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19 August 2011, 16:39
Three men have pleaded guilty to an elaborate bomb plot which extracted £160,000 from a bank and brought a town centre to a standstill.
Co-op bank worker Muhammed Qasim Salam, 23, caused a major emergency in Watford when he told colleagues that a bomb was strapped to his leg.
Armed police, trained negiotators and the bomb squad were called and surrounded the bank in Market Street, Watford in a three and a half hour siege before Salam gave himself up.
His friends and accomplices Imran Khalifa and Faizan Rehman, both 23, were also arrested. The money was later recovered.
At St Albans crown court Salam of Bracknell Close, Luton, Khalifa from Maidenhead Road, Luton and Rehman from Havelock Road, Luton pleaded to conspiracy to steal and conspiracy to commit a bomb hoax.
Judge Andrew Bright QC described their crimes as: "A bank robbery without violence."
The case was not opened by prosecutor Peter Shaw and is due back for sentence next week when one defendant's basis of plea has been considered.
At a preliminary hearing the three bespectacled defendants were all said to be intelligent young men from respectable families with no previous convictions.
Salam was a highly regarded member of the bank's Customer Service Department. He had keys to the bank safe and hatched a plan in May this year,recruiting the other two.
On Thursday June 2 he put his plan into action - first of all making sure other male workers at the bank would not be present.
In the early hours they drove to the branch manager's home in Staines, Middlesex, where they punctured his tyres so he could not get into work.
Salam also made sure another male worker would not be present by making arrangements for him to visit another branch.
He went to the bank as normal, dressed smartly for work. No long afterwards the other two made their way to Watford in a hire car.
Rehman entered the bank for a meeting with Salam about opening an account. Khalifa remained in the car to act as a getaway driver.
At 9.30 Rehman switched to a taxi that pulled upside and, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and long coat, he walked in.
Salam ushered him into a side office for the "meeting." There the hoax bomb was strapped to one of the bank worker's legs.
Her then took Rehman downstairs to the safe which he unlocked and £160,000 was taken.
It was placed in a bag carried by Rehman who left unchallenged as none of the other staff knew what had happened. He took the taxi back to where Khalifa was waiting in the getaway car. The two made their way back to Luton.
Salam made his way to the main foyer and dialled 999 saying someone had come into the bank and "strapped a bomb to my leg."
He said the stranger had said that after 20 minutes a LED light would come on indicating that the bomb was no longer dangerous, but he claimed the man told him that if he tried to take it off before then it would explode.
His call caused the police to quickly surround the bank. One woman worker later told the police she saw Salam leaning on the counter looking pale and shouting that everyone should get out. She said she could see a device strapped to his leg.
After their arrest the three's mobile phones were examined. It put them in the vicinity of the manager's home in Staines in the early hours as well as being in Watford on the day of the siege.