A man who planned to wreak terror during the pandemic was no clownish buffoon but a “very dangerous individual”, according to a senior counter-terrorism police officer.
Commander Richard Smith rejected Sahayb Abu’s wannabe rapper persona, as the 27-year-old was found guilty of preparing a terror act.
During the trial, jobless convicted burglar Sahayb Abu described his rap alter ego, the Masked Menace, and his dreams to make a fortune selling healthy drinks and set up an African charity.
In reality, he spent virtually all his £400 monthly benefits on a large sword, camouflage kit and bulletproof vest as he spread his pro-Islamic State views, the Old Bailey heard.
Speaking to the PA news agency, Mr Smith said: “I have no doubt whatsoever that Sahayb had absolutely committed murderous intent in his preparations to carry out a terrorist act.”
Mr Smith, who is head of the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command, said there are currently 800 live investigations with no let-up despite Covid-19.
“What this case illustrates is the fact that, despite the pandemic and lockdown, the threat from terrorism has not gone away.
“We still face a substantial threat in this country which means an attack is likely.
“In the same way, the pandemic has not stopped people planning and preparing attacks like this, neither has it stopped our capability of detecting them and prosecuting, and we and our partners at MI5 will do all we can to keep people in this country safe from terrorism.”
Mr Smith described Somalia-born Sahayb Abu as a “very dangerous individual”.
”During the course of the investigation we saw him seeking to acquire a sword, getting hold of a knife, camouflage clothing and a ballistic vest, all with the intent of carrying out a terrorist attack in this country.
“There is no doubt in my mind that Sahayb had murderous intent – some of that was evidenced from the kind the things that he was posting online.”
Jurors heard some extended family members had been linked to extremism, including two half-brothers who are believed to have been killed in Syria.
Sahayb Abu also mingled with convicted terrorists while in jail and went on to join an Islamic State supporters’ chat group on Telegram.
On how he was radicalised, Mr Smith said: “I will not comment on the cause but I will say that nobody is born with hatred and intolerance within them.
“There needs to be some malign influence to spark that, and, once that’s happened, being surrounded by others with extremist views, whether that’s online or face to face, would certainly act to reinforce some of those hate-filled and abhorrent mindsets.”
Sahayb Abu had searched for various London embassies online and singled out a prominent Shia Muslim cleric, yet neither the police nor prosecution identified a specific target for the attack.
Mr Smith praised the courage of the undercover police officer, known as Rachid, who engaged with Sahayb Abu in encrypted chat and then met him twice.
The case underlined the “huge value” of covert officers as they came up against some “very dangerous, very volatile individuals”.
Mr Smith added: “It demands huge courage and incredible technical and professional skill from those officers and I absolutely applaud their bravery when they support this type of investigation.”