The 29-year-old, an Iraqi doctor born in Aylesbury, Bucks, plotted to bring murder and mayhem on an “indiscriminate” scale to London’s West End and Glasgow airport. He was found guilty yesterday of conspiracy to murder and conspiracy to cause explosions.
However, it can be disclosed today that the Security Service had earlier identified Abdulla following a surveillance operation based around another group of radicals.
Security sources said they had a name for the future car bomber but he was only on the fringes of a group which never progressed to planning terrorist attacks and was never arrested.
“There was nothing to indicate that he was planning an attack,” a source insisted.
Abdulla, who was born in Aylesbury, Bucks, later emerged as the “key person” in formulating the London and Glasgow attacks in June 2007 in revenge for the war in Iraq. He recruited Kafeel Ahmed, an Indian engineering student, while they both studied in Cambridge.
Ahmed, 28, died a month after he drove a burning Jeep into Glasgow airport with Abdulla as his passenger.
Just a day earlier, the men had failed to set off two car bombs parked outside the Tiger Tiger nightclub in London’s West End. In each case, said prosecutors, it was good fortune alone that there had been no catastrophic loss of innocent life.
A third man, neurologist Mohammed Asha, 28, was acquitted yesterday of helping in the attacks.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said she was “pleased” with the conviction.
“The attack on Glasgow Airport and the planned bomb in central London sought to kill and maim through attacks of an indiscriminate nature,” she said.
Security sources have since told The Daily Telegraph that Abdulla met, and was probably sent to Britain by, the then leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
He detailed his time with al-Qaeda in a diary and also left a will in which he spoke of being sent to attack Britain, “the heart of the State of unbelievers and tyranny” by an “emir” or leader in Iraq.
Intelligence agencies are still trying to hunt for the rest of the terrorist cell in Iraq and believe they may also have had help in India.
Police were only an hour behind Abdulla and Ahmed when they attacked Glasgow airport, it can be disclosed.
“We were very, very close to finding them before they left to launch their second attacks,” a senior police source said.
Police tracked the men’s mobile phones from London to Stoke-on-Trent where they had stopped on their way back to Glasgow, and then to the bomb factory itself in the village of Houston near Paisley.
They arrived just an hour after the bombers had left at 7.00am that morning for the shores of Loch Lomond where they spent the next six hours psyching themselves up.
Police followed them to Loch Lomond but were unable to find the bombers and could not stop them driving their Jeep into the crowded airport at 3.10pm that afternoon.
In court Abdulla said they were planning “another 7/7″ in protest at the invasion of Iraq and planned to coincide with Gordon Brown taking over as prime minister from Tony Blair, although he denied they planned to kill anyone.
The bombers had bought two other cars that could have been used in further attacks.
Abdulla admitted scouting Ten Downing Street, Parliament, and Buckingham Palace during a reconnaissance trip to London in May but decided they were too well protected.
Police discovered the men had also researched other targets including music festivals in Leeds and Manchester, the Cambridge Folk Festival, London pubs, cycle races and marathons.
But the operation went wrong at almost every turn.
The one device that did ignite in London was snuffed out by a lack of oxygen in the car and at Glasgow the bombers were kept out of the departures hall of Glasgow airport only because the doors were not wide enough to get the Jeep through.
MI5, the Security Service, is watching around 2,000 individuals in 200 separate groups, of which only around 30 groups are considered “active plots.”
Abdulla and Ahmed are known to have visited Forest Gate in East London, which has been associated with a number of radicals.
MI5 came in for criticism in the wake of the July 7 bombings when it emerged they had watched and identified the leaders of the plot as part of a surveillance operation on another gang.