AN ISLAMIC extremist working as a British Airways computer expert on Tyneside plotted to blow up a plane bound for America with the help of a radical preacher, a court heard.
In secret emails with cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, Bangladeshi Rajib Karim shared details of his BA contacts from his home in Brunton Lane, Gosforth, Newcastle, the jury at Woolwich Crown Court was told.
And in detailed exchanges he committed himself to die in a “spectacular” suicide attack that would bring him “martyrdom”, it was said.
The 31-year-old, who came to the UK in 2006, worked for BA in the city and had access to the airliner’s offices there and at Heathrow.
The court was told Karim established a deep cover, joining a gym, playing football and never airing extreme views.
All the while, he was allegedly communicating with a terror cell and al-Awlaki who has never been caught and is believed to be hiding in the mountains of Yemen.
Jonathan Laidlaw QC, prosecuting, said: “He is, as the prosecution would describe him, an Islamic extremist, with close association to, if not membership of, a proscribed terrorist organisation called Jamaat-Ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).”
He added: “The defendant, as you will see from his own writings, was anxious himself to carry out such an attack and he was determined to seek martyrdom – to die and to sacrifice himself for his cause.” Karim is accused of plotting to blow up a plane, sharing information of use to hate groups such as al-Qaida, offering to help financial or disruptive attacks on BA and gaining a UK job to “exploit terrorist purposes”, charged he denies.
The jury of seven men and five women were told that Karim has already pleaded guilty to three terror charges.
Mr Laidlaw said the defendant’s offences were preparing himself or others for terrorist attacks between December 2006 and his arrest in February last year.
He has admitted being involved in the production of a terrorist group’s video, fundraising and volunteering for terror abroad. Karim came to the UK from Bangladesh in late 2006 with his wife Zijarin Raja and their toddler son because they believed the boy had cancer, it was said.
But the child, now aged five, did not have cancer and has recovered from his sickness after being treated here. Those who knew him described Karim as “mild-mannered, well-educated and respectful”.
He attended two mosques – Grange Park Mosque and University of Newcastle Mosque – and was not known to hold extreme views, the court heard.
“It was as far as anybody could tell a perfectly ordinary life he was living,” said Mr Laidlaw. “As we will see, the defendant had in fact made a very conscious and successful effort to adopt this low profile.”
He arrived in late 2006 as a JMB media operative, said the barrister, saying it was his job to distribute jihadist texts, recordings and videos and establish websites and forums.
It is alleged the defendant set about winning a job that would furnish terrorists with key intelligence. Mr Laidlaw said: “He sought work in this country of the sort which would be useful to him or a terrorist organisation in planning an attack. The sort of ‘spectacular’ attack which all terrorist organisations such as al Qaida aspire to, an attack of the sort which might result in the wholesale loss of life, consequent economic loss and importantly from the terrorists’ perspective, widespread fear and uncertainty in the face of the renewed threat from Islamic extremists.”
The court heard that in January 2010, al-Awlaki emailed the defendant saying: “I immediately wanted to contact you and tell you that my advice to you is to remain in your current position.
“Depending on what your role is and the amount of information you can get your hands on, you might be able to provide us with critical and urgent information and you may be able to play a crucial role.” He went on: “I pray that Allah may grant us a breakthrough through you,” before mentioning “limitations and cracks” in airport security systems, the court heard.
The defendant was arrested on February 25 in Newcastle and moved to London for interview. He was “relaxed and at ease” said Mr Laidlaw.
The barrister said one reason might have been Karim’s confidence that no one could access the hidden material on the hard drive of his computer.
He said: “That confidence borne of a highly sophisticated series of measures employed to keep the material secret, which included sending messages by way of enciphered text, the use of disguised files to conceal websites, which the defendant had used to communicate with others and within the messages, the use of a code.” But Met detectives did break the codes, said the lawyer. The trial continues.
Work colleagues astonished to hear of Karim's arrest
DURING the opening of Rajib Karim’s six-week trial, prosecutors painted the picture of a man allegedly intent on causing chaos in the skies.
Karim joined British Airways in September 2007 on its graduate training scheme. Mr Laidlaw said “through a terrorist’s eyes“ it was “just about as good a job as could be obtained and opportunities it might present will be obvious to you“.
The defendant did not immediately set about planning an attack though, it was claimed. The prosecutor said: “Instead he settled in and bided his time. He quite deliberately set about establishing a lifestyle which would not attract attention and those he worked with were completely taken in by him. They had no idea of his real ambitions and they were astonished to hear of his arrest and learn why it was he was working with them at BA.” The jury heard that Karim grew despondent about a lack of action and success while working at BA. He wanted to go abroad to fight against coalition forces, it was alleged.
A key accomplice in the plot was the defendant’s brother, Tehzeeb Karim, Woolwich Crown Court was told. Tehzeeb – “another committed terrorist and member of JMB“ – joined his brother in fundraising and helping sympathisers travel abroad to fight or train as terrorists, said Mr Laidlaw.
In 2009 Tehzeeb and two others travelled from Bangladesh to Yemen, where a new division of al-Qaida was established – to find the radical al-Awlaki who is a former US citizen of Yemeni descent and once lived in the UK for a short time, the court heard. The defendant’s brother found the religious zealot and told him Karim’s story, Mr Laidlaw said.