Dhiren Barot was raised a Hindu in the UK before he converted to Islam.
Barot attended terrorism training camps
Woolwich Crown Court heard that Barot, 34, from Kingsbury in north-west London, who admitted conspiracy to murder last month, planned to detonate a dirty bomb and launch an attack on London's Tube.
Edmund Lawson QC, prosecuting, told the court that Barot was born in India in December 1971, and was brought to the UK by his parents the following year.
He attained GCSEs at school in Kingsbury and after leaving in 1988 obtained a City and Guilds in tourism.
His only sustained time in work was as an airline ticket clerk in Piccadilly, central London, from 1991 to 1995, and he later put in for a transfer to Heathrow but his application was turned down, Mr Lawson said.
Then, in September 1995, he told his employers he was going on a "long overseas trip".
Mr Lawson said investigations revealed he went for a long training session at a terrorist camp in Pakistan.
He inferred Barot was being financially supported somehow, as he did not seek social security benefits at any time.
BAROT TERROR CASE
Planned radioactive "dirty" bomb
Proposed using petrol tanker for explosion
Planned train attacks, including Heathrow Express and Tube under Thames
The IMF and the World Bank in Washington were targets
The Stock Exchange and Citigroup HQ, both in New York, and Prudential building in Newark also on list
Planned to detonate limousines filled with gas cylinders in underground car parks
Possibility of use of a plane for an attack
Travelled to Pakistan to brief his "terrorist masters"
Said Madrid attack "deserves to be emulated more than any other"
Used false identities and at least one false passport
Other jobs he appears to have had were as a night porter at luxury apartment blocks in London and he may have also worked for a company called Phone City, Mr Lawson added.
The QC said Barot appeared to have no fixed address in the UK, and he moved frequently from one house to another.
That would have been consistent with anti-surveillance activities, Mr Lawson said.
He said Barot wrote a book published in 1999 called The Army Of Madinah under the name Esa al-Hindi, in which it said Barot converted to Islam at the age of 20.
Mr Lawson told how Barot also had a history of "losing" his passports, and said that several times his documents were reported missing before others were applied for.
Barot received extensive terror training in the use of weapons and explosives, first going to Pakistan for terrorist purposes in October 1995.
He went to the disputed territory of Kashmir and then to a mountainous area called Kotti for many months.
Detailed notes which he made while there in a notebook were later recovered by police in a garage.
The notebook referred to Kalashnikov and AK47 weapons, grenades, various chemicals including sulphuric acid, poisons, a bomb containing TNT and sulphuric acid, and the preparation of nitro-glycerine.
It also featured Molotov cocktails and napalm bombs, and a section on "how to blow up a bridge".
Parts of the notebook depicting a "basic design for a phosphorous bomb" were shown on TV screens in court.
There were also details on the effects and manufacture of poisons including cyanide and ricin.
Mr Lawson said it featured poison recipes including one for botulinum toxin, "the most toxic substance known to man".
After Barot was given a life sentence, Peter Clarke, the head of the Metropolitan Police's Anti-Terrorist branch, said there was a "wealth of evidence" he was a "very important figure" within al-Qaeda.
He told the BBC "We believe that early in 2004, he presented his plans to al-Qaeda leadership with the intention of getting the permission and the resources to mount attacks in the United Kingdom."
The minimum 40-year tariff means Barot will be almost 75 by the time he is released from prison.