Two members of the gang, from the West Midlands, sought out infamous Islamic State supporter Anjem Choudary before they prepared to strike police and military targets on British soil, it can now be reported.
They were arrested in August last year after MI5 went to bug the car of Naweed Ali, only to uncover a pipe bomb and meat cleaver hidden in a JD Sports bag.
Convicted terrorists Ali, 29, Khobaib Hussain, 25, and Mohibur Rahman, 33, who served time together behind bars, denied preparing an attack. They claimed the incriminating evidence was planted by undercover police officer Vincent, the boss of a fake firm called Hero Couriers. Vincent was cross-examined over 12 days and repeatedly rejected the allegations against him.
The case had stark similarities to the murder of Fusilier Rigby, who was killed by Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale outside Woolwich Barracks in London in 2013.
After deliberating for more than 22 hours, jurors unanimously convicted the men of preparing terrorist acts, along with fourth defendant Tahir Aziz, 38. As they were led from the dock, Rahman shouted out: “I hope you’re happy with your lies.”
After the guilty verdicts yesterday, Detective Chief Superintendent Matt Ward, the head of West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit, said: “Today’s case was about four very dangerous extremists who were plotting to carry out a terror attack in the UK.”
He described the accusations against his team as “groundless”, adding: “I’m really proud of our officers – I’m particularly proud of our undercover operatives who were in an incredibly dangerous situation.”
Mr Ward also called for more to be done in prisons to stop convicted terrorists such as the Three Musketeers plotting attacks on their release from jail.
The Old Bailey trial had heard that next-door neighbours Ali and Hussain and Rahman called themselves the Three Musketeers in an encrypted chat on the Telegram messaging app.
Ali and Hussain, a law student turned trainee gas fitter from Sparkhill, Birmingham, were jailed for joining a terrorist training camp in Pakistan while Rahman was in prison for possessing an al-Qaida propaganda magazine which contained bomb-making instructions.
Rahman, of High Lane, Stoke, had connections with other extremists, including Choudary, who he is believed to have visited with Aziz last May while the radical preacher was on bail awaiting trial for supporting so-called Islamic State.
Primark salesman Aziz was keen not to be “left behind” but was only brought into the Three Musketeers plot days before the arrests.
Ringleader Hussain told jurors he only believed in “defensive” jihad. But prosecutor Gareth Patterson said he was in reality “highly radicalised” and believed he had a “duty to take action”.
Mr Justice Globe will sentence the men today.