The UK's first female suicide bomb plotter and a Kurdish bomb-maker who encouraged a German terror cell to commit mass murder should not have their minimum jail terms increased, Appeal Court judges ruled today.
Muslim convert Safiyya Shaikh, 37, was jailed for a minimum of 14 years after she told police during an interview she was planning a Sri Lanka-style terror attack on St Paul's Cathedral in London.
Meanwhile, Kurdish asylum seeker Fatah Mohammed Abdullah, 35, was handed a nine-year minimum jail term after he pleaded guilty to bomb-making and inciting two Iraqi jihadists to commit a planned terror attack with a car, bomb and meat cleaver in north Germany.
Lawyers representing the Attorney General's office had argued that the minimum terms given to the pair were too lenient.
Muslim convert Safiyya Shaikh, 37, (pictured giving the Islamic State salute) was jailed for a minimum of 14 years after she told police during an interview she was planning a Sri Lanka-style terror attack on St Paul's Cathedral in London
A CCTV still of Shaikh in the lobby at Great St Helen's Hotel, near the Gherkin office block in the City of London, on September 7, the night before her reconnaissance
Fatah Mohammed Abdullah was handed a nine-year minimum jail term after he pleaded guilty to bomb-making and inciting two Iraqi jihadists to commit a planned terror attack with a car, bomb and meat cleaver in north Germany
They argued that Shaikh should be handed a 18-and-a-half year minimum term, and Abdullah a minimum term of 12 years.
But today, Lord Justice Fulford, Mr Justice Edis and Mr Justice Foxton ruled that their minimum jail terms should stay the same. They had considered arguments at a Court of Appeal hearing in London in December.
But the three judges acknowledged, in a written ruling, that 'the statutory scheme' for taking into account convicted criminals' early release provisions when setting minimum terms gave rise 'to a number of anomalies'.
Shaikh and Abdullah were both handed their sentences by the same judge, Mr Justice Sweeney.
Lawyers representing the Attorney General's office argued that Mr Justice Sweeney had 'misapplied or misconstrued' pieces of legislation.
Shaikh, a mother of one, from Hayes, West London, wanted to attack St Paul's Cathedral and a central London hotel during Easter celebrations
Pictured: Shaikh's pink 'girly' backpack which was to be filled with explosives ahead of her attack
They said he should have taken into account Terrorist Offenders (Restrictions of Early Release) Act - legislation, introduced in 2020, aimed at preventing terror offenders automatically being released from jail in the wake of attacks in London.
The three appeal judges said: 'We have been unable to accept that submission, although we acknowledge that the statutory scheme for taking into account early release provisions when (setting) minimum terms gives rise to a number of anomalies.'
After the ruling, the Solicitor General, Michael Ellis QC MP, said: 'I acknowledge the decision of the Court of Appeal to not increase Shaikh and Abdullah's sentences. However, this was a matter for the court and I respect their decision.'
What does the one finger gesture mean?
Raising an index finger is often used in Muslim prayer as a symbol of tawhid.
Tawhid is the belief in the oneness of God, a central concept of Islam.
The gesture can signify the oneness of Allah.
However in recent years the point has also been used by members of IS.
Historian Nathaniel Zelinsky has said it could refer to a fundamentalist interpretation of the tawhid which rejects any other views.
Shaikh, of Hayes, west London, was sentenced to a minimum of 14 years in July after a judge at the Old Bailey heard that she had plotted a terror attack on St Paul's Cathedral.
She admitted preparation of terrorist acts and dissemination of terrorist publications on the internet.
As Shaikh was sentenced, she smiled while wearing a black hijab and raised her index finger in a salute associated with ISIS as she was taken to the cells.
Shaikh, born Michelle Ramsden in Hounslow, west London, told undercover police officers she wanted to 'do a piece of history and kill as many kuffar as possible' in a day of carnage across the capital.
The single mother - who claimed to be a manager at a London garage - ran a chat room dedicated to martyrs and told followers of her determination to become Britain's first female suicide bomber.
