A 43-year-old Pakistan-born man with an Italian passport has been sentenced to 18 years in prison in the UK for trying to smuggle a pipe bomb onto a plane at Manchester Airport. Nadeem Muhammad had been convicted of possessing explosives with intent to endanger life at Manchester Crown Court earlier this month.
Judge Patrick Field, sentencing at the court yesterday, concluded there was no obvious motivation for Muhammad’s actions. During his trial, prosecutors had presented evidence that Muhammad intended to detonate the device on a Boeing 737 flight to Bergamo, Italy.
The jury did not believe Muhammad’s claim in court that he had never seen the device before.
“Despite extensive investigation, Nadeem Muhammad’s motive for attempting to take this device onto a plane remains unknown. However it is clear that the consequences, had he been successful, could have been disastrous,” said Sue Hemmings from the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
The court was told that Muhammad was planning to board a Ryanair flight to Italy on January 30 this year when security officers uncovered the device, made of masking tape, batteries, the tube of a marker pen, pins and wires, in the zip lining of his small green suitcase.
Security officers at the airport had not initially believed the bomb was viable and, after being questioned by counter-terrorism police, Muhammad was released and allowed to board another flight to Bergamo, near Milan, five days later.
The device was later passed on to counter terrorism experts for examination, who found it to be a “potentially viable” bomb containing nitroglycerin and nitrocellulose.
Muhammad was eventually arrested when he returned to the UK from Italy on February 12.
After sentencing, the judge said he was “alarmed” about some of the evidence in the case and about “the lack of concern” expressed by both airport officials and police.
“Airport security staff reached a wholly erroneous and potentially dangerous conclusion – as a result one member of staff even put the device in her pocket and tested it in the shoe X-ray machine,” he said.
He said that had “put herself and fellow employees and members of public at risk”.
“The situation was compounded when the police became involved because they too readily accepted it wasn’t dangerous and an early opportunity to arrest him was missed.”
Judge Field said there was “a risk he (Muhammad) could have escaped justice altogether” and it was “good luck rather than good judgement” that “this matter came to a satisfactory conclusion”.
He noted: “In these dangerous times there is no room for complacency and I hope security at Manchester Airport will be subject to a review at the highest level.”
A Manchester Airport spokesperson said: “Security is our number one priority and we work closely with (the) government, police and other agencies to provide passengers with a safe and secure environment.
“In this instance, our security team successfully detected a device hidden inside the lining of a suitcase. It was deemed to be a suspicious item and passed to police to investigate further.
“These actions prevented a potentially dangerous item being taken on board an aircraft and, ultimately, to a successful prosecution,” the spokesperson said. Greater Manchester Police Assistant Chief Constable Russ Jackson said the airport and police have reviewed their security procedure.