Thursday, October 12, 2006

LONDON — A British man identified by U.S. officials as a senior al Qaeda figure pleaded guilty yesterday to conspiracy to murder in a plot to bomb high-profile targets in the United States including the International Monetary Fund headquarters in Washington and the New York Stock Exchange.

“I plead guilty,” Dhiren Barot, 34, said in a clear voice at London’s high-security Woolwich Crown Court.

Prosecutors said the plot involved targets in both Britain and the United States. Other purported targets included the World Bank headquarters in Washington, the Citigroup building in New York and the Prudential building in Newark, N.J.

Barot, a British citizen who was raised a Hindu before converting to Islam, was arrested in August 2004 amid a heightened security alert for financial institutions in the United States. Seven other men are due to face trial next year.

Prosecutor Edmund Lawson said Barot planned “to carry out explosions at those premises with no warning. They were plainly designed to kill as many people as possible.”

U.S. officials claim Barot is a senior al Qaeda figure, known variously as Abu Eisa al-Hindi, Abu Musa al-Hindi and Issa al-Britani, who scouted prominent financial targets in the United States at the behest of Osama bin Laden.

He was indicted last year in New York, along with two others, on charges of plotting to attack the buildings.

Under British law, domestic legal proceedings take precedence over a U.S. extradition attempt.

In Britain, Barot planned to pack three limousines with gas cylinders and explosives and detonate them in underground parking garages, Mr. Lawson said.

The “gas limos” plan, found on a computer, was “described by Mr. Barot as the main cornerstone of attacks planned to take place in the U.K.,” Mr. Lawson said.

He said the “back-to-back” attacks involved three other projects, including “the rough presentation for radiation or dirty-bomb projects.”

A dirty bomb combines radioactive material with conventional explosives, though prosecutors did not offer detail on the components of the planned device.

Mr. Lawson said the dirty bomb was designed to cause “injury, fear, terror and chaos” although it was unlikely to kill anyone.

“The radiation project was designed, among other things, to affect some 500 people,” Mr. Lawson said.

The clerk of the court told Barot he was charged with conspiracy to murder — “the particulars of the offense being that on diverse days between Jan. 1, 2000, and Aug. 4, 2004, you conspired together with other persons unknown to murder other persons.”

Barot, wearing a gray zip-up sweater and dark trousers and sporting a closely trimmed beard, stared intently ahead but betrayed no emotion as he entered his guilty plea.

By pleading guilty, Barot “makes no admission with regard to the involvement of any of his seven co-defendants in the conspiracy,” Mr. Lawson said.

Mr. Lawson said plans outlining details of the attacks had been found on a computer after Barot’s arrest in August 2004. He acknowledged that no funding had been received for Barot’s projects, nor any vehicles or bomb-making materials acquired.

Judge Neil Butterfield deferred sentencing to a later date.

The judge ordered that 12 other charges faced by Barot — one of conspiracy to commit public nuisance, seven of making a record of information for terrorist purposes and four of possessing a record of information for terrorist purposes — be suspended.

Under Britain’s tight media laws, the judge ordered that further details of the conspiracy not be reported to prevent prejudicing the trials of any future defendants.

Barot was arrested by British police in August 2004 after a massive security alert in the United States.

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