Financial analyst jailed after creating bomb factory in a lock-up

A financial analyst from Surrey has been jailed for eight years for terrorism offences after he was caught with a bomb-factory in a lock-up when he took his laptop in for repair.

Asad Bhatti, 50, from Redhill, who worked for Legal and General as a senior financial analyst, combined Islam and conspiracy theories to come up with his own manifesto.

The manifesto, titled the “Believers Handbook” and a collection of bomb manuals, were found after he took his laptop into a shop called Computer Solutions in Caterham, Surrey, because it would not start up.

Police discovered he had also rented a storage unit where they found chemicals and circuitry, together with a homemade detonator, a half-constructed pipe bomb, quantities of gunpowder and the remnants of nitroglycerin.

Bhatti had asked if he could stay while the work was carried out on his computer but eventually agreed to leave the device, asking the shop owner to promise not to look at the data on it.

The shop owner removed the hard drive and connected it to a recovery PC in the shop, using special software to begin copying files from the failing hard drive.

However, the process ran so slowly that he happened to see some of the file names as they copied across and noticed some were named “explosions” and there was a folder titled “Explosives Business”.

He was so concerned he contacted police on New Year’s Eve 2020 and they turned up to copy the hard drive the next day.

Bhatti collected the laptop on 4 January, but in the meantime, the police had already begun to examine the copy they had of the hard drive and a number of documents were identified that caused them concern.

The “Explosives Business” folder was itself part of a larger folder on the laptop titled “The Chikki Moe Pack”.

A file named “Personal Finances” had a series of tabs visible on entering a password, each of which related to guns and explosives.

One of the documents was titled “The Lab.bmp” which featured in various forms elsewhere in the electronic library and included a diagram of a chemistry laboratory.

The diagram showed workbenches, a fume extractor, shelving for electrical components and chemistry equipment, as well as space for “guns and weapons”.

There was also a 173-page word document which had been compiled by Bhatti in October 2013 and password protected, called “The Mumin’s Handbook” – the Believer’s Handbook.

The contents page included a number of sections on Islam and it was intended to include sections on “jihad and martyrdom”, followed by sections on “a simple guide to explosives”, “hand-to-hand combat”, and “handguns and sniper rifles”.

In his manifesto, Bhatti had written: “As mentioned by David Icke, the Illuminati have infiltrated all major world religions for the purpose of their global control and Islam is no exception.”

In a chapter titled “The Munaafiqun” [The Hypocrites], he wrote: “There is an allegiance between kaafirs [infidels] and hypocrites worldwide and they work together to weaken Allah’s deen [religion] through creating a systematic method of taking decision power away from true believers and placing it in the hands of the hypocrites.

“This is being done in all areas business, education, religious teaching.”

A “primary explosives” section included instructions on how to manufacture nitroglycerin, RDX and PETN, and how to create an improvised detonation system.

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Police raided Bhatti’s home in Redhill, Surrey, where he lived with his brother and his brother’s family and arrested him on 8 January.

They discovered he was renting a storage unit known from Rapid Storage Services in Smallfield, Surrey, beginning in March 2019.

He had asked the unit manager to install light and mains power to the unit in November 2020, although that had not happened because of the pandemic.

A search of the unit began on 10 January and 119 items were seized, the vast majority of them chemicals, laboratory equipment, and electronic circuitry items.

They also found an improvised detonator containing home-made gunpowder and the remnants of nitroglycerin inside various items of glassware.

A suspected pipe bomb was dismantled by the Army Explosives Ordnance Disposal and found to contain around 3.5g of a poor quality gunpowder made from a mixture of potassium nitrate, carbon and sulphur.

A circuit board recovered from Bhatti’s home had a homemade switching circuit which could be operated remotely using a mobile phone.

Investigations revealed Bhatti’s activity had started in 2013 but he had looked at ordering large quantities of nitric acid from Pakistan, using the Alibaba website as recently as December 2020, just weeks before his arrest.

The court heard Bhatti had started on a programme of “self-education, research and experiments” while he was unemployed for three years between 2008 and 2011.

“I had little else to do, I was sat at home, I didn’t have much money, all I used to do all day was watch films and surf the net,” he said.

“To the outside viewer it was incredibly boring but to me it was a period I learned so much.”

Bhatti was convicted at the Old Bailey. He was sentenced on Monday by Mrs Justice McGowan on three charges under the explosive substances act and two for possession of articles for the purposes of terrorism.

She told him: “The material you created showed a deep-seated hatred for a group you identified as hypocrites – along with others identified for their ethnicity and sexuality.

“You are an isolated and compulsive individual and I accept the diagnosis that you have autism but you are intelligent, well-educated and held responsible jobs.

“You understood the quality of what you did, your interest was real and caused you to experiment in a way that was highly dangerous. I do find you present a significant risk of serious harm in the future.”

Bhatti, who was born in Pakistan but had lived in Britain nearly all of his life, had a degree in engineering and business studies from the University of Greenwich and had studied with the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants.

On his LinkedIn profile, Bhatti wrote that he was a university prize-winner and an “individual motivated by challenge and responsibility who continually strives for higher personal development”.

Asked in police interview to explain the documents he had gathered on his laptop over the years, he said they were “just like educational documents, work documents, just like hobby documents, stuff that interests me”.

Edward Henry KC defending said: “You are not dealing with a cliche out of central casting, a member of ISIS. He is an educated man with no blemishes, no disciplinary record, a hard-working man.”

Bhatti had been “lonely and misunderstood all his life” and his autism has led him to “obsessing and fixating” on the subjects that led to his conviction, Mr Henry said.

“He sought to categorise, audit, sub-categorise and inventorise his vision of the world for his own peace of mind and firmness of purpose,” the barrister added.

“It was his own unique mix of Islam and David Icke. He needed certainty, peppered with conspiracy theories and that is why this is a unique case.”

Bhatti had faced a previous trial but it was halted when he ended up in hospital on a ventilator with COVID-19.