Driverless car bomb plot shows the threat from Islamic State supporters
An Isis supporter who attempted to create a driverless car bomb is the latest terrorist to plot an attack on the UK after failing to join Isis abroad.
British security services have been heavily criticised for allowing at least 900 men, women and children to leave for Syria and Iraq since 2014.
The flow of jihadis has dried up since the UK and international partners increased efforts to intercept anyone attempting the journey and prosecute them for terror offences.
But Farhad Salah’s case is the latest plot illustrating a dangerous trend of would-be foreign fighters seeking to launch attacks in the UK instead.
Prosecutors said the 24-year-old Iraqi national had wanted to fight in Syria and became “frustrated” at being unable to leave the UK, because a decision had not been made on his asylum claim.
Salah had collected “disturbing” Isis propaganda videos showing torture and executions, as well as guides enabling him to build and test homemade explosives.
“My only attempt is to find a way to carry out a martyrdom operation with cars without drivers – everything is perfect only the programme is left with the almighty Allah’s will,” he wrote shortly before being arrested in December 2017.
During Salah’s trial, which saw him convicted of preparing an act of terrorism on Friday, prosecutor Anne Whyte QC said he “was getting increasingly desperate to do something in the cause of Isis”.
“He was frustrated that he had not yet been able to travel out to the Middle East and there was no immediate prospect of him being able to, given his unsettled immigration status,” she told Sheffield Crown Court.
Two of the London Bridge attackers had wanted to travel to Syria before they started plotting the atrocity, with ringleader Khuram Butt’s passport being seized by his family and Youssef Zaghba being stopped at an Italian airport.
Several other jihadis who were prevented from carrying out attacks mounted their plans after their original desire to join Isis abroad was thwarted.
They include Britain’s youngest female plotter Safaa Boular, Oxford Street terrorist Lewis Ludlow and London teacher Umar Haque, who was trying to brainwash an “army of children” to carry out coordinated massacres.
Detective Chief Superintendent Martin Snowden, the head of Counter Terrorism Policing North East, told The Independent the “threat from frustrated travellers is a very real one in the UK”.
“If they’re unable to travel to Isis territory or if they think it’s easier to remain in the UK, Isis still promotes the use of violence wherever you are,” he added.
“We are constantly looking to identify these threats and take action to mitigate them.”
Police were unaware of Salah’s travel aspirations until they chanced upon his Facebook account in a separate investigation into an Isis supporter who was spreading terrorist material from his London home.
The conversations sparked a police and MI5 operation, which uncovered Salah’s plot and led to his arrest. He will be sentenced next week.
The case came after the head of UK Counter Terrorism Policing said that “frustrated” would-be foreign fighters were a growing threat.
Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner Neil Basu said that before 2017’s attacks, security services believed that fighters returning from abroad presented the biggest threat.
“It wasn’t – the threat was already here – and there are still plenty of aspirant or frustrated travellers who now have nowhere to go,” he said in October.
“The very nature of the threat we face means it is now more than ever before, a question of ‘when not if’.”
Mr Basu said that while security services monitor extremists who are prevented from leaving the country, plots are being mounted in a “shortened timeframe” since the rise of low-tech vehicle and knife attacks.
Officials have vowed to continue attempting to stop jihadis wreaking death and carnage abroad, but now have to balance their efforts with knowledge of the potential consequences on home soil.