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Last Updated: Monday, 30 April 2007, 13:53 GMT 14:53 UK
Profile: Omar Khyam

Five men have been convicted of plotting to cause explosions in Britain. One of the ringleaders was Omar Khyam, described by the trial judge as "ruthless and devious". But what sort of man was he?

Omar Khyam
Born on 7 December 1981
Student at the University of North London
Attended al-Muhajiroun events
Influenced by radical clerics
Travelled to Pakistan in 2003
Planned attacks on the UK

Omar Khyam, who was at the heart of the fertiliser bomb plot conspiracy, grew up in a largely secular Muslim household.

He became interested in both religion and politics as a teenager. In time, he decided that violence was the answer to the problems he saw around him - and he sought a religious justification for that course.

His Pakistani grandfather, who had served in the British Army, moved to England in the 1970s. Khyam grew up in Crawley, West Sussex.

He loved football as a boy and went on to be captain of the school cricket team. He performed well in his GCSEs.

But he had become a troubled figure. His father had left home and 11-year-old Khyam was thrust into the role of "man of the family", taking decisions as to what his younger brother Shujah Mahmood, could do. Shujah was cleared of all charges by the jury in the trial.

Omar Khyam in his youth football team
Omar Khyam was a keen sportsman in his youth
The decisions he reached were puritanical and austere. He would forbid Shujah from going to the swimming pool for fear that he would see girls in bikinis. He banned him from watching TV programmes.

At the age of 18, Khyam's world view, increasingly at odds with the rest of society, took him down a political route. He got involved with al-Muhajiroun, the militant political group that saw no compatibility between Islam and life in Britain.

The group, headed by self-styled cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed, had a powerbase in Crawley. Teenagers attended secret lectures from Bakri and others such as the jailed preachers Abu Hamza al-Masri and Abdullah Faisal.


At these meetings, Khyam watched videos from Chechnya, edited in a way to glorify the Muslim dead in the breakaway Russian republic.

Similar events aimed at agitating young Muslim men were to take place in the East End of London, Luton and, most famously, at Finsbury Park Mosque.

He told his Old Bailey trial that by 1998 he believed in "the cause" of "freedom of Muslim lands from occupation" - the heart of what was becoming the doctrine of al-Qaeda and associated organisations.

Kashmir 'the big issue'

But it was Kashmir that was to become the defining issue for Khyam.

"Kashmir was a very big issue in my family," he told the trial. "When it was a British colony, India and Pakistan were one country under the British. In 1945 there was a partition when Muslim countries were split off from India."

Front page of the Crawley News
In 1999 Khyam's expedition to Pakistan made the local newspaper
In January 2000 he secretly travelled to Pakistan, having told his mother he was going to France.

Once there, he attended a mujahideen training camp. The journey had not come out of nowhere. On an earlier family trip to Pakistan he had seen a mujahideen group openly organising and he had approached them to find out more.

Asked during the trial what he learned in the camp, he said: "Everything I needed for guerrilla warfare in Kashmir: AK-47s, pistols, RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades], sniper rifles, climbing and crawling techniques, reconnaissance and light machine guns."

Eventually, in March 2000, his extended family, including a former member of Pakistan's military intelligence service, found him and sent him home.

'Taleban amazing'

But Khyam continued to work for "the cause", raising money and encouraging support. And in 2001 he returned east and went into Afghanistan to meet the Taleban.

He told the Old Bailey: "They were amazing people. People who loved Allah. They were soft, kind and humble to the Muslims, harsh against their enemies. This is how an Islamic state should be."

Taleban soldiers in Kabul in 2001
They [the Taleban] were amazing people. They loved Allah very much. This is how an Islamic state should be
Omar Khyam

As with other Islamist activists, Khyam's views hardened in the two years following the 9/11 attacks. The "final straw" for Khyam was seeing the UK support the 2003 invasion of Iraq to topple dictator Saddam Hussein.

He took out a 16,000 bank loan and flew to Pakistan. Once there, it is thought that he met Abdul Hadi, a senior figure in the al-Qaeda network, and offered his services as more than just a courier of support from the UK. His contact with Hadi came about through other extremists from the Luton area involved in facilitating support for Al Qaeda or mujahideen causes. Last week, the US announced its forces had captured Hadi and taken him to Guantanamo Bay.

Khyam, encouraged by others in Pakistan, started considering attacking the UK because it became clear that nobody could get into Afghanistan to fight there. He helped to organise a paramilitary training camp, attended by a number of men from the UK, and talked seriously of operations in Britain. It was this secret training, along with a key meeting in Pakistan, that formed the kernel of the plan to bomb Britain.

What remains unknown is how close he actually had come to building the actual bomb. The fertiliser had been bought and stored. Aluminium powder, a key element, was hidden in the family home. A detonator had been discussed and designed. Plane tickets for Pakistan had been booked.

The security services, who had already switched the fertiliser for an inert substance, did not take the risk of losing the conspirators.

Khyam behaved erratically during his trial but initially decided to give evidence. But three days in, he stopped, declaring his family had been intimidated by the Pakistani secret services.

It was a catastrophe for his defence team.

His barrister, Joel Bennathan QC, desperately sought to persuade him to change his mind. Khyam's explanation for his actions goes with him to jail.

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