A 19-year-old British man from Wolverhampton was recently convicted of attempting to import explosives for the purpose of building a car bomb. Gurtej Randhawa was arrested in May of this year after picking up a package which was supposed to contain an explosive device capable of being remotely detonated. Officers from the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency’s Armed Operations Unit led the investigation, and had intercepted Randhawa’s package. The explosive device was removed from the package by National Crime Agency officers and replaced with a dummy car bomb. The fake car bomb was then delivered to Randhawa, who was arrested not long after he accepted the package in the mail. The arrest was made after officers observed Randhawa trying to test out the device.
In addition to the arrest of Gurtej Randhawa, officers also arrested an 18-year-old woman and a 45-year-old woman. While Randhawa has since been convicted, the two women have since been released and they are not facing any charges. Randhawa pleaded guilty to importing the explosive device, and was recently also found guilty by a Birmingham Crown Court of “possessing an explosive substance with intent to endanger life or cause serious injury.” However, it should be noted that even according to law enforcement’s version of events, Randhawa never did actually possess the explosive substance he had attempted to import into the country.
Randhawa was denied bail and remains in jail, awaiting sentencing early next year, on January 12th. “The explosive device Randhawa sought to purchase online had the potential to cause serious damage and kill many people if he had been successful in using it,” Tim Gregory of the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency’s Armed Operations Unit said in a press release. “He was not involved in an organized crime group or linked to terrorism, but is clearly an individual who poses a significant risk to the community. Identifying people like Randhawa – who seek to access illegal firearms and weapons – is a priority for the NCA and we will not stop in our efforts to make sure they are arrested and held accountable for their actions.”
It is not known how Gurtej Randhawa and his package came to the attention of the National Crime Agency. It has been speculated that the vendor that Gurtej Randhawa purchased the car bomb from was actually being run by law enforcement agents as part of a sting operation or honeypot. Another possibility is that British customs agents may have detected the package containing the explosive using a bomb sniffing dog or a bomb detection device. It is also a possibility that Randhawa was already under surveillance when he ordered the explosive device. GCHQ, the United Kingdom’s equivalent of the United States’ NSA, may have helped spy on Randhawa.
It is also possible that GCHQ was given information about Randhawa from the NSA or one of the other spy agencies that are part of the FIVE EYES global surveillance network. FIVE EYES includes spy agencies from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. These agencies frequently share intelligence amongst each other, especially in situations where domestic surveillance is prohibited. While it may be illegal for an agency like GCHQ to conduct domestic surveillance, this prohibition is bypassed by having foreign intelligence agencies do the spying and share the data with GCHQ, who then tip off law enforcement agencies. GCHQ and the National Crime Agency formed a joint darknet task force in 2015.
The car bomb was officially described by the National Crime Agency as a Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device. Law enforcement officers with the National Crime Agency have stated that had Gurtej Randhawa received the actually explosive device he had ordered, that he would have had the potential to kill many people. Randhawa is expected to receive a lengthy prison sentence when he goes before the court again in January of next year.