She was addicted to heroin but said she always wanted to 'do something big' and that killing one infidel was 'not enough for me.'
After setting off the two bombs, she wanted to blow herself up on the London Underground.
Shaikh told an undercover officer: 'So this is really what I want but I would like to kill a lot brother. Until I'm killed. This is what I really want. Bi'idnillah [god permitting].
'I am ready for jannah [paradise] but I want to do big things, insha'Allah [god willing].'
Shaikh during a police interview where she spoke about detonating a bomb. She was inspired by the Sri Lanka bombings on Easter Day last year which killed 259 people
The Old Bailey was told how Shaikh (right, in Islamic dress) radicalised in 2015 after converting to Islam in 2007, following an act of kindness by a neighbouring Muslim family
Shaikh shared images of Charles and Diana's wedding at the St Paul's and wrote: 'If I had choice I blow the church to ground. With kuffar in it,' adding a laughing emoji.
'I want start planning. I am serious about this,' she added. 'It not only words akhi [brother] I want action and revenge deep from my heart.'
She was inspired by the Sri Lanka bombings on Easter Day last year which killed 259 people and wanted to strike when the cathedral was full.
How Shaikh was snared by undercover officers
Safiyya Amira Shaikh was snared by undercover officers last year as she planned to plant two explosive devices in central London.
In encrypted chat with an undercover officer last August, she said that she would 'rather die young and get to Jannah (paradise) quickest way possible'.
She also stated: 'I always knows (sic) I wanted to do something big....killing one kafir (infidel) is not enough for me.'
Shaikh expressed a desire to target a church or somewhere 'historical' on a day like Christmas or Easter to 'kill more', according to the case summary.
In September last year, she revealed her plan to stay in a hotel near St Paul's then check out the cathedral and 'take photos like a tourist'.
On September 24 last year, she met the fake explosive expert's wife in Uxbridge to hand over her bags.
Then on October 13, the female undercover officer cancelled a second meeting and police forced their way into Shaikh's flat to arrest her.
Shaikh, whose parents are no longer together, has one brother and one sister. She also has a half-brother from her mother's side.
Alison Morgan QC, prosecuting, described her as a 'violent extremist' who had pledged her support for ISIS in a written oath on pink note paper.
Shaikh 'gave the impression she was ready, in fact desperate, to launch an attack,' Ms Morgan said.
Jailing her for life, with a minimum of 14 years, the judge, Mr Justice Sweeney, said she sought to encourage lone wolf attacks and had become 'determined to carry out terrorists acts of your own in this country.'
The judge jailed her for another eight years, concurrently, for running the chatroom.
Jenny Hopkins, head of the Counter-Terrorism Division of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said: 'Safiyya Shaikh chose to live her life as a violent extremist with a murderous hatred of those who did not share her twisted version of Islam.
'She hoped to inspire others by sharing terrorist images on social media but wanted to go much further.
'The damning evidence presented by the CPS of her planned suicide mission to St Paul's Cathedral left her with no room to talk her way out the charges.'
But she became disillusioned by what she saw as the moderate version of Islam preached in mosques and started to follow and talk to extremists online in 2015.
She was radicalised by watching online videos of hate preacher Anjem Choudary and clips of his acolytes on YouTube.
In a joint Met Police and MI5 investigation, Shaikh believed that an undercover officer would be able to help her obtain explosives and gave her two bags which she thought would be converted into bombs.
She plotted to leave one bomb in St Paul's Cathedral, another in a nearby hotel and a third, to wear as a suicide vest, at a train station.
A text message sent by Shaikh to an undercover officer about her intentions to bomb St Paul's Cathedral in London, showing the ceiling and message: 'Under this dome I would like put bomb.. It centre of church'
A court artist's sketch of Shaikh, who was sentenced for life with a minimum of 14 years in July last year at the Old Bailey in London
In one message, she told the undercover officer: 'Even though it was first hard to see the beheading videos, but I kept watching more and more and now I love and would take a kuffar [infidel's] head off easy lol [laughs out loud].
