Britain jails 3 for online terror sites

Updated: 2007-07-06 06:32
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LONDON - An al-Qaida-inspired computer expert who dubbed himself "the jihadist James Bond" was sentenced to 10 years in prison Thursday for running a network of extremist Web sites and hoarding videos of the murders of Americans Nick Berg and Daniel Pearl.

Morocco-born Younis Tsouli, 23, who prosecutors said uploaded guides to building suicide vests onto the Internet, used the online ID "irhabi007" — the Arabic word for terrorist and the code number of the fictional British spy.

With accomplices Tariq al-Daour and Waseem Mughal, who also got prison terms Thursday, Tsouli offered advice and motivation to would-be terrorists on a myriad of Web pages run from their London homes, prosecutors said.

The group was the leading distributor of terrorist material on the Internet before they were arrested in 2005, said Evan Kohlmann, a U.S.-based terrorism consultant who gave evidence in the case.

Britain jails 3 for online terror sites

A Metropolitan Police undated hand out photo of Younus Tsouli. Tsouli together with two co-defendents pleaded guilty Wednesday to inciting others to commit an act of terrorism.[AP]

"There are people, including law enforcers, who initially thought these guys were computer geeks or hackers," Kohlmann told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Washington.

"But they were a lot more dangerous, they were the key aides to al-Qaida. There was no one more skilled at what they did."

All three pleaded guilty Wednesday to inciting others to commit acts of terrorism. Al-Daour, 21, who prosecutors said hoped to study law, was sentenced to 6 1/2 years, and biochemistry graduate Waseem Mughal, 24, got 7 1/2 years.

They agreed to plead guilty earlier this year while undergoing a jury trial.

Images of Washington were found on Tsouli's computer hard drive, stored alongside details of how to make car bombs, cause explosions and produce poisons, prosecutors had told jurors. U.S. law enforcement officials have said the Capitol building was featured in short video clips.

During the trial, prosecutors also detailed the message traffic on Internet forums run by the men.

One message read: "We are 45 doctors and we are determined to undertake jihad and take the battle inside America."

The Mayport Naval Base in Jacksonville, Fla., home of the now-retired carrier USS John F Kennedy, was named as a potential target in another. That message also referred to using six Chevrolet GT vehicles and three fishing boats and blowing up gasoline tanks with rocket-propelled grenades.

Despite the chilling similarity to attempted car bomb attacks in London and Glasgow last week, police officials said they had found no links between the two groups.

The case marks the first terrorism convictions in Britain based purely on evidence about use of the Internet, Judge Charles Openshaw said.

Openshaw said Tsouli was a danger even though "he came no closer to a bomb or a firearm than a computer keyboard."

Tsouli had a clear link to the then leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed by a U.S. airstrike last year, Kohlmann said.

"He was acting like a travel agent for would-be suicide bombers, sending them straight to al-Zarqawi," said Kohlmann, a case consultant for London police.

Tsouli had referred to receiving orders from al-Qaida leaders in an online exchange with Mughal, claiming "AQ" had asked him to translate a book into English, Ellison said.

Following searches of the group's computers, storage drives and DVDs, police said they had found extremist material that — if printed out and piled up — would stand thousands of feet high.

Videos recovered included footage of the beheading of Berg, a 26-year-old American contractor, killed in Iraq in 2004 and the 2002 kidnapping and murder of Pearl, the U.S journalist, in Pakistan.

The three were arrested in 2005 as part of a Europe-wide operation to break up an alleged terror cell, which prosecutors said was planning an attack. Arrests were made in Bosnia, Denmark and Britain.

United Arab Emirates-born al-Daour, Tsouli and British-born Mughal of Chatham also admitted charges of attempting to defraud banks and credit card companies.