A terrorist who launched a frenzied knife attack on commuters and police at Manchester Victoria train station last New Year’s Eve has been sentenced to life with a minimum term of 11 years.
Mahdi Mohamud, who will begin his sentence in a high-security psychiatric hospital, raised the fillet knife and walked up behind unsuspecting James Knox, 54, screaming “Allahu Akbar!” and “Long live the Caliphate!” as he stabbed his victim repeatedly in the back, shoulders and head.
The 26-year-old then turned the knife on Mr Knox’s companion, Anna Charlton, 57, slashing her across the face after the couple randomly crossed his path heading for a tram home shortly before 9pm last December 31.
Sgt Lee Valentine, 31, was also stabbed in the shoulder as the defendant was confronted and arrested by British Transport Police (BTP).
Mohamud, diagnosed as suffering paranoid schizophrenia, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to three counts of attempted murder and one count of the possession of a document or record likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism, a manual titled, “the seven most lethal ways to strike with a knife”.
Alison Morgan QC, prosecuting, argued though Mohamud was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and this may have “disinhibited” his behaviour, the attack was “not simply a product of that mental illness” given the months of planning, his extremist ideology and desire to perform “jihad.”
The court heard the defendant, a Dutch national from a Somali family who has lived in the UK since the age of nine, gained a first-class degree in mechanical engineering from Leeds University in 2016.
But after gaining a placement with Rolls Royce in 2015 he suffered a drug induced psychosis and his mental health deteriorated with him being sectioned and spending time in mental hospitals in the UK and Somalia.
Rebecca Trowler QC, mitigating, told the court the defendant’s mental illness acted as the “driver” for the attack.
Mr Justice Stuart-Smith sentenced Mohamud to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 11 years.
The ‘Hybrid Order’ means the defendant will remain in a hospital until until his mental state has recovered sufficiently for him to be transferred to prison to complete the rest of his sentence.
Mr Justice Stuart-Smith said: “In general terms your mental illness did not cause you to be unable to distinguish between right and wrong.
“For these main reasons I conclude that, though your mental illness made a significant contribution, probably by exacerbating the seeds of Islamic radicalisation and by a disinhibiting effect, you retain substantial responsibility and culpability for your acts.”
Earlier the court heard Mohamud walked the mile from his family home in Cheetham Hill, Manchester, to the busy city centre train station where he launched the attack shortly before 9pm.
Mr Knox suffered 13 injuries including a skull fracture while Ms Charlton’s right lung was punctured and she suffered a slash to her forehead that cut down to the bone.
Police later recovered a large amount of what police called “counter-terrorism mindset material”, including images, Islamic State propaganda, hate-speeches by extreme Islamists and the document about how to carry out knife attacks.
Mohamud was known to mental health services but was not subject to a care plan and his family had made him a doctor’s appointment and slipped anti-psychotic medication into his food in the days before he travelled to and from Somalia on several occasions between 2016 and 2018.
During that time he accessed “significant extremist material” and began drafting documents that would later be of significance to the attack that he committed, the court heard.
He returned to the UK on November 12, 2018, with a “schedule” or diary for carrying out his jihad with an “endgame” on December 31, the court was told.
The sentencing hearing, stretched across two days, heard reports from a number of psychiatrists, as the prosecution and defence disagreed over the extent to which the defendant’s mental health could explain the offences he committed.
Outside court Detective Superintendent Will Chatterton, head of investigations for Counter Terrorism Policing North West, said: “This was a terrifying attack on one of the busiest days of the year and I know it will stay with the victims for the rest of their lives.
“I’d like to thank the officers who were on the scene in a matter of seconds, bravely trying to detain Mohamud despite the Taser and captor spray having no immediate effect on him.
“I have no doubt that their quick actions prevented more people from coming to harm.”
Nasir Hafezi, Mohamud’s solicitor said: “Medical reports clearly show that at the time of the offence Mahdi was suffering with the symptoms of schizophrenia including hearing voices, hallucinations and paranoid delusions.
“Despite Mahdi pleading guilty to very serious offences, it would be wrong simply to label Mahdi in the same way as someone who has chosen to use violence in full possession of his mental faculties. Mahdi is a very unwell young man and has been for several years.”