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Last Updated: Monday, 17 September 2007, 11:46 GMT 12:46 UK
The quiet student plotting terror
By Stuart Nicolson
BBC Scotland news website

Mohammed Atif Siddique
Alva residents expressed shock at Siddique's arrest
The men in suits taking careful notes in their executive cars had been spotted several days earlier and were themselves being watched from behind net curtains.

Local gossip had it that they were drug squad detectives targeting a dealer in the Myretoungate area of Alva.

The Clackmannanshire town was not unaccustomed to police activity, thanks in part to former resident Edmund Eccles, a teenage gang leader dubbed "Superned" by the tabloid press.

However, when neighbours were woken by the sound of a front door being smashed down by a police battering ram at 0650 on 13 April last year, they found themselves struggling to come to terms with the allegation that they had been living next door to a would-be al-Qaeda terrorist.

They gathered outside to stare from behind a police cordon as the highly respected Siddique family and their son Atif were led one by one from their home by police officers before being whisked off in a fleet of people carriers.

Computing course

Customers of the A&N Brothers general store adjacent to the Siddique's family home recalled how Atif would sit surfing the web on a laptop while serving behind the shop counter.

He was a quiet, well-mannered young man. There must have been, they insisted unanimously, a dreadful mistake.

Siddique had been fascinated by computers from his early teens, eventually enrolling in a computing technician's course at the Central College of Commerce in Glasgow.

He passed all the course units before briefly getting a job as a customer sales adviser with a small computing shop five miles away in Alloa.

Worshippers at the Central Scotland Islamic Centre said Siddique, who had grown his beard long, had not displayed any hint of extremism on his visits.

Mohammed Azad, chairman of the centre, said: "When the boy was at school he was just a normal child, but as he got older I saw him less.

"I was surprised at the charges initially because of the family the boy comes from."

However, Siddique had previously been stopped, searched and questioned by Special Branch officers as he prepared to fly with an uncle from Glasgow Airport to Pakistan.

The laptop computer he had been carrying was confiscated for forensic analysis, but Siddique was allowed to return home before being arrested in the dawn raid on his home just five days later.

Govan police station
The student was held at maximum security Govan police station

Siddique was taken to the high-security Govan Police station in Glasgow, where he was held and questioned while a massive police investigation began.

It took three days to carry out a forensic examination of his computer, a procedure complicated by the fact much of the material stored on it was in Arabic or Urdu.

A team of 12 translators was employed to complement 80 officers from Central Scotland Police and other neighbouring forces assigned officers to the case.

During their investigation, 34 computers and hard drives were examined from Siddique's house, his uncle's home in Bridge of Allan and the shop in Alloa where he once worked.

Police removed more than 5,000 documents from the computers. They seized 25 mobile phones and a further 19 SIM cards.

There were than 1,500 productions in the case, including 700 documents. More than 1,000 statements were taken.

The police, who also investigated claims that Siddique was part of a wider conspiracy planning a major terror atrocity abroad, gathered what they regarded as sufficient evidence to bring him to trial.

Bin Laden footage

However, in media briefings before the trial, senior officers admitted that they had not found any evidence that Siddique himself was planning to carry out an attack.

Instead, prosecutors tried to convince the jury that the material found on Siddique's computer and websites he owned was intended to encourage others to carry out attacks.

But the biggest problem facing them was that most of the videos stored on Siddique's computer could easily be found by using internet search engines like Google.

Indeed, footage of Osama Bin Laden urging Jihad against the West was little different from the one issued by the al-Qaeda figurehead which was broadcast by the mainstream media, including the BBC, on the anniversary of 9/11.

As defence QC Donald Findlay pointed out during the trial, far more extreme material could be found on legal sites run by anti-terror experts like Evan Kohlmann, who appeared as a witness.

A key part of the case against Siddique was evidence that he had posted details of how to strip down and reassemble weapons including Kalashnikov rifles and Uzi submachine guns.

Osama Bin Laden
Siddique was alleged to have said he met Osama Bin Laden

Again, far more detailed instructions in the use of the weapons could be found in legal defence journals, while fully illustrated manuals have been available for purchase from retail websites.

Indeed, the impression built up of Siddique during the case was of a loner who attempted to attract attention to himself by fantasising about being involved in a worldwide terror network.

The court heard, for example, that Siddique told a college classmate he had actually met Bin Laden.

Siddique had visited several hardline Islamist websites, some of which preached anti-Semitism and encouraged young Muslims to martyr themselves as suicide bombers.

However, officers discovered that Siddique had also surfed pornography sites. He had played online poker and registered a team in an internet football manager game.

He had, according to his brother Asif, a love of Tom and Jerry cartoons despite the elder sibling's good natured ribbing that he was too old to be watching them.

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