Plot to sell automatic weapons smashed by National Crime Agency

Officers from the UK’s top crime fighting agency told GB News that the plot also included plans to murder a man in a revenge shooting.

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Seven men have been jailed after a plot to sell a terrifying array of automatic weapons to criminal gangs was smashed by the National Crime Agency.

Officers from the UK’s top crime fighting agency told GB News that the plot also included plans to murder a man in a revenge shooting.

The investigation followed the penetration by law enforcement two years ago of an encrypted online platform, used by criminals around the world to plan their illegal activities.

The men all pleaded guilty to charges which arose from Operation Venetic – the UK law enforcement response to the takedown of encrypted communications platform EncroChat.

The plot developed after an incident on 3 April 2020, where Brandon Moore, 24, and Jordan Waring, 24, survived a shooting in Salford.

Image: NCA
Image: NCA

The men immediately began plotting with accomplice Umair Zaheer, 34, to carry out an ultimately unsuccessful revenge shooting.

Zaheer, of Somerset Road, Eccles, was known as ‘Assasin’s Creed’ on the EncroChat system.

On 14 April 2020 he sent a list of firearms, ammunition and accessories for sale to another gang member Bilal Khan, 33, who was known as ‘Legend Killer’ on the chat site.

Manchester Crown Court was told the firearms included AK47 assault rifles and Skorpion and Uzi machine guns – “everything an assassin might want”, prosecution said.

In early 2020 an international law enforcement partnership had defeated EncroChat’s encryption and enabled the National Crime Agency to see what the offenders in this case were plotting.

Those offences included the revenge shooting, firearms trafficking and drug deals.

The NCA passed evidence of the revenge plot to Greater Manchester Police who investigated and charged the men responsible.

The NCA investigated the supply of the firearms and ammunition.

EncroChat messages showed that another man, Robert Brazendale, 34, worked as a trusted quartermaster and courier and was an essential cog in a machine running guns to other serious organised crime groups.

Image: NCA
Image: NCA

After one deal was struck, on 15 April 2020 Brazendale, of Selworthy Drive, Warrington, drove his red Citroen van to deliver an AK47 assault rifle to a man in exchange for £10,500.

Later that day Brazendale was involved in another delivery after Bilal Khan, of Mersey Road, Didsbury, brokered and forwarded sale details to an unknown EncroChat user.

Riding a bicycle, Brazendale arrived at a convenience store car park in Thelwall, Warrington, and handed over an Uzi and Skorpion machine guns, a Taurus Brasil revolver and 300 rounds of ammunition to courier Hitesh Patel, 27, in exchange for £37,000.

Patel agreed to drive the deadly haul to London in a Toyota Yaris. The guns were recovered by the Metropolitan Police on 30 April at an address in Brent.

Brazendale met Khan later that day and put an AK47 and large quantity of ammunition into the boot of his BMW.

Khan was arrested days later at his home in Didsbury.

Umair Zaheer was arrested on 23 April after he from a car and tried to outrun NCA officers.

Brazendale flee to Spain, but was arrested in Malaga, in October 2020 under a European Arrest Warrant.

In December Zaheer, Moore and Waring, both of no fixed address, admitted conspiring to possess firearms or ammunition with intent to endanger life in relation to the revenge shooting.

Zaheer, Khan and Patel, of Garden Lane, Chester, also admitted a separate count of possession of firearms with intent to endanger life.

Image: NCA
Image: NCA

Brazendale admitted conspiring to transfer prohibited firearms.

Zaheer and Louis Coleman, 23, of Pendlecroft Avenue, Salford, both admitted conspiring to supply cocaine, with Zaheer also admitting conspiring to supply cannabis, and Coleman admitted conspiring to supply ketamine.

Today, Zaheer was sentenced to 25 years in prison; Khan to 10 years and eight months; Patel to seven years and five months; Brazendale to 11 years and three months; Moore to 11 years and five months; Waring to eight years and seven months; and Coleman to six years and nine months.

Neil Gardner, NCA operations manager, said: “The weapons we took off the street and out of the crime groups’ hands were some of the most lethal around with a truly devastating capability.

“In seizing these weapons which are capable of firing multiple rounds per second, we have saved lives and protected the public.

“The offenders thought they were safe using encrypted comms, but working with the Crown Prosecution Service and Greater Manchester Police, we built a solid case that resulted in the men admitting their involvement.”

Detective Constable Steven Walker, of GMP Salford's Organised Crime Unit, said: "This group of men undoubtedly posed a significant threat to the city of Salford and it's right that they'll now spend a majority of their adult years behind bars.

“We believe some of the serious criminality we've seen in Salford over recent years has stemmed from the threat posed by these individuals and there's no doubt the community can welcome the fact that these men won't be operating on our streets for decades to come.”