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'Three Musketeers' sentenced to life in prison over knife and bomb plot

The three men were arrested over a 'mass casualty attack' after a pipe bomb and meat cleaver were found in one would-be attacker's car
Would-be attackers Naweed Ali, Khobaib Hussain and Mohibur Rahman (West Midlands Police)

Three British men who named themselves the Three Musketeers received life sentences on Thursday after being found guilty of plotting a knife and bomb attack against police and military targets.

The jury deliberated for 22 hours before finding the men guilty of planning a "mass casualty attack," amid speculation they were inspired by the murder of soldier Lee Rigby, who was stabbed to death on a south-east London street in 2013. 

Naweed Ali, 29, Khobaib Hussain, 25, and Mohibur Rahman, 33 were each sentenced to at least 20 years in prison. All three men refused to attend court for the sentencing.

Undercover operation 

A fourth man, Tahir Aziz, who joined the group days before their arrests, will serve a minimum of 15 years in prison.

The three men, from the West Midlands, were arrested last August after a pipe bomb, an imitation hand gun with an empty magazine taped to the side of it, bullets and meat cleaver carved with the word "kafir" - meaning non-believer - were discovered in the boot of one of the men's cars.

The evidence was found as officers from MI5, the UK's domestic security service, attempted to plant a listening device inside the vehicle.

All three men denied preparing an attack or terrorism and claimed the evidence was planted by an undercover officer.

But those claims were rejected in a trial that placed undercover security operations under scrutiny, and in which the undercover officer was cross-examined for twelve days.

Officers smeared in court 

The judge hearing the case said the trial had involved a "root and branch attack on the credibility of just about every prosecution witness," which he said was shown to be "totally unfounded" by the jury verdict.

"I am satisfied from the evidence and the jury's verdicts that, but for the intervention of the Counter Terrorism Unit of the West Midlands Police and the security services, there would have been not dissimilar terrorist acts in this country using, at the very least, explosives and or one or more bladed weapons" Justice Globe said. 

After the men were convicted on Wednesday, Rahman shouted: "I hope you're happy with your lies, lying scumbags," as he was led from court. 

The jury had earlier heard how the gang communicated using the encrypted Telegram app, calling themselves the Three Musketeers in their exchanges.

The Telegram group's profile image, released by West Midlands Police, featured a cartoon of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy styled as the sword-wielding trio.

Other evidence found on the men's laptops and phones included songs, poems and messages that showed they shared "radical and extremist" ideologies and "believed in the use of violence" to support them, West Midlands Police said in a statement.

The group was led by Hussain, from Birmingham.

He and his next-door neighbour Ali met Rahman in jail while the pair were serving time in prison for attending a training camp in Pakistan and Rahman was jailed for possessing an al-Qaeda magazine.

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