and their suspicions were reinforced when Naseer and Khalid revealed they had recorded martyrdom videos while being trained in Pakistan.


  • March 2009: Naseer and Khalid fly to Pakistan for first training camp
  • December 2010: Second Pakistan training camp
  • July-Aug 2011: Charity collections over 23 days
  • August 2011: Naseer sends four other men to camps
  • September 2011: Experimenting at Ashik Ali's flat
  • September 2011: Plotters arrested and charged

"We realised they were the real deal, committed and passionate in what they were doing," said Det Insp Adam Gough, who led the West Midlands Police inquiry.

"It was very chilling to listen to some of it in terms of 9/11 and 7/7. They revered those sorts of things and wanted to create another incident that people would remember and celebrate in the years to come."

A burnt note found in Ashik Ali's flat Burnt note: Bomb instructions found at the safe house

Inside Ashik Ali's safe house in September 2011, Naseer began explaining to Ali how to make homemade bombs.

His knowledge, the jury heard, came from a combination of the training camps he had attended and his university degree in pharmacy.

The jury at the trial were taken through long recordings in which Naseer went to great lengths to explain the finer technical details of explosives.

Ashik Ali doubted whether the men could carry 20kg rucksacks and Naseer said that it would be easier to carry bombs of half that size. He suggested that if they used timers, they could build more devices.

"Seven or eight of them in different places," said Naseer. "With timers on… probably to go boom, boom, boom everywhere."

Investigators had already heard the men talking about being dead by the middle of 2012. Now that the conversations had turned to how to construct devices and how to use them, they moved in to stop the plot progressing.

Time had run out for Irfan Naseer. He, Khalid and Ali were arrested along with nine others. Six men have already pleaded guilty to terrorism offences.

The men had never got to the point of fixing on a target. But in his police interview, Ashik Ali told detectives that Naseer had proposed making suicide bomb vests, acquiring guns and targeting British soldiers.

During the trial, Irfan Naseer denied that he was a terrorist, but he wove a tale of internal Pakistani-community politics in Birmingham with him as the victim of malicious rumours. His barrister told the jury that Naseer was a fantasist who would have made a "rubbish terrorist".

Joker to threat

Anas Zein Al-Abdeen was at school with Irfan Naseer. He told the BBC's Inside Out West Midlands programme that his former friend became increasingly extreme as he entered adulthood, holding views a world away from the man he had known as "Chubby", the school joker.

Irfan Naseer at school Popular at school: Irfan Naseer

"I'm sad that this guy could have been serving the community by being a pharmacist, by maybe doing charity work that will really make a difference, instead he's harmed the community," Mr Al-Abdeen said.

"The guys [at school] stuck around with him because he was funny, lively, always had a lot to say, quite outspoken.

"[But] he couldn't adapt to working life. This, I think, is the start of his downfall. He started looking at achieving something else apart from his career or his profession."

Naseer was angry about international politics, expressing frustrations about injustices in the Muslim world.

Mr Al-Abdeen and others in Birmingham have told the BBC that the local Muslim community was increasingly worried about what he was up to. During the trial, the jury heard that one influential local man had confronted Naseer, as rumours spread that he had sent four recruits to a training camp.

He added: "The way he used to dress up, a lot of people found him intimidating. I know for a fact when he used to go to the mosques that a lot of people used to look at him with disdain.

"He does have extreme views. I mean there's no doubt about this. You'd be excused if you thought the film Four Lions was based on this guy Chubby because his friends never really took what he said seriously."

"I believe him when he said he wanted to be the big man," he told the BBC. "He just couldn't comprehend everybody moving on and he was struggling to move on from school days. He wanted to prove something."

Inside Out West Midlands will be investigating the men at the heart of the terror trial on Monday 25 February on BBC1 at 19.30 GMT. If you don't live in the BBC West Midlands transmission area it will be available here on the BBC iPlayer.

Dominic Casciani Article written by Dominic Casciani Dominic Casciani Home affairs correspondent

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  • Comment number 203.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    AKM, I am never going to join your religion, or any religion. Live with it.
    The British people are not going to join your religion. Live with it.
    Your religion is is against everything we British stand for. Live with it.
    If you do not like our attitude to your religion then go to a place where your beliefs are more acceptable.

    Try living in Saudi, Bahrain, Qatar or Pakistan. I have.

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    Let's not forget all those who put money into the attempted massacre of innocents.

