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US supergrass tells UK bomb trial of jihad impetus

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LONDON, Mar 23 (Reuters) A US supergrass, who has admitted various terrorism-related offences in New York, told a London court today how he had become radicalised by two of Britain's most-high profile Islamic clerics.

Mohammed Babar, 31, testifying at the trial of seven Britons accused of planning bombings in the UK, said he had been inflamed by the first Gulf War and later had wanted to fight U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The court has heard how Babar would be the main prosecution witness against the British suspects accused of planning to use ammonium nitrate fertiliser to launch bomb attacks on possible targets such as pubs, clubs, trains and a shopping centre.

Babar has admitted in closed US hearings trying to acquire the ingredients for what American authorities call ''the British Bomb plot'', the court was told.

Amid extremely tight security at London's Old Bailey Crown Court with armed police guarding the entrance, Babar, well-built with a beard and wearing glasses, was asked to recount how he had become involved with extremist groups before September 11.

He said he had been born in Pakistan and moved to New York as a child going on to study pharmacy at the city's St John's University. He planned to go to medical school but dropped out.

What first radicalised him, he said, was the U.S.-led action which followed Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1991.

''The first thing that excited me was the first Gulf War when the Americans invaded Iraq,'' he told the hushed courtroom.

''I did not like the Americans moving into Saudi Arabia and other Muslim holy lands to achieve their objective.'' He moved from group to group through the 1990s, each one more extreme, until he joined Al Muhajiroun (ALM), an organisation that mirrored his belief that Muslims should reunite to fight back against those who were against Islam.

He cited two leading British-based clerics who were prominent in ALM, Omar Bakri Mohammed and Abu Hamza al-Masri, as particular inspirations for their sermons and writings available on the Internet.

Bakri, to whom he spoke by phone, was barred from returning to Britain last August after being ruled a security threat.

Hamza was jailed for seven years by Britain in February for inciting his followers to murder unbelievers.

Babar, who would later communicate with both directly, said their teachings had helped him become a believer in jihad.

''JIHAD MEANS TO FIGHT'' ''Jihad means to me to physically fight,'' he told the court.

It was after September 11 that he decided to take such action, even though his mother had been in one of the World Trade Centre towers when it was struck. She had survived.

''Now is the time for me to go. I knew that after 9/11 the U.S. would be invading Afghanistan and I had felt I had held it off for too long.

Asked if he would fight US forces, he replied: ''Yes. I felt this was the best time to go as I didn't think there would be another chance for me to go and fight in Afghanistan.'' He said he flew initially to the UK to meet up with leaders of ALM who gave him cash and then travelled to Pakistan where he met 15-20 Britons who were also supporters of jihad.

A list of names he gave included those the prosecution have said were used as pseudonyms by some of the seven British bomb suspects.

The suspects, Anthony Garcia, Jawad Akbar, Omar Khyam, his brother Shujah Mahmood, Waheed Mahmood, Nabeel Hussain, and Salahuddin Amin, are accused of conspiring with Canadian Mohammed Momin Khawaja to cause an explosion ''likely to endanger life''.

Garcia, Khyam and Hussain are also charged with possessing 600 kg (1,300 lb) of ammonium nitrate fertiliser -- sometimes used to make bombs -- which detectives suspected was ''for a purpose connected with the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism''.

Khyam and Shujah Mahmood are also accused of possessing aluminium powder, also for suspected terrorist purposes.

The trial continues.

Reuters DH VP0048

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