In February this year Safiyya Shaikh pleaded guilty to preparing the attacks and disseminating terrorist publications. As she is sentenced to a long prison term, Sputnik looks at who she is and why she wanted to kill so many people in the heart of Britain’s capital.
A woman who wanted to copy the Sri Lanka terrorist attacks in 2019 and “kill as many as possible” has been jailed for life with a minimum tariff of 14 years by a judge in London.
Safiyya Shaikh, 36, planned to plant a bomb in St. Paul’s Cathedral in the centre of London, another in a nearby hotel and then blow herself up on a Tube train. But she was thwarted by a joint operation by the Metropolitan Police and MI5.
Shaikh – who was born Michelle Ramsden – wore a black hijab at her sentencing hearing on Friday, 3 July, and as she was led to the cells she smiled and raised her index finger in a salute associated with Daesh.
The judge, Mr Justice Nigel Sweeney QC, said she would remain a danger for many years and had shown no remorse.
He told her: “I had already reached the sure conclusion on all the original evidence that your claims of doubt to the police and others was a lie. Your intention had been and remained throughout strong.”
When Michelle Ramsden first converted to Islam in 2007 it was because she was impressed by the kindness of a Muslim family who lived next door in the west London suburb of Hayes.
Safiyya Shaikh, a wannabe suicide bomber, who was born Michelle Ramsden
She changed her name to Safiyya Shaikh and began to learn more about her new religion but a few years later she became radicalised on the internet and spent hours viewing jihadist videos online.
Dropped Off Government’s Prevent Radar Twice
Between August 2016 and September 2017 she was referred to the government’s Prevent scheme – which seeks to counter the propaganda of people at risk of being radicalised by terrorist organisations – three times but she “disengaged” for the last time in August 2018.
The Metropolitan Police said “she did not disclose her extremist activity online” and was never enrolled on the Channel programme.
In the spring of 2019 she set up a channel on the Telegram messaging app, called Greenbirds – a reference to an Islamic myth that the souls of martyrs are carried in the hearts of green birds.
She discussed her hatred of western society and her intention to carry out a terrorist act to show her allegiance to Daesh.
On 9 August 2019 she was stopped at Luton airport while on her way to meet Yousra Lemouesset, the wife of a Daesh “martyr”, in Amsterdam.
Shaikh was unemployed but her ticket had been bought for her by Lemouesset, who had been convicted of terrorism offences in the Netherlands.
Shaikh was prevented from boarding the plane, but was not arrested.
Instead MI5 and the Metropolitan Police’s Counter-Terrorism Command began monitoring Shaikh and discovered her Telegram channel.
Undercover Officer Posed as Jihadist on Telegram App
Unbeknown to her one of the people she was chatting to on Telegram was an undercover police officer, H, who pretended to be a Britain jihadist who shared her aspirations.
H claimed he was able to make bombs and he discussed with Shaikh her plans to attack St. Paul’s Cathedral, in the heart of the City of London, which was built in the 17th century and survived the wartime blitz.
She carried out “hostile reconnaisance” of the cathedral and shared an image of the famous dome with H, telling him she would love to “destroy” it.
Message which Safiyya Shaikh sent to an undercover police officer, while in St Paul’s Cathedral
Shaikh, who admired the suicide bombers who attacked hotels and churches in Sri Lanka in 2019 killing 269 people, said she was going to “do a piece of history”.
She told H she wanted to wear a suicide belt and blow herself on the London Underground after leaving a bomb in St Paul’s and told him: “I just want a lot to die.”
Attack May Have Taken Place at Christmas 2019
Commander Richard Smith, Head of the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command, said Shaikh had written a pledge of allegiance to Daesh and had talked about mounting her attack at Christmas 2019 or Easter 2020, when she hoped the cathedral would be crowded and she could maximise the number of deaths.
She told the undercover officer: “I would like to do church…a day like Christmas or Easter good, kill more.”
She bought a Nike holdall and a rucksack, both of which she thought would not gain attention as they were in a “girly pink” colour and in October 2019 she handed them over to H, who told her he would construct bombs inside the bags and return them to her.
But on 10 October 2019 she was arrested and immediately confessed.
When a detective asked her what she had planned to do in St. Paul’s, Shaikh said: “I was going to have the rucksack on. You know, like, what happened in Sri Lanka? Like that….it would explode.”
“And you would have died as well?” the detective asked her.
“Yeah….I thought it was my way to get into heaven. I thought that’s my way for forgiveness,” she replied.
Commander Smith said Shaikh had shown no remorse and still appeared to be in the jihadist mindset.
He said she had shared “toxic terrorist propaganda” on Telegram and had told police she had wanted the Greenbird channel to continue after her death so that other lone wolf attackers could communicate and be inspired by each other’s attacks.
Shaikh’s sentencing hearing comes only two weeks after three people were stabbed to death in Reading, just west of London. Khairi Saadallah, 25, who was originally from Libya and was arrested by a British counter-terrorism unit, has been charged with three murders and awaits trial later this year.
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