But it is understood investigators concluded he did not pose a danger to national security and no evidence has been found by counter-terrorism officials tying him in any shape or form to extremism.Muhammad, from Bury, Greater Manchester, cried in the dock at Manchester crown court after the jury returned its verdict on Tuesday.
When the pipe bomb was found, Muhammad was questioned, but ultimately allowed to travel on. Security officials at Manchester airport had at first not believed the bomb was viable. Muhammad was questioned by counter-terrorism police, released and allowed to board another flight to Bergamo, near Milan, five days later.
The court had heard he was planning to board a Ryanair flight to Italy on 30 January when security officers found the device was made of masking tape, batteries, the tube of a marker pen, pins and wires, and in the zip lining of his small suitcase.
Muhammad claimed in court that he had never seen the device the crown said he tried to smuggle on to the Boeing 737 and that it had nothing to do with him.
Prosecutor Jonathan Sandiford told the jury when opening the case: “The crown says that the only reason why somebody would try and carry an assembled and viable IED through stringent airport security checks and on to an aeroplane would be a desire and intention to detonate it within the confines of that aeroplane.
“The only reason for doing that would have been an intention to endanger lives or cause serious damage to property or both. What motive can there have been for what was to all intents and purposes likely to be a suicide attack on an aeroplane?”
The search for a motive led to investigations by police from the north-west counter-terrorism unit and the domestic security service MI5. No evidence or intelligence was found to support the idea Muhammad was driven by a terrorist motive. In government it is not being included among the list of foiled or thwarted terrorist recent plots. The case was prosecuted under the Explosives Act and not under the Terrorism Act.
Sandiford told the jury when opening the case: “The crown has found no evidence of any particular motive. You may think terrorism is one of the possible and the most likely motive but it could be a desire to commit suicide or some other reason.”
The jury reached a majority verdict of 10 to two on the charge after almost 16 hours of deliberations.
After the verdict, Supt Graeme Openshaw of Greater Manchester police’s specialist operations unit said security procedures at the airport had been tightened up. “We accept that there were some errors with our assessment of the device on the day and we have already reviewed our practices, however, this incident has demonstrated the effectiveness of the airport security checks where the item was successfully detected and the passenger intercepted,” he said.
The court heard that Muhammad was born in Pakistan but had an Italian passport. The “crude improvised explosive device” was discovered by airport security when his hand luggage went through scanners at the airport.
But when security swabbed the bomb, there was no trace of explosives on the outside and officers did not believe it was a viable device. Deborah Jeffrey, the security manager at Terminal 3, initially kept it in her pocket before it was handed to police.
After the verdict, Sue Hemming, the head of the special crime and counter-terrorism division in the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “Despite extensive investigation, Nadeem Muhammad’s motive for attempting to take this device on to a plane remains unknown.”
Muhammad was questioned by officers from the counter-terrorism unit but released. He returned to the airport the next day to collect his mobile phone, which had been taken by police, then again on 5 February when he boarded another flight to Italy.
Suspicions were raised on 8 February when the device was examined by forensics officers and the bomb squad was called. The explosive was then sent for examination by Lorna Philp, an expert, who found it was a “crude but potentially viable improvised explosive device”.
The device contained double-base smokeless propellant, normally found in firearms ammunition, which was made up of nitroglycerin and nitrocellulose.
Italian police raided Muhammad’s home and workplace on 9 February and took him to a police station. But he was released after a couple of hours and on 12 February boarded another flight back to the UK. He was arrested when he arrived back at Manchester airport.
Muhammad had told the court he was surprised to see the bomb when it was found in his bag and that it had nothing to do with him
Muhammad, whose wife was in court throughout the trial, cried as he was remanded in custody by the judge, Patrick Field QC. He is scheduled to be sentenced on 23 August.