A soldier who served in Afghanistan has spoken of his shock after learning that a wannabee terrorist, caught on his way to commit a Lee Rigby-style attack, was living in the flat directly below him.
Brusthom Ziamani planned to emulate his heroes Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale by decapitating an army cadet and posing for a photograph with the severed head.
Gunner Daniel Mattless, 34, had seen Ziamani coming and going a few times from the property below his in Warner Road, Camberwell, but he had no idea what the teenager had planned.
The beginnings of Ziamani’s terror plot were discovered in the flat on the Samuel Lewis Trust Estate when it was raided in June last year. Police suspected the tenant was subletting the property out to Ziamani and one other person. Officers searched the recent Muslim convert and found a letter addressed to his parents saying he wanted to “do a 9/11 and 7/7 and Woolwich all in one day.”
In the five page letter he writes that due to the situations in Syria and Iraq and because he did not have the means to get to these countries, he would wage war against the British Government instead.
This was just one occasion of an estimated twenty raids on the property in the last three years, according to Gunner Mattless, after the registered tenant converted to Islam while in prison and joined the proscribed terrorist group Al-Muhajiroun (ALM), set up by Anjem Choudary. There were always new faces coming and going and recently one of those was Ziamani. “He used to walk round with his head down,” said Mattless, who saw him sometimes wearing a tracksuit and other times in traditional Muslim dress.
On Thursday this quiet, unassuming neighbour was found guilty of engaging in conduct in preparation of terrorist acts after the court heard he told a prison security officer that on August 19, he was caught on his way to behead a soldier.
“I was on my way to kill a British Soldier at an army barracks. I was going to behead the soldier and hold his head in the air so my friend could take a photograph,” the court heard.
When Gunner Mattless heard the news, he said he was appalled. “I couldn’t believe it,” he said. If he wanted to do something like that they’d only have to come up the stairs. “It’s appalling really.”
In a frightening twist, the court heard how Ziamani had used his phone to search for the location of the army cadet base in Camberwell in June, which is just three roads away from where he was living.
“He was only a small fella, that’s why he was looking for a young soldier, someone who goes to army cadets,” said Mattless, who added that he had never been intimidated by the people staying in the flat below.
Ziamani was brought up as a devout Jehovah’s Witness and had enjoyed his hobbies of boxing and Parkour before converting to Islam last April.
He tried to hide his conversion from his strict Christian parents by tucking his Islamic robe in before he went home.
He told the court: “My parents found out I became a Muslim when they saw a picture on my phone of guys in Islamic clothing.
“My father threw his bible to the side, told me to sit down and started shouting at me.”
Ziamani’s parents kicked him out and the jury at the Old Bailey heard how he ‘went off the rails’, committing petty crimes while sleeping rough near St Thomas’s Hospital.
Ziamani’s girlfriend at the time told the court that at the end of April last year she broke up with him after he described one of the killers of Lee Rigby as a legend and claimed he wanted to die as a martyr.
In May he attended an ALM meeting in the basement of a Halal sweet shop in east London for a talk on bringing Sharia law to Britain’s streets and just hours later posted online: “Sharia Law On its way on our streets we will implement it its part of our religion we will get Dem kufar soon we r soldiers of Allah TAKBIR.”
In July he posted a picture of six decapitated heads arranged in a row on the ground and on August 19 he turned up at his ex-girlfriend’s home and said: “Me and the brothers are planning a terrorist attack.”
When she asked if he meant a bomb, he allegedly replied: “No not like that, basically to kill soldiers.”
His girlfriend, who knew him as ‘Bruce’, told the court: “I said you cannot be serious, why are you telling me this. It kind of relates to when he used to praise the actions of the Lee Rigby murderers. ‘I said to him, “like another Lee Rigby?’ and he said yes.”
She told him to leave and he walked off in the direction of Camberwell at around 11am. He was stopped by an anti-terrorist officer in Settle Street, Whitechapel, at around 4.30pm with the ‘terror toolkit’ in his rucksack.
In his interview he made no comment to most questions but laughed when asked about the Lee Rigby videos. When asked why he was laughing, Ziamani replied: “Because it’s funny.”
After denying the charge of preparing an act of terrorism, Ziamani showed no emotion as the foreman read out the unanimous guilty verdict on Thursday.
Judge Timothy Pontius said “a lengthy sentence is inevitable” when he sentences Ziamani on 20 March after a jury unanimously found him guilty on Thursday.
Read a timeline of Ziamani’s journey to jail here
Read the letter Ziamani wrote to his parents here