The gang, from the West Midlands in central England, was arrested last August after intelligence operatives went to bug one of the member's cars, only to find a pipe bomb and meat cleaver hidden in the boot. (File photo)
The gang, from the West Midlands in central England, was arrested last August after intelligence operatives went to bug one of the member's cars, only to find a pipe bomb and meat cleaver hidden in the boot. (File photo)

Four members of a British militant cell who referred to themselves as the Three Musketeers were given life sentences in prison on Thursday for plotting an attack.

The four men – Naweed Ali, Khobaib Hussain, Mohibur Rahman, and Tahir Aziz – were arrested in an undercover sting operation in August 2016 after police uncovered a partly built pipe bomb, an imitation gun and a meat cleaver scratched with the Arabic word for "infidel" in Ali's car.

"Recent attacks have demonstrated the kind of horror these defendants could have caused had they not been stopped," said Sue Hemming, the state prosecutor's counter-terrorism chief.

All three men denied preparing an attack and claim the evidence was planted by an undercover officer, who rejected the claims during 12 days of cross-examination.

Judge Henry Globe in London sentenced Ali, 29, Hussain, 25, and Rahman, 33, to serve at least 20 years of the term, following a trial in which the police's undercover operations came under the spotlight.

The group had been convicted of terrorism offences by a court in London on Wednesday.

Jurors deliberated for 22 hours before finding the men guilty of planning an attack similar to that on British soldier Lee Rigby, who was knifed to death on a London street in broad daylight in 2013.

Another defendant, Aziz, 38, was also sentenced to life after being found guilty of the same offence, and will serve a minimum of 15 years in jail.

One of the convicted men shouted: "I hope you're happy with your lies, lying scumbags," as he was led from court.

Judge Globe rejected the claims as "totally unfounded."

"But for the intervention of the counter-terrorism unit of West Midlands Police and the security services, there would have been not dissimilar terrorist acts in this country using ... explosives and or one or more bladed weapons," he said.

The jury had earlier heard how the gang communicated on encrypted Telegram exchanges, calling themselves the Three Musketeers.

The gang was led by Hussain, from Birmingham. He and his next-door neighbour Ali met Rahman in jail.

Hussain and Ali were serving time for attending a terror training camp in Pakistan, while Rahman was jailed for possessing an Al Qaeda propaganda magazine.

Aziz joined the group days before the arrests.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies