- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2008

LONDON (AP) — Clad in mud-smeared combat fatigues, the young Muslims trained on picturesque British farmland, hurling imaginary grenades, wielding sticks as mock rifles and chopping watermelons in simulated beheadings.

A four-year inquiry, which came to a close yesterday with guilty pleas from the last two of seven gang members, has exposed a network of suspected British terrorism training camps meant to prepare recruits for mass killing.

Security officials suspect hundreds of men — including a gang that made a failed attempt to bomb London’s transit network — passed through camps set up across the English countryside.

Officials said the ringleaders of the camps were two London-based preachers: Atilla Ahmet, who once said in a CNN interview that he was “the No. 1 al Qaeda in Europe,” and Mohammed Hamid, who gave himself the nickname “Osama bin London.”

Ahmet is a longtime aide to radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, an Egyptian the United States is attempting to extradite over the reported plan to set up terrorist training camps in Oregon.

Hamid, originally from Tanzania, picked recruits from mainstream mosques, inviting them for radical meetings at his home and then selecting a smaller number to attend the camps, police said.

Investigators said it was a worrying discovery at the heart of Britain’s homegrown terrorism: training camps once thought to be exclusive to northern Pakistan or Afghanistan being held in sleepy rural England.

“The exposure to that ideology — that radicalism, that extremism, that ‘them-and-us’ mind-set — starts here on our streets in Britain,” a former extremist, Ed Husain, told Britain’s first police counterterrorism conference in Brighton.

The two training camp ringleaders will be sentenced next month on charges of running the camps and inciting participants to kill. Five others were each sentenced yesterday to at least 3½ years in prison on charges of attending terrorism training.

Their convictions — two yesterday, one last year and the rest last week after a four-month trial — may be reported for the first time after a judge yesterday lifted restrictions banning publication of details of the case.

Prosecutors told a court hearing that the men set up camps in idyllic spots across England, including a former school, to train in military skills.

National parks in the Lake District of northern England, the New Forest in the south and quiet corners of the southern counties of Berkshire, Kent and East Sussex were all used for training.

The British camps also offer a glimpse of the training centers that British-based Islamic extremists reportedly hoped to open in Oregon before authorities upended the plot.

Video produced secretly at the camps showed recruits marching with backpacks — like those used by London’s transit network attackers to carry their deadly suicide bombs in 2005 — and conducting weapons drills used by insurgents in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

An undercover police officer, code-named “Dawood,” infiltrated one group and captured cell-phone video of the training. One clip showed trainees rehearsing a beheading with a watermelon.

The gang of North African men who made a failed attempt to bomb London’s transit network on July 21, 2005 — two weeks after the July 7 subway and bus strikes that killed 52 commuters — met and were trained at one of the camps, said a government security official.

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