She previously had her daughter removed to the care of social services and told a female undercover officer that she was launching a suicide attack so that 'Allah to forgive me for everything.'
In September 2019 she visited St Paul's Cathedral and photographed the ceiling, sending the image to the undercover officer with the words: 'Under this dome I would like to put bomb'.
The undercover officer arranged for Shaikh to meet his 'wife', known as Azra, in Fassnidge Park in Uxbridge to be fitted for a suicide vest and hand over a Pink Nike holdall and what she referred to as a 'girlie backpack', to be filled with explosives.
After she was arrested, Shaikh claimed she had got cold feet and was trying to back out of the plan, but in a recorded telephone conversation from prison, she told a friend: 'I was going to go through with it, I wasn't getting cold feet, I wasn't having doubts.
'The reason why I didn't turn up on the day was that I was doing drugs. I would have arranged another appointment with them, I would have met them. That day I just didn't wake up in time and that's the truth.'
A CCTV still of Shaikh on her way to a meeting with an undercover officer. She was jailed for one count of preparation of terrorist acts and one count of dissemination of terrorist publications
A still taken from a video of Shaikh (pictured, circled) conducting a recce at St Paul's Cathedral in London
When she was first arrested Shaikh could not be interviewed by police because she was on a heroin comedown, a court hearing was told.
On August 18 last year, Shaikh was stopped at Luton Airport on her way to the Netherlands under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000.
Her ticket had been purchased by Yousra Lemouesset, the wife of a so-called ISIS 'martyr' who had returned to the Netherlands from Syria after her husband was killed.
Shaikh's telephone was examined and her passport was seized from her. She was released but not allowed to travel.
Two days later, an undercover 'role play' officer, known as 'H', began chatting to her on Threema, an encrypted anonymous messaging app.
Shaikh told him: 'I try to inspire others to fight Insha'Allah [god willing] but lately I fell it's not enough.
'I want to take revenge for Allah our Prophet. I hate the kuffar [infidels] for what they do and I fell I cannot live comfortably in this dunya [earthly life] while our ummah [Muslim nation] suffer.'
Shaikh believed the man online could get hold of explosives for her and told him she was going to conduct a reconnaissance mission around St Paul's Cathedral.
Shaikh's home in West London. The undercover officer, arranged for Shaikh to meet his 'wife', known as Azra, in Fassnidge Park in Uxbridge
She said she had no 'kafir clothes' of her own and would have to 'take something from my daughter.'
'Also, just in case I was ever stop by police, what story I give them? I was thinking to say am visiting that church cos my gran loved it,' she added.
On September 7 last year, Shaikh booked into the £200 a night, Great St Helen Hotel, near the 'Gerkhin' office block in the City of London, and the next day toured the cathedral, noting the number of American and Chinese tourists.
Timeline of terror: Shaikh's journey to becoming the UK's first female suicide bomb plotter
2007: Michelle Ramsden, a single mother in her early 20s, is befriended by a kindly Muslim family. Impressed by their warmth, Ramsden converts to Islam.
2016: Ramsden, now known as Safiyya Shaikh, is referred to the Government's Prevent anti-terrorism strategy after rejecting moderate Islam and becoming increasingly extremist. She no longer attends mosque because her fundamentalist ideology does not fit in.
August 18 2019: Shaikh is stopped at Luton Airport as she tries to get to Amsterdam. Her ticket is bought by Yousra Lemouesset, who had previously been convicted of assisting Islamic State.
August 20: Shaikh begins chatting with a man on an encrypted messaging app, later believing he can source a bomb and help her become a jihadi. She is unaware the man is an undercover police officer.
August 22: Shaikh confesses to the undercover agent her desire for martyrdom. She tells him: 'So this is really what I want ... But I would like to kill a lot brother. Until I'm killed. This is what I really want.'
August 31: She identifies St Paul's Cathedral as a potential location for the attack, posting a map and an image from the inside of the cathedral online and asking the undercover police officer: 'Is it possible to do here?'