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    Sounds like this has as much to do with Islam as hooliganism has to do with football. There are always weak people that will look for some reason to "justify" acting out. Sounds like these guys see "Islamic Terrorism" as giving them permission to be plonkers. I'm sure if Spurs supporters had a "paramilitary wing" you'd find similar idiots talking about blowing up Arsenal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    21st February 2013 - 14:17
    Naseer and the others were fantasists who never came near to being a real threat, they had no bombs or explosives and no targets.


    They were caught before that turned theory into fact, i.e. the massacre of innocent people. Would you prefer that people died?

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    195 AKM

    I agree it's highly inflammatory to associate the actions of a few lunatics with a wider religion such as Muslim.

    I don't know what nationality you are or where you live but I'llassume you are British.

    Your comments suggest that you see yourself as part of a Global Muslim community, seperate from the West and separate from Britain. You seem to see the world as Muslim and Non Muslim?

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    Only for EDL:
    Britishers live around the world in ghettos, don't want to integrate, don't learn the local language or appreciate culture, try to spread their religion(atheism), don't contribute to society but exploit the people who feed them, forces their culture on others then they have the guts to lecture migrants in UK. shame on you for being hypocrites. like the taste of your own medicine.

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    Can I suggest that those with Sky or Freesat go to some of the Muslim channels and just watch for an hour or so? Just to get a flavor of what British Muslims are about...

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    To all these ignorant fools who are spreading Islamophobia, and spreading hatred here in Muslim minds towards non-Muslims. Do you know you sound just like people you are complaining about?
    Criminals exists in every community. Please don't blame the community, I don't want more Muslim brothers to turn to violence to show their frustration with western hypocrisy and foreign policy towards Muslims.

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    If you are saying how some Muslims are bad, probably wants to convert people to their religion, how some are probably violent so does other people of other religions even atheism believe in the same manner, don't say they don't exists.
    If like fascist terrorist Anders Breivik, an EDL person kill some Muslims should all Muslims blame all Britishers or UK just because EDL scum claim to be patriotic?

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    "He warned the others to be on their guard for Satan, who could enter their dreams and make them doubt the righteousness of their path."

    If you ask me, Satan already had them the moment they decided to kill in the name of their religion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    Hands off my religion just like majority of the UK citizens(includes people of all faiths, races and non-faith) are tolerant, nice, understanding, non racists, impartial and great people to get to know, we Muslims are too.
    Every one will have their views and beliefs and will love them to be accepted by others, it might look wrong to each other but should be discussed in a civil manner.

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    Why should I apologise for some thugs I don't even know them, is it because they say they are Muslims? well then would you apologise to me for your invasion of Muslim countries and killing millions for Muslims for your greed and bias towards Muslims?
    Just treat them as any criminal and give them severe punishment law can provide as you would to any other similar criminal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    @188 you are right, for each on trial, there are several others (family and friends) who concealed from authorities knowledge of their wrongdoings. Without knowledge of the facts (kept by an ever diligent media, that rations the news according to arcane principles), it would appear they are culpable of perverting the course of justice; legislation would allow revocation of citizenship/deportation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    @187; actions speak louder than words. If you can't speak the language, live in a ghetto, only relate to and marry those of the same faith then it is difficult for others to see you as British. The tragedy of many of these outsiders we're referring to is that they actively despise the English; I have to say that my experience of Muslims is that believe they are god's chosen people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    These men should never be released back into society.

    What is also worrying is how many people in the UK who knowingly aided them?

    Furthermore, how many others are there that pose a threat to everyone in society?

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    185. Honest-to-God

    I think you've missed my point. Everyone in Britain should define THEMSELVES as a British Citizen first.

    Regardless of how obvious their country of ancestry or religious persuasion is.

    We should all condemn terrorists as British Citizens not as British Muslim or a British Asian.

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    I doubt any modern Muslim would tolerate these jokers in their midst. Anymore than they would people who wanted to stone adulterers or force marriage on their children. Medieval ideas and culture have no place in today's multi-cultural cheek-to-jowel society. - why can't they just go and chuck themselves of a cliff and enter the promised land without bothering the rest of us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    @183, OK, religion and ancestry shouldn't be used to define someone, but, by the same token, if a women walks about in a burqa or a man with a beard with flowing robes, it is obvious their religion. Regrettably, those THIRD generation Muslims I know still speak pigeon English and it again becomes obvious their ancestry. The requirement is on the outsider to integrate NOT the other way round.

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    "We're having some problems rating this comment at the moment. Sorry. We're doing our best to fix it."
    When is this going to be fixed, soon before the comments are closed.
    Just a thought, could it be that someone is not happy with the rating value of some of the comment?


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