A man who was directed to carry out an attack at London’s Heathrow Airport faces decades behind bars after pleading guilty to terrorism charges in U.S. federal court Friday.
Minh Quang Pham, a 33-year-old Vietnamese national living in the United Kingdom, admitted to traveling to Yemen in 2010 to join the al-Qaeda branch in the Arabian Peninsula, known as AQAP. According to the indictment, Pham told his wife that he was traveling to Ireland.
While in the Middle East, Pham said he trained with terrorists, shot and learned how to assemble an AK-47 machine gun, and served as graphic designer for al-Qaeda’s online publication, Inspire Magazine.
In July 2011, Pham returned to the UK, where he was detained and search by authorities at London’s Heathrow International Airport. It was there that they discovered electronic evidence indicating Pham had interacted with AQAP operatives in Yeman, as well as a live round from a Kalashnikov rifle.
Pham was later extradited to the U.S. for allegedly conspiring with U.S.-born terrorist Anwar Al-Awlaki. When interviewed by the FBI, Pham admitted to training with AQAP, and identified himself in several Inspire photos depicting him wielding and assembling an AK-47, authorities said.
At his federal court hearing on Friday, prosecutors said that if the case went to trial they would present evidence that Al-Awlaki trained Pham himself on how to construct and detonate an explosive device. They also said witness testimony would show that Al-Awlaki directed Pham to carry out a terrorist bombing at Heathrow targeting arriving flights from either the U.S. or Israel.
Pham’s attorney told the judge that while Pham admits to the charges outlined in the indictment, “there is no proof that Mr. Pham did anything to carry out” an attack at Heathrow.
Pham could be sentenced to life in prison, although as part of his plea agreement, federal prosecutors agreed to recommend a term of between 30 and 50 years.
He is scheduled to be sentenced April 14.