September 8: Shaikh carries out a reconnaissance mission in London. She visits St Paul's Cathedral where she spends an hour inside the landmark taking pictures. She describes the prospect of planting a bomb there as 'easy'.
September 24: A second undercover officer - pretending to be the wife of the man who Shaikh believes is her would-be accomplice - travels to Uxbridge in west London to meet with Shaikh to discuss the plot. Shaikh breaks down when she discusses her 'really horrible path' and says she wants forgiveness from Allah for 'everything in my life that I've done'. They discuss getting fitted for a suicide vest and agree to meet again the following month.
October 10: Shaikh cancels her second meeting with 'the wife' on the day they were due to see each other again, saying she feels unwell. Concerned, police storm her flat and arrest Shaikh. She later tells police: 'I don't know if I ever would have gone through with it because I had doubts.'
February 21 2020: Shaikh pleads guilty to preparation of terrorist acts and dissemination of terrorist publications at the Old Bailey.
June: Shaikh's sentencing hearing begins, during which her counsel says she had 'doubts' over the plan, and would never have gone ahead with it. Reading press coverage of her case, Shaikh makes a phone call from Bronzefield prison in which she describes the mitigation offered as a 'lie' and maintains her intention was to carry out the attack.
July 3: Mr Justice Sweeney sentences Shaikh to life in prison, with a minimum term of 14 years. Shaikh raises her index finger - a widely accepted Islamic State salute - as she is led from court.
She picked up an order of service for Matins, noted down the exit routes and sent images to the officer suggesting she would place a bomb under the dome to bring the whole building down.
The next day, she sent an image of herself wearing a red niqab and black headband with Arabic writing on it, and giving the single fingered salute of ISIS.
Raising one index finger is often used by Muslims in prayer as a symbol of tawhid, the belief in the oneness of God, but has recently been used by members of IS.
Historian Nathaniel Zelinsky has said it could refer to a fundamentalist interpretation of the tawhid which rejects any other views.
She wrote: 'I got this the other day. I love it. Always wanted to be a warrior, Soldier of Allah. I just don't want waste any second. If I am gonna die, I want do most I can til end.'
Interviewed by police, Shaikh confessed that she planned to carry out a suicide bomb attack like the terrorist attack in Sri Lanka in order to gain access to heaven.
Asked what she was planning, she said: 'Obviously if I had the rucksack, you know like what happened in Sri Lanka, like that. I was going to do the same thing - blow everything up.'
She said she intended to die in the attack and added: 'I thought that was my way into heaven. I thought that was my way for forgiveness.'
Shaikh pleaded guilty to preparing acts of terrorism and disseminating terrorist publications but claimed she would not have gone through with the plan.
She wept as her legal representation Ben Newton described her 'life of pain and loneliness', and disclosed she suffered a 'truly traumatic childhood'.
'She didn't want to blow up a church of people,' her defence counsel Ben Newton told the Old Bailey. 'She just wanted friends.'
Her counsel said she simply had a history of trying to please people, even flying to Pakistan for an arranged marriage against her will before backing out at the last minute and being sent home in disgrace.
Conversations with the undercover police revealed she once asked how much of her body would be destroyed by detonating a suicide vest, and also enquired about the date of the September 11 terror attacks.
Commander Richard Smith, head of counter-terrorism at Scotland Yard said: 'Safiyya Shaikh was clearly dangerous. She was spreading vile directives for mass murder across the world and also planning her own horrific attack on UK soil.
'I am pleased to say that we were able to identify her plans, assess her intent and then lay before her the evidence of her criminality resulting in the guilty pleas.'
He concluded: 'Shaikh was dedicated to her extremist beliefs. In addition to wanting to carry out her own sickening attack on UK soil, she hoped to inspire others to implement attack plans even after she had died. Thanks to the hard work of officers from both the Met Police and MI5, she is instead in jail.
