A Muslim PhD student from the University of Birmingham has been found guilty of designing and constructing a drone intended for use by the terror group Islamic State (IS). Mohamad Al-Bared, 27, was convicted at Birmingham Crown Court for engaging in conduct in preparation for acts of terrorism.
Al-Bared, a mechanical engineering graduate, was arrested during a raid at his Coventry home, which he shared with his parents. The police discovered the drone in his bedroom, along with a 3D printer capable of manufacturing parts for the device. Prosecutor Michelle Heeley KC informed the court that the drone was “somewhat inspired by the design of the Tomahawk missile”, based on material recovered from Al-Bared’s electronic devices.
The drone, which was presented to the jurors, featured a landing gear and a small digital camera. It was alleged that the drone was designed to deliver either a chemical weapon or some other kind of device into IS enemy territory. Al-Bared vehemently denied these allegations, stating that he had built the drone for his own research purposes. He also claimed to have researched IS to argue against its ideology at a mosque.
However, the prosecution argued that encrypted online chats and other digital material made it evident that Al-Bared supported IS. They claimed that he intended to create a “single-use”, video-transmitting, fixed-wing drone for terrorist activities and had plans to travel to Africa via Turkey.
Al-Bared’s conviction was centred on preparations he had made in January of the previous year. Judge Paul Farrer KC stated that Al-Bared had been convicted of an offence of “the utmost gravity” and that a long prison sentence was “the inevitable consequence”. He is due to appear before the court again on 27 November for sentencing.
West Midlands counter-terrorism police revealed that Al-Bared had devised a method to get the drone into a war zone without being intercepted by authorities. He had even set up a spoof company to give the impression that he was travelling on business. Det Ch Supt Mark Payne, head of the West Midlands unit, described Al-Bared as a “calculated individual” who was “clearly very dangerous”.
During the trial, Alistair Webster KC, defending, mentioned that Al-Bared had been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. He argued that Al-Bared was “fascinated” by IS but wanted to argue against its aims rather than support them. However, the prosecution countered this by stating that the drone’s design, which included references to fuses, mechanical detonators, and an “explosive” head, indicated that it was intended for use as a weapon.
The case has raised concerns about the potential misuse of technology for terrorist activities, particularly given Al-Bared’s educational background and expertise in mechanical and chemical engineering. It also highlights the challenges authorities face in identifying and apprehending individuals who use their skills for nefarious purposes.