LONDON (Reuters) - Three British Islamists were jailed on Friday for planning mass suicide attacks that had the blessing of al Qaeda and which prosecutors said could have been as deadly as the 2005 London bombings.
A fourth man, their associate, was sentenced for terrorist financing.
With the help of others, the three plotters had intended to detonate eight rucksack bombs in a mass attack and possibly use timers to set off other devices in crowded places. They had also considered welding knife blades to a truck and ramming it into a crowd of people, prosecutors said.
They said that although the targets remained unidentified, the intent was to create an attack more devastating than the four suicide bombings on London's transport system on July 7, 2005 which killed 52 people on underground trains and a bus.
Irfan Naseer, Irfan Khalid and Ashik Ali were being sentenced after their conviction at London's Woolwich Crown Court in February on 12 counts of committing acts in preparation for terrorism between December 2010 and September 2011.
"Clearly nothing was going to stop you, short of intervention of the authorities," judge Richard Henriques said.
"I have no doubt you would have continued with your plan but for that intervention. Many deaths were planned by a determined team of individuals who were fully radicalised and you, Naseer, were their leader."
Naseer, who the judge said was a "skilful bomb-maker", was jailed for life and told he must serve at least 18 years in prison, the Press Association reported.
Khalid, who had boasted the planned attack would be "another 9/11", was given 23 years and will spend at least 12 behind bars before he can be released, while Ali was jailed for 20 years with a minimum of 10 in custody.
"Your plot had the blessing of al Qaeda and you intended to further the aims of al Qaeda," said Henriques.
Naseer and Khalid had spent time at training camps in Pakistan where they had learnt how to make bombs, mix poisons and fire guns. The court was told they had prepared "martyrdom videos" in anticipation of their suicide campaign.
The group tried to fund their plot by posing as street collectors for the Muslim Aid charity organisation, raising 12,000 pounds ($18,500) for themselves in this way.
But they were forced to apply for tens of thousands of pounds in loans after their associate Rahin Ahmed, 26, lost more than 9,000 pounds trading on foreign currency markets.
He was given a 17-year jail term and will serve at least six years in prison after pleading guilty to collecting, investing and managing money for terrorism, and assisting others to travel to Pakistan for training in terrorism.
Naseer also sent four aspiring militants to Pakistan for training, although three had to return after just three days after a relative got wind of the real reason for their journey. All four of them pleaded guilty to engaging in conduct in preparation for terrorist acts.
Reporting by Michael Holden, Editing by Mark Trevelyan