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Man guilty of Manchester bomb plot

A man accused of plotting to bomb a shopping centre in Manchester and the subway in New York City has been found guilty by a US jury.

Abid Naseer, 28, who acted as his own lawyer during the trial in New York, faces a possible life sentence.

Prosecutors said the British plot was part of a broader al Qaida conspiracy calling on other cells to attack civilians in New York and Denmark.

During the trial, MI5 agents - who were disguised using make-up, with one in a fake beard and thick black glasses - described weeks of surveillance they conducted on Naseer in 2009, including movements to and from an Islamic centre and a cyber cafe.

Pakistani-born Naseer, who said he travelled to England to take computer science classes, was extradited from the UK to the United States in 2013.

The jury reached the verdict in a Brooklyn court after beginning deliberations yesterday morning, and a date has not yet been set for his sentencing.

Detective Chief Superintendent Tony Mole of Greater Manchester Police said: "Throughout his trial, a number of locations in Manchester were mentioned as potential targets for Naseer. I want to stress that these locations were part of a plot that is now six years old.

"There is no current intelligence or evidence to suggest any of these locations are under threat or at risk of a terrorist attack. I want shoppers and residents to be reassured by that and continue to use the shopping facilities in Manchester without fear or trepidation."

He said the case highlights the need for everyone in Greater Manchester - not just the police - to be vigilant, adding that while t errorist attacks are very rare, "the threat such an attack could pose to the cohesion of our communities is enormous".

He said: "That is why tackling radicalisation both here in Manchester and from those who travel abroad and return to the UK is an absolute priority for us."

He called on "everyone in our communities" for help in identifying "young people who are vulnerable and therefore susceptible to being radicalised".

Mr Mole said the North West Counter Terrorism Unit arrested Naseer in 2009 following "credible intelligence about a potential plot to carry out a terrorist attack in Greater Manchester".

He said: "There are times when we receive credible intelligence about a potential terrorist attack when we have to act immediately to stop any terrorist atrocity and protect people's lives. That is exactly what we had to do in 2009.

"Following our action, a file was passed to the Crown Prosecution Service in 2009 who decided there was not enough evidence to prosecute.

"However, as our inquiries unfolded it became apparent Naseer was part of a bigger conspiracy to both plot and carry out terrorist attacks elsewhere.

"In 2010 he was then extradited to the United States to stand trial in America, and has now been convicted."

After his extradition, Naseer pleaded not guilty to providing and conspiring to provide material support to al Qaida and conspiring to use a destructive device.

He acted as his own lawyer throughout the trial, often referring to himself in the third person as he set about portraying himself as a moderate Muslim who was falsely accused.

"Abid is innocent," Naseer said in closing arguments on Monday, adding: "He is not a terrorist. He is not an al Qaida operative."

In her closing argument, assistant US attorney Zainab Ahmed told jurors the arrests of Naseer and other members of his cell averted mass murder.

"If the defendant hadn't been stopped, hundreds of innocent men, women and children wouldn't be alive today," she said.

Naseer's self-representation created the spectacle of the defendant cross-examining an admitted terrorist.

MI5 agents testified wearing disguises and the trial marked the first time documents recovered in the 2009 Navy Seal raid against Osama bin Laden's compound were used as trial evidence.

Most of the case hinged on email exchanges in 2009 between Naseer and a person described by prosecutors as an al Qaida handler who was directing plots to attack civilians in Manchester, New York City and Copenhagen.

Naseer insisted the emails consisted only of harmless banter about looking for a potential bride after going to England to take computer science classes.

He "wanted to settle down", he said, adding: "Is there anything wrong with that?"

But the prosecutor accused Naseer of lying on the witness stand by claiming the women he wrote about were real.

She said the women's names were actually code for home-made bomb ingredients: Nadia stood for ammonium nitrate and Huma for hydrogen peroxide.

The prosecutor dismissed Naseer's explanations as "blather", saying: ''This man wanted to drive a car bomb into a crowded shopping centre and watch people die."

Meanwhile, a detective who worked on the case in the UK said the decision by the Crown Prosecution Service not to charge Naseer was "wrong".

Retired Detective Chief Inspector Allan Donoghue was second in command on the counter-terrorism operation that investigated Naseer, and speaking to BBC North West Tonight, he said: "The whole command team believed that there was sufficient evidence. And these were people who were senior police officers with a vast amount of experience in investigations and in counter-terrorism.

"And every one of them believed that this man should have been charged in Manchester.

"He (Naseer) was a threat. He was a risk. He had the potential to kill people."

He added: "I've got to respect the right of the Crown Prosecution Service. It's their statutory duty to make a decision. And they made a decision not to charge."

Asked if that decision was wrong, he told the programme: "I think it was wrong - yeah. And that's born out from the conviction that we've now seen in America and I would like to thank the Americans for taking him off the streets and to thank the people of New York who sat on the jury and considered the evidence to convict him."

A CPS spokeswoman said: "The evidence in our possession in relation to Abid Naseeer which would have been admissible in a criminal court was very limited.

"Crucially, there was no evidence of training, research or the purchasing of explosives.

"We had no evidence of an agreement between Abid Naseer and others which would have supported a charge of conspiracy in this country.

"Any decision by the CPS does not imply any finding concerning guilt or criminal conduct; the CPS makes decisions only according to the test set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors and it is applied in all decisions on whether or not to prosecute.

"The evidence used by the US authorities to extradite a suspect does not need to meet the same tests as set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors.

"The CPS does not decide on extradition, but acts on behalf of the overseas party in the British court which decides if an extradition can be allowed."

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