An unrepentant Muslim convert who was on course to become the UK’s first female homegrown suicide bomber has been jailed for a minimum of 14 years for plotting a terror attack at St Paul’s Cathedral.
Safiyya Shaikh, a 37-year-old mother from Hayes in west London, extensively researched how to cause maximum carnage at the visitor attraction and place of worship, saying she wanted “a lot to die” before being killed herself so she could reach paradise.
Shaikh’s murderous plans came to fruition when she sought help from a bomb-making expert who she believed to be a willing co-conspirator – only to find it was an undercover officer.
She admitted preparation of terrorist acts and dissemination of terrorist publications on the internet.
Shaikh’s defence team said she had “doubts” over the plot. But moments before the judge was due to sentence her on Thursday, prosecutors disclosed details of a phone call to a friend from prison last week in which Shaikh said: “I didn’t get cold feet, yeah – I was ready to go through with it.”
Sentencing Shaikh to life with a minimum term of 14 years at the Old Bailey on Friday, Mr Justice Sweeney said: “I had already reached the sure conclusion in the original evidence that your claim of doubt to the police and others was a lie.
“Your intention had been – and remained throughout – strong.”
Shaikh, who sat in the dock wearing a black hijab with her head bowed, showed little emotion as the sentence was read out.
She smiled and raised her index finger – a gesture appropriated by the so-called Islamic State group – to members of the press as she was led from court after sentencing.
Police said heroin user Shaikh had never expressed regret or remorse for her actions, and had planned to leave a bomb at the London landmark before detonating her suicide vest on an Underground train moments later.
She also developed a reputation for her extremist propaganda posts online.
Commander Richard Smith, head of the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command, said: “She loved watching graphic videos of terrorist killings and her mission … was to inspire others to fight, even after she hoped to have died in a suicide attack.
“She was so serious about her propaganda work, she wanted to ensure it would continue even after she had died.
“Shaikh was clearly dangerous. She was spreading vile directives for mass murder across the world and also planning her own horrific terrorist attack on UK soil.”
The court heard Shaikh, born Michelle Ramsden, suffered a “truly traumatic childhood”, and had her daughter at a young age.
She converted to Islam in 2007 when she was impressed by the kindness of a local Muslim family.
But her view of Islam became increasingly extremist, and she stopped attending mosques.
She was also engaged on the Government’s anti-radicalisation strategy Prevent.
However, by the time she began researching her bloody project in 2019 she had already cultivated a reasonable following online among those who shared her ideologies.
But Shaikh had no expertise in bomb-making, so struck up a friendship with a man who could help – unaware he was a police officer.
The Old Bailey heard she carried out a reconnaissance trip to St Paul’s in September 2019 to scope out the security detail and the prospect of smuggling a bomb inside to commit mass murder.
The plot, she deduced after spending an hour inside the landmark, was “easy” to carry out.
Shaikh agreed to meet up with her fixer’s wife, unaware she was also an undercover officer, during which she wept as she discussed her life and said she wanted forgiveness from Allah for “everything in my life that I’ve done”.
Police stormed Shaikh’s home the following month after she cancelled plans to meet up with the fixer’s wife to discuss how the plot would work.
Shaikh later became distressed when she was told the “brother” who agreed to help her was in fact working for the police.
Prosecutor Alison Morgan QC, opening the sentencing hearing last month, said: “She engaged with others, who she believed to be of a similar mindset, to instigate and plan a terrorist attack involving the use of improvised explosives to attack St Paul’s Cathedral and a hotel nearby.
“In furtherance of her attack plan, she visited the cathedral to assess its security arrangement and the best place to detonate a bomb.
“She stated that her intention was to kill herself and as many other people as possible.”
Shaikh’s counsel Ben Newton said his client was getting “cold feet” over the plot, having already delayed it by several months, and would never have gone through with it.
He said: “She didn’t want to blow up a church of people, she just wanted friends.”
Jenny Hopkins, from the Crown Prosecution Service, said of the case: “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 of the charges.”