The impression of terrorists in the current age as shady types who make use of encryption and anonymizing services to meticulously plan devastating attacks. In the case of Mohammed Rehman and his wife, Sana Ahmed Khan, this was not true. The couple was arrested and found guilty in the Old Bailey court on counts of preparing an act of terrorism. These plans of terrorism were uncovered by an undercover police investigator who saw Rehman posting publicly on Twitter asking for advice on what location in London he should target.
Mohammed Rehman and his wife had planned to commemorate the 7/7 attacks in London, 10 years on, by executing an attack on either the London Underground or Westfield Shopping centre. Either of this attacks would have had the potential for massive casualties. He seemed to make no effort to hide his online activities, with evidence found of him searching Youtube for footage of the London bombings and searched for information on his ‘beloved predecessor’ Shehzad Tanweer, one of the 7/7 bombers. Neither Rehman nor his wife made use of encryption or tools such as the dark web to plan their attack.
Rehman went under the Twitter name “Silent Bomber”, with the handle “@InServiceToGodd”. The profile even went one step further, with the bio reading: “Learn how to make powerful explosives from the comfort of ones’ bedroom.” Back in May, Rehman used the account to post to his followers “Westfield shopping centre or London underground?” he asked. “Any advice would be appreciated greatly.” He also included a link to an Al-Quida press release regarding the 7/7 attacks from 2005. He seemed to make no secret of his plans for terrorism, telling one Twiter user “Why don’t you head to the London Underground on the 7th July if you got the balls.” The account has since been suspended by Twitter.
What makes this case interesting is that it seems to directly oppose the growing claim from governments and security agencies that easy access to encryption and the dark net is blinding intelligence agencies. All of the information needed to discover this potential attack was fully public, and thankfully in this instance was found and acted upon by the correct authorities.
While it seems like a lot of the terrorism and fear in the world right now stems from IS and similar sinister groups, this case seems to imply that this is less true than we have been led to believe. This case was one of seven that David Cameron used as a justification for military actions in Syria, but it turns out that while the instigators may have idolized parts of IS’ ideals, they were in fact lone idiots trying to imitate.
If more of the 6 remaining foiled plots come to light as similarly careless and foolish, it risks undermining both military action and pushes for infringements on the privacy and freedom imposed on the British people with tools like the Snooper’s Charter.