Britain’s youngest convicted terrorist was recruited and radicalised online by a jihadist living in Syria, a court has heard. The youth from Blackburn, Lancashire, who at 15 is too young to be named, built up an extremist network via social media, inciting a fellow extremist in Melbourne, Australia to carry out a beheading attack on Anzac Day.
That plot, which targeted a memorial parade through the city on Anzac Day, was just days from fruition when authorities intervened, arresting the youth at his parent’s home over suspicions that he planned to kill his teacher. The youth later pleaded guilty to inciting terrorism and was today sentenced to life imprisonment, with a minimum sentence of five years.
Already nicknamed “The Terrorist” at school thanks to his interest in Islamic State and Osama bin Laden, the boy, then aged 14, had threatened to slit the throat of a teaching assistant “like halal”, Manchester Crown Court heard on Tuesday during the sentencing hearing.
The youth, who struggled at school, first contacted the online jihad community on his first smartphone, approaching one of Islamic State’s most successful recruiters after watching propaganda videos made by IS.
He found ready success with his online jihad activities, gaining over 24,000 followers on Twitter within two weeks of setting up an account. As he constructed a fantasy image of himself on the social media site, he “quickly became a celebrity” within the jihad community.
He soon fell in to regular contact with Neil Prakash, an Australian fanatic now living in Syria under the name Abu Khaled al-Cambodi. The youth, whose parents are separated, told the court that al-Cambodi treated him like “a little brother.”
Via al-Cambodi, the youth was put in touch with Sevdet Besim, 18, from Melbourne, whom he inciting to behead Australian policemen at an Anzac Day memorial event. The two exchanged more than 3,000 encrypted messages plotting the attack, but the younger teen was very much in charge, telling Besim “I’ll give orders soon.”
Paul Greaney QC, prosecuting, told the boy’s sentencing hearing: “There is no doubt that there was a determination on the part of the defendant and Sevdet Besim that the plot should be carried through and the contact between the two included frequent references to the production of a martyrdom video by Besim for al-Cambodi which, no doubt, al-Cambodi intended to use for propaganda purposes.
“In the event, fortunately, the authorities here and in Australia intervened and a plot that would in all probability have resulted in a number of deaths was thwarted.”
Within hours of making contact, the two decided that their attack would take place in Australia, and would target police officers, Greaney told the court. Besim suggested Anzac Day, a solemn annual event taking place on the 25th April commemorating all Australians and New Zealanders who died in war. The youth replied “sounds good,” telling Besim it was an ideal date as it would be remembered every anniversary.
Over nine days in March of this year, the pair thrashed out details of the attack. Greaney told the court: “Shortly after this exchange about Anzac Day, [the defendant] suggested that Besim should ‘break into someone’s house and get your first taste of beheading’.”
On the 19th March the youth allegedly gave Besim three options for the method of attack: a gun attack, car attack or knife attack. Besim is said to have favoured an attack using both car and knife, the method which resulted in the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in London, in 2013.
During the next few days the choice of weapon was discussed, with Besim sending the defendant a picture of the knife he intended to use. The youth replied “Handle is perfect for tearing through throat.”
On 24 March, Besim allegedly messaged the defendant: “So far the plan is to run a cop over on the Anzac parade & then continue to kill a cop then take Ghanimah [booty] and run to Shahadah [‘death for Allah’, i.e. martyrdom]?”
The defendant responded: “I’ll give orders soon but it’s looking along that line.”
The following day the youth reminded Besim to make sure he was shot during the attack. Besim replied: “I feel like a young kid with a ticket to disney world cant wait ahahah. Yeh I wanna make sure I get shot to. Not b4 I take out at least 1 [sic].”
Hours later the youth was arrested at his parent’s suburban home, pleading guilty in July.
Besim remained at large for a further three weeks, continuing to make plans for the attack, including researching a particular road. He too was then arrested, found in possession of knives, a large shahada flag, and a martyrdom message on his smartphone. He will be tried in Australia next year.
Greaney said: “The position of the prosecution is that a major terrorist plot in its late stages, orchestrated from the north of England but to be carried out in Melbourne, had been thwarted.”
The thwarted attack is believed the first to be plotted by jihadists recruited in their bedrooms by Islamic State.