A West London mother has been sentenced to life in prison for her plot to blow up St. Paul’s Cathedral during Easter.
Safiyya Shaikh, a 36-year-old from Hayes in West London, U.K., has been sentenced to life imprisonment, with the judge ruling she should serve a minimum of 14 years.
Shaikh planned to “blow up St Paul’s Cathedral during Easter celebrations,” and “to plant a bomb in a nearby hotel and then blow herself up in a suicide attack on the London Underground,” Sky News said.
Shaik “earlier pleaded guilty to planning an attack and disseminating terrorist material,” Sky News reported.
Here’s what you need to know:
Shaikh’s Plan was Foiled By a Secret Sting Operation
Shaikh was planning her attack utilizing instant messaging. The attack was foiled by police staging an undercover sting.
The BBC said Shaikh is a supporter of ISIS and was under surveillance by MI5 the weeks before her arrest. She was considered highly dangerous and was arrested in October 2019.
Two officers went undercover pretending to be extremists in an effort to ensnare Shaikh. Shaikh messaged one of them, who she thought was the “operation expert’s wife,” via an encrypted social media app, identified by Sky News as WhatsApp.
In the messages, she describes wanting to target churches on days like Christmas or Easter so she can kill more people.
She sent a picture of St Paul’s Cathedral, writing, “I would like to do this place for sure.
“I would like bomb and shoot ’til death,” she wrote.
Shaikh began her mission to identify intended targets on 8 September 2019, Sky News said. She was captured by security cameras at St Paul’s Cathedral in a black burka as she took photos of the dome in the church. She later sent the photos to the undercover officers via WhatsApp, writing “under this dome I would like put bomb.”
A pink sports bag and a rucksack that Shaikh wanted to fill with explosives were recovered, and Shaikh had previously expressed interest in obtaining a gun to use in the attacks.
The undercover officers were posing as a husband and wife extremist team, the BBC said. Shaikh “sent them a black jihadi flag and referred to the leader of IS, saying: “I pledge with Amir Abu Bakar al Baghdadi.”
When she met up in person with the officers on September 24, she handed over two bags for them to place bombs into, and stated that “only those who fight are true Muslims.”
Shaikh is a Convert to the Muslim Faith
Born Michelle Ramsden, Shaikh converted to Islam in 2007 after experiencing the kindness of her Muslim neighbors, but “later became isolated and … rejected mainstream Islam. She began to court the extremist violent ideology of IS and other jihadist groups and by 2016 Shaikh stopped attending mosques,” the BBC reported.
She said in a police interview that she would be willing to die at St. Paul’s as a way into heaven.
Her Christian family disapproved of her views.
Dominic Casciani, BBC’s Home Affairs correspondent, said in his analysis that Shaikh had stopped going to a mosque because she suspected she would be reported for her views.
“A cyber operation revealed she headed a significant pro-IS social media chat platform that was pumping out propaganda and urging attacks on targets in Europe. Dutch counter-terrorism investigators linked that account to numerous threats in The Netherlands, one of which had led to the evacuation of a church,” he said.
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