A doctor who led failed car bomb attacks in Britain in revenge for U.S.-led military action in his family's native Iraq was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison.
Bilal Abdulla, a 29-year-old physician with Britain's national health service, will serve at least 32 years in prison for plotting to murder hundreds of people in two botched terrorist attacks in London's theater district and on a Scottish airport.
Police and security officials say the attacks in June, 2007 may have been timed to coincide with the departure from office of ex-British leader Tony Blair — who sent troops into Iraq in 2003 — earlier in the same week.
Judge Colin Mackay sentenced Abdulla, who was convicted Tuesday, to two concurrent life sentences and said his fervent opposition to the invasion of Iraq was no justification for his actions.
"Many people felt and still feel strong opposition to the invasion of Iraq," Mackay told Abdulla at London's Woolwich Crown Court. "But you were born with intelligence and you were born into a privileged and well-to-do position in Iraq and you are a trained doctor."
Anti-terrorism officials say the fact that Abdulla — a doctor who had pledged an oath to protect human lives — led the plots serves as a stark reminder that people from all sectors of society can turn to extremist violence.
Police said that Abdulla, a Sunni Muslim raised in Iraq, but born in Britain and who holds dual citizenship, carried out his attacks to avenge the deaths of friends and relatives in Iraq.
London police discovered two Mercedes sedans laden with explosives, fuel and gas canisters on June 29 last year, after a paramedic saw one of the vehicles — parked next to the city's popular "Tiger Tiger" nightclub — emitting smoke.
Each car was packed with around 1,000 nails and one was parked in the likely path of paramedics expected to rush to the scene of the first blast.
Mackay said Adulla and his accomplice Kafeel Ahmed, a 28-year-old Indian engineering student, had targeted the nightclub as it represented all they "despised about Western culture: drink, association between the sexes, and music."
Both car bombs failed because the men hadn't got the correct mixture of oxygen and fuel needed to create an explosion, police said.
Investigators said Abdulla initially planned a second wave of car bomb attacks, likely on the southern English city of Cambridge or on a musical festival — but ditched the idea, heading instead to Glasgow, where he worked in a hospital.
The men attempted to crash a blazing Jeep loaded with explosives through entrance doors to Glasgow airport's departure terminal on June 30, 2007. But the car's path was blocked and explosives failed to detonate.
Police said they believe both men intended the airport strike to be a suicide attack.
Ahmed, who drove the Jeep, suffered extensive burns and later died in a hospital. His brother Sabeel Ahmed — another doctor with Britain's national health service — was deported to India in May after he admitted withholding evidence from police.
A fourth man, Jordanian neurologist Mohammed Asha, 28, was acquitted of playing any role in the plot. He has been served with a deportation order, but said he will appeal. "I am an innocent man," Asha told reporters, saying an attempt to deport him "appears to be sour grapes on the part of the government."
Anti-terrorism officials said Abdulla likely became radicalized in Iraq and had contact with insurgents. Prosecutors said in a message recovered from his laptop, Abdulla had told a Sunni insurgent group that "the days I spent with you were the best and most rewarding days of my life."
But Britain's MI5 spy agency and police found no evidence the plot was directly assisted by terrorists in Iraq, a security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of his work.
Security officials said Ahmed had links to Algerian terrorist Abbas Boutrab, who was jailed in Belfast, northern Ireland, in 2005 after gathering information on bombs capable of downing airliners.