A fast food worker who called himself the “local terrorist” has been cleared of plotting an attack on an army base near his home using axes, knives and a drone.
Hisham Muhammad, 26, was accused of conducting a reconnaissance mission around the barracks of the Royal Fusiliers in Bury, Greater Manchester, posing as a potential recruit.
It was the same regiment in which Lee Rigby served before he was killed in a terrorist attack in Woolwich in May 2013, and his body was held there before his funeral in the town.
An earlier jury had been unable to reach a verdict and a second jury unanimously cleared Muhammad of preparing acts of terrorism and his cousin, Faisal Abu Ahmad, 25, of failing to inform police.
Muhammad had told the jury that he believed that Islamic State (IS) was a Western conspiracy to take away the rights of Muslims and he was only watching their videos to “find out the truth.”
Police were alerted after Muhammad and Ahmad fell behind on the rent and their house in Bury was visited by the landlord.
Officers found the pair, who were originally from Bermuda, had been sleeping on mattresses in the same room, while one of the other rooms was used as a makeshift gym.
Pictures showed a toy assault weapon propped against a wall, while a third room was littered with weapons, including two kitchen knives, three axes, a tomahawk and a machete.
Muhammad had also experimented with an improvised device for dropping bombs from a drone after allegedly drawing inspiration from their use by IS on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria.
He had bought push button switches, made ignition circuits and mocked up missiles from test tubes, along with a remote-control release system to attach to the drone.
He had also written down a recipe for explosives using hydrogen chloride and bought a stainless steel pipe from eBay of the type that could be used for a pipe bomb.
Investigators believed that he was “reaching a crescendo” of activity, which included his visit to the Castle Barracks, the day after the first anniversary of the May 2017 Manchester Arena attack.
Police arrested the pair in June 2018.
They discovered he was funding his activity through posing as a “beautiful Brazilian” prostitute on the internet, using the name BadGurl69.
He was also purchasing stolen credit card details on the dark web, under the username LocalTerrorist99.
His cousin, Faisal Abu Ahmad, 25, who lived with him, sent a message to his wife in Senegal saying he thought the “lonely madness” was getting to Muhammad, adding: “I’m worried what he will do” with an emoji of a gun.
Muhammad had been researching the weapons used by firearms officers in Manchester and prosecutors suggested that he was planning to ambush them and steal an assault rifle for his attack.
Anne Whyte QC, prosecuting, told the Old Bailey he had practised stabbing and slashing movements on a leather jacket and red Chicken Cottage polo shirt found in the flat as a “dress rehearsal for the real thing”.
When police visited the house in the Whitemoor area of the town, they seized Muhammad’s laptop and discovered he had been watching IS videos, including one called My Revenge.
He had written out an extract from the film that read: “Have a taste from the cup of punishment. This was only a small part and what awaits them will be more painful and bitter.”
Prison officers found a note in his cell, three weeks before his re-trial in which he said he wanted to “apologise to absolutely nobody.”
He finished with the words “Dawlatul Islam baaqiya la ilah – Kalimah on the flag”, which translated as: “The Islamic State will last forever, there is only one god – the words on the flag.”
Muhammad was brought up in the minority Muslim community in Bermuda, a British Overseas Territory, and has a British passport.
He moved to Morocco to study Islam, before living with relatives in Gambia and then Senegal.
He had spent four years living in Bury with his cousin and working for Amazon and at a Chicken Cottage and other takeaways in the town.
After his arrest, Muhammad told police that he had a “gift from god” for making things and his sketches were actually about a “fashionable military clothing line” called Guerrilla Ware, with a female line called Vanilla.
He said a handwritten recipe with the word “Bom” referred to a “blast-off motor” designed to help a commercial drone take off and a homemade axe was for cracking coconuts.
Asked why he was researching army barracks, Muhammad told the jury: “I was looking for somewhere to visit to see a gun. I wanted to visit to see guns in action.”
He spoke loudly, occasionally shouting, in an American accent and even did impressions of the police officers who questioned him.
He told the court that he had been admitted to hospital for two to three weeks at the age of 17 in Bermuda after his parents believed he was going to commit suicide.
He believed IS was “created by the US government to take away the rights of Muslims” and “to prevent Muslims from entering the country, immigrants”.
“They say they kill innocent people but I have never been there to see it myself. I am not a gullible person and I don’t just take things I see off the news,” he added.
“The technology you have these days you can make anything look real. I didn’t look at it as something realistic.”
He claimed he wanted to “find out the truth of what’s really happening” and added that he didn’t believe any of the attacks in Britain had really happened.
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