Roshonara Choudhry: I wanted to die … I wanted to be a martyrhttp://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/
Exclusive: Transcripts obtained by the Guardian of police interviews with Roshonara Choudhry, jailed for trying to kill Labour MP Stephen Timms, reveal extremist cleric's influence
The gifted student jailed for life for trying to assassinate MP Stephen Timms told police she had wanted to die as a martyr after watching more than 100 hours of video sermons from the extremist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki which she had come upon on the internet.
The Guardian has obtained transcripts of police interviews with Roshonara Choudhry conducted hours after her arrest for stabbing the Labour former minister twice at his constituency surgery in Beckton, east London, in May 2010.
The transcripts give a unique insight into how a young and highly educated Briton came to be convinced by material on the internet that she should throw away her glittering future by attempting to murder Timms.
At the Old Bailey, Choudhry was sentenced to serve a minimum of 15 years. "You intended to kill in a political cause and to strike at those in government by doing so. You did so as a matter of deliberate decision-making, however skewed your reasons, from listening to those Muslims who incite such action on the internet," said the judge, Mr Justice Cooke.
The transcripts show that minutes into the interview she confessed to trying to murder Timms as punishment for his support for the Iraq war.
Asked by stunned detectives why she came to believe this, she told them how she had been learning more about her faith and had chanced upon Awlaki's sermons on YouTube. The video sharing site said it was taking down hundreds of hours of his videos after mounting pressure. Choudhry, 21, told police: "I've been listening to lectures by Anwar al-Awlaki … he's an Islamic scholar. He lives in Yemen."
The sections of her interview where she admits that the cleric inspired her to attempt murder were not produced in court, and are revealed here for the first time. Awlaki, the spiritual leader of al-Qaida in the Arabian peninsula, is suspected of being behind the air cargo bomb plot uncovered on Friday and other terrorist plots.
The home secretary, Theresa May, warned that Awlaki's reach was so great that earlier this year one of his operatives was arrested in Britain as he planned a terrorist attack.
The effect of listening to and viewing the cleric's video was such that, despite the fact that Choudhry never met or had any contact with him, she chose to withdraw from contact with her friends and ended her studies, quitting as the top student in her course at King's College London on 27 April this year before carrying out her attack on 14 May.
She began listening to his sermons in November 2009, and finished the last in the first week of May, days before she carried out the attack. "I downloaded the full set of Anwar al-Awlaki's lectures," Choudhry told police, saying that she listened to more than 100 hours of them.
She said Awlaki's sermons made her believe that "we shouldn't allow the people who oppress us to get away with it".
Weeks before the attack she bought the two knives she planned to use in the assassination for £1 each from a hardware store near her east London home.
In the interview, marked as "restricted", she said that she acted alone and told nobody of her desire for violent revenge, "because nobody would understand".
Choudhry told police that when she was 17 she had met Timms on a trip organised by her sixth-form college, and felt embarrassed when a fellow student berated him for the Iraq war. She felt too shy to say anything: "I wasn't brave enough to say anything, I just sat quietly." She used websites on MPs' voting records and was angered to see Timms nearly always voted with his government. Choudhry told detectives: "He just voted strongly for everything, as though he had no mercy. As though he felt no doubts that what he was doing was right, even though it was such an arrogant thing to do and I just felt like if he could treat the Iraqi people so mercilessly, then why should I show him any mercy?"
Timms said: "I think she wanted to be a teacher. Throwing all of that away because of what she saw on the web. I think that's tragic and I think we do need to take care of other young people who may find themselves in a similar position. "It is puzzling and alarming that she seems to have reached the conclusion by spending time on some website."
He described the attack as "a complete bolt out of the blue".
Police believe Choudhry is the first Briton to be inspired by al-Qaida to try to assassinate a public figure on British soil.