By CASSANDRA VINOGRAD
The Associated Press
Friday, March 18, 2011; 11:19 AM
LONDON -- A British judge sentenced a former British Airways computer specialist to 30 years in jail Friday for plotting with U.S.-born extremist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki to kill hundreds of people by blowing up a U.S.-bound plane.
Rajib Karim, a 31-year-old from Bangladesh, was convicted last month of four counts of engaging in preparation for terrorist attacks. He had already pleaded guilty to five other terrorism offenses, but denied plotting an attack in Britain.
Calling the offenses "of the utmost gravity," Justice David Calvert-Smith recommended in his sentencing that Karim be automatically deported from Britain after completing his sentence.
Prosecutors had argued that Karim used his position at the airline to conspire with al-Awlaki, a notorious U.S.-born radical preacher associated with al-Qaida and thought to be hiding in Yemen. At one point, encouraged by al-Awlaki, he applied for training as a flight attendant, they said.
While Calvert-Smith noted that he considered Karim more "of a follower than a leader," the judge said Karim "worked incessantly to further terrorist purposes" despite his quiet lifestyle.
"You are and were a committed jihadist," the judge told Karim at London's Woolwich Crown Court.
Karim was arrested at his BA desk in the northern English city of Newcastle in February 2010. He pleaded guilty to helping produce a terrorist group's video, fundraising and volunteering for terror abroad - but insisted he never planned an attack in Britain.
The Bangladeshi national, who studied electronic engineering at a university in Manchester between 1998 and 2002 and has a British wife, returned to Britain in 2006 and joined BA the following year.
The judge on Friday praised detectives for their painstaking work decrypting coded messages found on Karim's computer.
Prosecutors had said that in heavily encrypted exchanges, Al-Awlaki quizzed Karim about details of security flaws and urged the aspiring terrorist to train as a flight attendant to assist plans to use suicide bombers or mail bombs to take down U.S.-bound flights.
"Our highest priority is in the U.S.," al-Awlaki told Karim in an encrypted message, thought by police to have been sent in February 2010. "The question is, with the people you have, is it possible to get a package, or a person with a package, onboard a flight heading to the U.S.?"
The cleric told Karim he hoped he would be able to supply "critical and urgent information" related to airline security because of his role at BA. He told the airline worker he "may be able to play a crucial role" in future attacks.
Al-Awlaki is thought to have orchestrated the unsuccessful October plot to send mail bombs on planes from Yemen to the U.S., hidden in the toner cartridges of computer printers. He is also believed to have inspired or helped coordinate the failed December 2009 Christmas bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner and the 2009 shooting at a U.S. Army base in Fort Hood, Texas.
Last year, Britain's top law enforcement official cited Karim's case as proof that al-Qaida's offshoot in Yemen, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, was attempting attacks on Britain and the United States.
Home Secretary Theresa May told intelligence chiefs and security experts the group had "shown the ability to project a threat far beyond the borders of Yemen."