Two England street preachers — including one who boasted of being "Usama bin London" — were found guilty Tuesday of organizing terrorist training camps and encouraging Muslims to murder non-believers.
Atilla Ahmet, who once said in a cable news interview that he was the top Al Qaeda operative in Europe, and Mohammad Hamid, who gave himself the "bin London" nickname, were convicted following the end of a four-month trial at Woolwich Crown Court.
The court heard that Hamid, 50, led an Al Qaeda-style terrorist cell and planned to send his recruits to join camps in Afghanistan and East Africa.
Ahmet is a longtime aide to radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, an Egyptian the U.S. is attempting to extradite over the alleged plan to set up terrorist training camps in Oregon.
Hamid, originally from Tanzania, hand-picked recruits from mainstream mosques, inviting them for radical meetings at his home and then selecting a smaller number to attend the camps, police said.
Among his pupils were five involved in the failed July 21 London bombing, including ringleader Muktar Said Ibrahim, who attended Lake District camps in 2004.
National parks in the Lake District of northern England, the New Forest in the south and quiet corners of the southern counties of Berkshire, Kent and East Sussex were all used for training, including a former school.
"This was not innocent activity taking place on a camping weekend," said Peter Clarke, Britain's most senior counterterrorism detective.
Officials fear the case shows that British Muslims can be radicalized, trained and funded to carry out terror attacks — without ever leaving the country.
The British camps also offer a glimpse of the training centers that British-based Islamic extremists allegedly hoped to open in Oregon before authorities upended the plot.
"People have got to be alert to the fact that right in the middle of our society these things are going on," said Patrick Mercer, a former intelligence officer who is a member of Parliament with the opposition Conservative Party.
The camps may help explain why Jonathan Evans, head of the domestic intelligence agency MI5, has said Britain faces an ever growing threat from about 2,000 potential terrorists within its borders.
Video secretly made at the camps showed recruits marching with backpacks — like those used by London's transit network attackers to carry their deadly suicide bombs in 2005 — and conducting weapons drills used by insurgents in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
An undercover police officer, code-named "Dawood," infiltrated one group and captured cell phone video of the training. One clip showed trainees rehearsing a beheading with a watermelon.
The gang of North African men who made a failed attempt to bomb London's transit network on July 21, 2005 — two weeks after the July 7 subway and bus strikes that killed 52 commuters — met and were trained at one of the camps, said a government security official, who agreed to discuss the inquiry only on condition of not being quoted by name.
Yassin Mutegombwa, another recruit, was ordered jailed for 10 years in November over an alleged plan to carry out a suicide bombing in Somalia, police said.
Prosecutors said Hamid was candid about his hope that recruits could dwarf the scale of the 2005 London bombings. He hoped they would carry out six or seven major attacks before London hosted the 2012 Olympics, prosecutors said.
"Fifty-two. That's not even breakfast for me," Hamid said, referring to the number killed in the 2005 bombings, in a recording from a secret bug installed in his home which was played at his trial.
Dozens trained at Hamid's camps were hoping to carry out attacks, said a senior police official, who insisted on anonymity to discuss counterterrorism work. "There was repeated talk of finding and killing nonbelievers," he said.
Three of Hamid's followers, Kibley da Costa, 25, Mohammed Al-Figari, 45, and Kader Ahmed, 20, were found guilty of attending terror camps in two locations in the U.K.
Two other members of the gang, Mohammed Kyriacou, 19, and Mutegombwa, 23, admitted attending the camps, it was reported after restrictions were lifted.
Da Costa, Al-Figari, Ahmed, Kyriacou and Mutegombwa were each sentenced Tuesday to at least 3 1/2 years in prison.
Property manager Mousa Brown, 41, was cleared of providing and receiving weapons training and was freed from custody.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.