Patient prevented Leeds hospital bombing by 'talking down' terrorist, court told

A bomb disposal unit at St James's Hospital, Leeds, where patients and staff were evacuated from some parts of the building following the discovery of a suspicious package outside the Gledhow Wing, which houses the majority of its maternity services including the delivery suite. A 27-year-old man from Leeds has been arrested in connection with the matter.Picture date: Friday January 20, 2023. BEN LACK PA
A bomb disposal unit was called to St James's Hospital, Leeds, on 20 January. Credit: PA / Ben Lack

A “self-radicalised, lone wolf terrorist” who planned to blow up the hospital where he worked was "talked down" by a patient, a trial has heard.

Mohammad Farooq, 28, is accused of plotting a terror attack at St James's Hospital in Leeds, as well as RAF Menwith Hill in North Yorkshire.

Prosecutors at Sheffield Crown Court say Farooq, a clinical support worker, wanted to "kill as many nurses as possible" before he was arrested with a pressure cooker bomb outside the hospital's Gledhow Wing in the early hours of 20 January 2023.

The court was told Farooq planned to detonate the bomb before attacking survivors with knives. He intended to use an imitation firearm to incite police to shoot him dead to "seek his own martyrdom".

Opening the trial on Monday, Jonathan Sandiford KC said Farooq had immersed himself in an “extremist Islamic ideology” and that his “plan A” had been to attack RAF Menwith Hill, a base used by the United States.

“When he thought that was not possible, his ‘plan B’ was to attack St James Hospital, a softer and less well-protected target than a military base,” Mr Sandiford said.

Farooq was arrested outside St James's Hospital. Credit: PA

The court was told Farooq's “secondary motive” for targeting the hospital was a grievance against several of his former colleagues.

Mr Sandiford said “two pieces of good fortune intervened” to stop the attack.

The first was that a bomb threat he sent in a text to an off-duty nurse in order to lure people to the car park where he was waiting with the bomb was not seen for almost an hour, and the full-scale evacuation he had hoped for did not happen.

The prosecutor said Farooq left but returned shortly afterwards with a new plan to wait in a hospital cafe for a staff shift change and detonate his device.

But Mr Sandiford told the court that “luck intervened again” because patient Nathan Newby was standing outside the hospital having a cigarette and “noticed the defendant”.

He said: “Mr Newby realised something was amiss and began to talk to him instead of walking away.

“That simple act of kindness almost certainly saved many lives that night because, as the defendant was later to tell the police officers who arrested him, Mr Newby succeeded in ‘talking him down’.”

Mr Sandiford said the defendant told Mr Newby about his plan to take the bomb into the hospital and “kill as many nurses as possible”.

He said: “Mr Newby stayed with the defendant, keeping him engaged and calm.

“Mr Newby also persuaded the defendant to move away from the main entrance to a seating area so that the IED was as far away from the building as it was possible to go.”

Jurors heard Farooq then handed his phone over to Mr Newby to ring the police.

The defendant was arrested by officers who found the “viable” pressure cooker bomb had just under 10 kilograms of low explosive.

He also had, with him or in his car, two knives, black tape and a blank-firing, imitation firearm.

An investigation found Farooq had become self-radicalised by accessing extremist material and propaganda online.

“That consisted mainly of material published by Islamic State, al Qaida, videos on TikTok and lectures by Anwar Al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American radical preacher,” Mr Sandiford said.

The court heard he had also obtained bomb-making instructions in a magazine published by al Qaida to encourage lone wolf terrorist attacks against the west.

The prosecutor said RAF Menwith Hill had been designated as a target by so-called Islamic State because it was believed the base had been used to co-ordinate drone strikes against terrorists.

Movements of the defendant’s mobile phone and car showed that he made at least two visits to the locality of Menwith Hill in the 10 days leading up to his arrest, jurors were told.

The court heard Farooq has admitted firearms offences, possessing an explosive substance with intent and having a document likely to be useful to a person preparing or committing an act of terrorism.

He denies preparing acts of terrorism. Mr Sandiford said the defendant admits intending to attack St James Hospital but denies any intention to attack Menwith Hill.

The trial continues.

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