'Every day, including during the pandemic, the national counter terrorism police network is continuing to fight terrorism. We're working with businesses and places of worship to try and keep everyone safe. I urge the public to help us by reporting anything at all suspicious to police.'
At the same time as she was planning the attack, Shaikh was running a 'channel' on the encrypted Telegram application called GreenB1rds.
The channel disseminated extremist propaganda in support of ISIS and instructional material encouraging others to carry out 'lone wolf' attacks.
It included posters threatening attacks on Tower Bridge - wrongly labelled 'London Bridge'- and Big Ben, saying: 'Know O Crusader that you - Allah willing - will soon be pursued in your own homeland.'
Ms Morgan said Shaikh 'personally created some of the imagery and videos and also instructed others with necessary skills to create the material, which she then circulated.'
The channels were run with a high degree of secrecy and technical application, storing the content in back-ups and re-creating the channels under different details whenever Telegram shut them down.
Shaikh kept a 'banned list' of those suspected to be spies, and even created a false persona of herself as a man.
Two weeks before her arrest, Shaikh boasted she was now running six 'brothers' channels' along with her own, but added: 'Alhamdullilah it's good, and it's an honur [sic] to be asked.'
Others included channels called Lone Wolves and Jannah is my Goal.
Shaikh had 15 'admins' who helped her run the GreenB1rds channel of whom seven were 'totally committed,' she said.
'They will continue my work when gone inshaAllah [god willing],' Shaikh told the undercover officer.
After her arrest, Shaikh told a probation officer that when she ran the chatroom she 'felt happier than she had ever done.'
She talked of having a 'sense of purpose and no longer feeling empty' and said that any doubt expressed about going through with the attack was mainly because her daughter had unexpectedly been returned to her care.
Mr Sweeney said: 'I have asked myself whether life is required, and in my view, self-evidently it is, not least because it is impossible to predict whether you will be safe at the end of a determinate sentence.'
Safiyya Shaikh: The lonely Muslim convert determined to kill and be killed
An artist's impression of Shaikh appearing at the Old Bailey
All Safiyya Shaikh had ever wanted, according to her legal representation, was friendship. She also had a long-held desire to take her own life.
So when the couple she thought to be like-minded conspirators in her plot to bomb St Paul's Cathedral and become a martyr were unmasked as undercover police officers with no intention of launching a terror attack, the single mother became immediately distressed.
'She didn't want to blow up a church of people,' her defence counsel Ben Newton told the Old Bailey. 'She just wanted friends.'
Yet the idea that she had got 'cold feet' over the plot was later denounced - in truly extraordinary circumstances - by Shaikh herself.
During a recorded prison telephone conversation to an acquaintance part-way through her four-day sentencing hearing, Shaikh described claims she was having doubts over the plot as 'a lie'.
'I was going to go through with it,' she said during a 14-minute telephone call from HMP Bronzefield, recorded by the authorities. I wasn't getting cold feet, I wasn't having doubts.'
In fact she said the only reason she backed out of a meeting with her co-conspirators - the undercover police - was because of her drug habit.
'I would have arranged another appointment with them,' Shaikh said in her phone call. 'I would have met them. I just didn't wake up in time and that's the truth.'
It was acknowledged in court that security conscious Shaikh would have known her telephone calls were being recorded from prison.
Judge Mr Justice Sweeney described the development as 'somewhat unusual', and delayed passing sentence to take into account her frank and chilling admission.
The full horrors of 37-year-old Shaikh's formative years were only alluded to in court.
An artist's impression of Shaikh at the Old Bailey, on June 22. The idea that she had got 'cold feet' over the plot was later denounced - in truly extraordinary circumstances - by Shaikh herself
She wept as Mr Newton described her 'life of pain and loneliness', and disclosed she suffered a 'truly traumatic childhood'.
Her life was to change for the better, at least initially, when in 2007 - still living by the name Michelle Ramsden and as a single mother to her daughter - she was befriended by a local Muslim family who impressed her with their warmth and kindness.
