Moinul Abedin: UK's first al-Qaeda inspired bomber

By Phil Mackie
Reporter, BBC Radio 5 live

Image caption,
Moinul Abedin was jailed for 20 years at Birmingham Crown Court in February 2002

This week marks the 10th anniversary of the conviction of Britain's first al-Qaeda inspired terrorist.

Moinul Abedin was arrested after police discovered a large quantity of bomb-making material at a rented property in Birmingham. There was little publicity at the time, because current laws did not exist and he was prosecuted under the 1883 Explosives Act.

It was not until later the security services acknowledged his significance.

Abedin, who was 27 at the time of his trial, lived in a terraced house in Sparkbrook in Birmingham with his young family.

He also rented a property nearby in which he stored chemicals and equipment which he bought from local DIY and hardware stores. He made explosives and detonators and set off small devices in a local park to test them.

When he was arrested in November 2000, detectives recovered nearly 100kg of chemicals used in the manufacture of the explosive HMTD.

Security services

He claimed that he and a co-defendant, who was acquitted, were setting up a fireworks business. But after a trial at Birmingham Crown Court he was jailed for 20 years.

Surprisingly there was relatively little publicity about the case at the time.

The terms of the 1883 legislation meant the evidence which was heard in the trial concentrated on the explosives and not Abedin's connections or any potential plot.

It was not until 2007, five years after his conviction and nearly seven after his arrest, the security services acknowledged his significance.

Under fire for its foreign policy in Iraq and Afghanistan, and after a series of terror attacks in the UK, the then Home Secretary John Reid pointed out that Abedin's arrest had preceded 9/11.

Now Abedin's name appears at the top ofMI5's listof terrorists convicted this century.

The man in charge of the investigation at the time was Chris Sims, now Chief Constable of West Midlands Police.

He said: "This was before there was a common discussion about al-Qaeda and related issues. This was the first time that this has appeared in this country.

"What strikes me looking back was how extraordinary it was that we had no context to put it in. This was before 9/11, so it was investigated in a very straightforward way."

In the decade since Abedin's conviction, there have been more plots foiled and arrests made in Birmingham and the West Midlands. The region now has its own 450-strong dedicated Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU).

Engage with community

Image caption,
Det Ch Supt Kenny Bell met with representatives of the local community at Birmingham Central Mosque

There are similar units based in Manchester and Leeds, as well as the long established equivalent in London.

Det Ch Supt Kenny Bell is the head of the West Midlands CTU.

On a visit to the Central Mosque in Birmingham to unveil a new screen with a counter terrorism message, he said: "Now when we arrest somebody, the communities give us the space to carry out our investigations.

"[But] we can't just arrest or convict our way out of terrorism. It's about engaging with those communities so that as we progress through this generation, we can make this place safer".

There are now uniformed CTU officers, based in the community, whose job it is to build those relationships with community leaders and the hundreds of mosques in the area.

The mood has changed noticeably in the past decade, and now it's much rarer to hear overt criticism of the police or their tactics.

There was a setback in 2010 when surveillance cameras were erected in the area without proper consultation under the auspices of Project Champion. But the cameras have been taken down and relationships appear to have been rebuilt.

Moinul Abedin has now served more than half his sentence and so is eligible for parole.

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