Former London McDonald’s worker planned suicide bomb attack
A former McDonalds worker from south London was instructed by a senior Al-Qaeda terrorist how to build a bomb ahead of a planned attack at Heathrow Airport.
Minh Quang Pham, 33, is facing a possible 50 year jail sentence after pleading guilty in a Manhattan court to joining Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the group’s Yemen offshoot.
It was there he spent a day in bombmaking training with Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in a drone strike in Yemen in 2011.
According to court documents seen by The Sunday Times, Awlaki was also told to tape bolts around the bomb in order to cause as many injuries as possible.
The documents, based on transcripts of interviews the FBI held with Pham, reveal the former New Cross resident had approached Awlaki offering to sacrifice himself in a suicide attack.
They read: ‘Awlaki ultimately gave Pham approximately 6,000 euros [£4,725] in case Pham had any unforeseen expenses during his attack preparation.
‘Pham planned on using the money to rent a house in the UK to construct the explosive device and to purchase the chemicals and other materials needed for the attack.
‘Awlaki instructed Pham to target the arrivals section of Heathrow international airport. In particular, Pham was to target arrivals from the United States or Israel. Pham intended to conduct the attack by concealing the explosive device in a backpack.’
According to the paper, more evidence came from interviews with captured Al Qaeda conduit Ahmed Warsame.
Warsame identified a masked Pham as posing in a photograph of jihadis that was published in the group’s magazine.
Pham denies planning the attack – his defence lawyer has said his client’s statements regarding a plot were a ‘ruse’ to enable him to leave the group and return home to his family in London.
The plot never played out after he was arrested at the airport when he returned in July 2011 from a six-month trip to Yemen, where he used his college degrees in graphic design and animation to edit videos and photos for propaganda in Inspire magazine, prosecutors said.
In urging a long sentence, the government said Pham’s intellect, cleverness and ability to recruit like-minded individuals will still be valued by terrorists.
‘Indeed, the fact of his conviction and imprisonment likely will serve in many respects to bolster Pham’s bona fides as a recruiter of others to wage violent jihad,’ prosecutors said.
In her pre-sentence submission, Pham attorney Bobbi Sternheim said her client has denounced terrorism, never intended to commit violence and shouldn’t serve over 30 years in prison, especially since solitary confinement will result in hopelessness and despair.
‘Pham was directed by others,had no specific mission and took no substantive terrorist actions, violent or otherwise,’ she wrote.
Prosecutors urged Judge Allison J. Nathan to ‘reject Pham’s self-serving, unsworn, and unsubstantiated statements submitted in an 11th-hour effort to mitigate the seriousness of his actions.’
The government noted that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, convicted in the April 2013 attack near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, told the FBI that he and his brother learned how to create their pressure-cooker bombs from Inspire magazine.
Prosecutors said al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has called on followers to attack civilians and has taken credit for coordinating attacks overseas, including the January 2015 Paris massacre at the French publication Charlie Hebdo.