Unwittingly, it set the impressionable Shaikh on a path that would see her reject mainstream Islam taught in her mosque in search of an extremist ideology. She found it.
By 2016, buoyed by the popularity of her pro-Jihad propaganda being shared around the world, Shaikh set her sights on martyrdom.
And in the undercover police officers, Shaikh thought she found the perfect confidantes.
She sought to impress them with her determination to 'kill as many as possible' before being killed herself. Shaikh would later confess to police following her arrest that she had always wanted to take her own life.
Meanwhile, Kurdish asylum seeker Fatah Mohammed Abdullah, 35, a fanatic of the so-called Islamic State, was given a nine-year minimum term in June last year after a judge at the Old Bailey heard that he encouraged a terror cell in Germany to commit mass murder with a car, bomb and meat cleaver.
He pleaded guilty to inciting terrorism overseas and engaging in conduct in preparation to assist others to commit terrorist acts.
Abdullah bought chemicals, over 8,000 matches, an igniter fuse, and a remote-control detonator on eBay and Amazon from April 2018.
Police who suspected he was planning to build explosives raided his Arthur's Hill flat, Newcastle, that December, discovering the various items as well as his own Islamist literature.
Abdullah, whose origin remains a mystery, had scribbled notes supportive of ISIS and 'violent jihad'. A review of the browsing history on his mobile phone showed searches for pressure, and the use and manufacture of gunpowder.
Police who suspected Abdullah was planning to build explosives raided his Arthur's Hill flat that December, discovering the various items as well as his own Islamist literature (pictured, counter-terrorism officers pictured on Philip Place in Newcastle)
Six weeks later - in January 2019 - German police raided apartments in Meldorf and Elpersbüttel in Schleswig-Holstein after a surveillance operation.
Omar Babek and Ahmed Hussein were accused of plotting to drive a vehicle packed with 10kg of TNT into a crowd and then attack passers-by with a meat cleaver.
Abdullah had taken 'very real and significant steps to plan an attack', Detective Chief Superintendent Martin Snowden of Counter-Terrorism Policing North-East said.
He pleaded guilty to preparing acts of terrorism and to incitement to terrorism overseas. His case was heard over video link between Liverpool Crown Court, the Old Bailey, and HMP Belmarsh in southeast London.
It was adjourned for psychiatric reports and the judge, Mr Justice Sweeney, said a video link would probably be needed for the sentence hearing in May.
Abdullah had taken 'very real and significant steps to plan an attack', Detective Chief Superintendent Martin Snowden of Counter-Terrorism Policing North-East said
Abdullah was smuggled into Britain in the back of a lorry when he was 20. He claimed to be Iranian when he arrived, and was granted asylum.
However, the jobless refugee is suspected of being an Iraqi Kurd.
He told officials he came from a violent family home where he was physically abused by father and brothers, and was thrown out of home at the age of 13.
After his arrest, Abdullah also claimed that his mother had died seven to eight months earlier - and that his sister had burned herself to death.
Officials learned that he made at least one call to his mother from Belmarsh.
Prof Michael Kopelman, emeritus professor neuroscience at King's College, told a pre-trial hearing: 'There is no doubt that his mental state has fluctuated with time.'
In March 2008, Abdullah was charged with public disorder and spent a short spell in jail. Four months later he was sectioned under the Mental Health Act after he had a dispute with his partner and attempted to jump off the Tyne Bridge.
In 2013, his mental health deteriorated again and was said to be suffering from nightmares, inadequate self-care, and at moderate risk of self-harm.
Abdullah claimed that he had been hearing heard voices since before he arrived in Britain, made worse by a beating in 2010.
He was diagnosed with anxiety, depression and personality disorder along with a long-term diagnosis of PTSD. A psychiatric nurse cared for him for two years.
In Belmarsh, he talked about voices telling him to kill himself, talked about wanting to burn himself and was refusing to eat.
Abdullah told a psychiatrist that he used to smoke, drink and take prescribed anti-depressants and that he 'feels that he let himself down.'