A man who launched a frenzied knife attack on commuters and police at Manchester Victoria railway station last New Year’s Eve has pleaded guilty to attempted murder.
Mahdi Mohamud, 26, raised the fillet knife and walked up behind unsuspecting James Knox, screaming “Allahu Akbar!” and “Long live the Caliphate!” as he stabbed his victim repeatedly in the back, shoulders and head.
He then turned the knife on Mr Knox’s companion, Anna Charlton, slashing her across the face after the couple, in their 50s, randomly crossed his path heading for a tram platform shortly before 9pm last December 31.
British Transport Police (BTP) officers heard a blood-curdling scream and dashed to the scene.
Pc Ashleigh Williams, 27, and her colleague Marsha Selby, 28, along with two tram staff confronted Mohamud, who “like an animal” was “fixated” on stabbing and slashing, witnesses said.
The suspect was pepper sprayed before seconds later Pc Tom Wright, 27, arrived along with Sergeant Lee Valentine, 31, who shot Mohamud with his Taser.
But the barbs of the 50,000 volt shock gun got stuck in the knifeman’s thick coat and failed to paralyse him.
Before he could reload the knifeman ran along the blood-spattered platform charging at the officers with the weapon.
A second kitchen knife was found in his waistband.
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.
The defendant, a Dutch national from a Somali family, had arrived in the UK aged nine and became radicalised online, Greater Manchester Police (GMP) said.
Detained under the Mental Health Act the day after the attack he was later found fit to stand trial.
Mohamud pleaded guilty at Manchester Crown Court on Tuesday to three counts of attempted murder.
He also admitted 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”.
Mohamud had left the home he shared with his parents and brothers in Cheetham Hill, Manchester around 8pm on December 31.
He walked the mile to the busy city centre train station where he launched the attack, arriving shortly before 9pm and being captured on CCTV covering the station, next to Manchester Arena, the scene of the May 2017 suicide bombing which killed 22 people.
Footage showed him behind Mr Knox when he raised the knife and launched the attack with swift downward strokes, before attacking Ms Charlton.
Officers arrived and there was a brief a stand-off before the failed shot with the Taser and Mohamud ran at the officers with the knife.
Sgt Valentine said: “One of the things for me, obviously when I’ve landed on top of him being so close to his face to be literally like looking in his eyes and he’s like – there’s nothing there.
“The look on his face, not even that of like a madman, just somebody who was just like intent on…he just wasn’t there. Like just, he just was not there, it was just like, it was just like an animal.”
He was deemed fit to be interviewed on February 19 and charged on May 19.
Police later recovered a large amount of what GMP called “counter-terrorism mindset material”, including images and the document about how to carry out knife attacks.
Detectives say the planning for the attack began towards the end of 2017, when he had visited family in Somalia, with the defendant downloading radical hate material including speeches by Anwar al-Awlaki, the infamous US-born Islamist hate preacher, since killed in a drone strike in 2011 in Yemen.
Mohamud was known to mental health services but was not subject to a care plan at the time of the attack. Some years before he had been sectioned after voluntarily attending a hospital ward.
He had no criminal record and had been an engineering student at university but did not complete his degree and was unemployed and single.
Then-prime minister Theresa May later joined the BTP in commending emergency services after the incident.
The four BTP officers and two tram staff all received BTP chief constable’s commendations. Alison Morgan QC, has begun opening the case for the prosecution before Mohamud will be sentenced later.
Ms Morgan, opening the case said: “Whilst it is accepted that the defendant suffered from a mental illness at the time of the attack on December 31 2018, the prosecution’s case is that the attack at Victoria Station was not simply a product of that mental illness.
“It was intended to be a lethal attack, carefully planned over a number of months, reflecting the defendant’s extremist ideology and his desire to perform violent jihad.
“The defendant’s actions may have been disinhibited by his mental illness, but they were driven by an entrenched desire to undertake jihad against the West.”
The court heard the defendant obtained publications by so-called Islamic State (IS) and had created and meticulously revised a document entitled Neurotechnology, an anti-government, anti-West conspiracy theory.
The defendant also sought to make contact with known extremists to disseminate the document while studying the jihadi message of Anwar Al-Awalaki, incorporating aspects of Awalaki’s teaching into the document about psychological manipulation.
Ms Morgan added: “The defendant’s expression of anti-Western sentiment after the attack is consistent with his long-held beliefs and demonstrates that the purpose of the attack was terrorist.”
The defendant has three brothers and one sister, all born in the Netherlands, and he was living with family at the time of the attack. Between 2012 and 2016, he attended Leeds University and obtained a degree in mechanical engineering.
This included a placement at Rolls-Royce in 2015, but during this time he started to display significant mental health issues and was diagnosed as suffering from drug-induced psychosis.
He travelled to and from Somalia on more than one occasion between 2016 and 2017, including visiting on August 11 2017 before returning in November 2018.
While there, he was taken to hospital in Somalia for three periods during 2016 to 2018, and 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 also accessed the document, ‘7 most lethal places to strike with a knife’, downloading it to his iPhone. 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.
Back in the UK the defendant set up a new Facebook account with a graphic of a one finger salute, an image associated with IS.
Footage from CCTV at the station and police bodycams was played in court after the judge, Mr Justice Stuart-Smith, warned it contained distressing images.
Mohamud – who had appeared vacant throughout the hearing, until the CCTV was shown – put his hands to his face.
Ms Charlton, 57, and Mr Knox, 54, had been at a pub with friends and were on their way to the station to go home.
Ms Morgan said: “As she got to the tracks she felt a blow from behind her to the left. She thought she was being mugged and felt a large body and blows to her back. She turned to see if James was there and started screaming.
“She recalls he (the attacker) was shouting something in a different language in a monotone voice.
“She described the attacker as having an overwhelmingly powerful energy and realised at this point they were not being mugged and this was a targeted attack.
“She thought she was not going to see her children ever again and that James was going to die.”
During and after the attack Mohamud repeatedly shouted “This is for Allah” and “That’s what happens when you start bombing Muslim countries”.
The court will hear psychiatric evidence as the prosecution and defence disagree over the defendant’s mental health and how it could explain the offences he committed.
Sentencing is likely to take place on Wednesday morning.