To casual acquaintances, he appeared to be a polite, mild-mannered and softly spoken young man. But behind the exterior, Mohammed Atif Siddique harboured an obsession with fanatical jihadist websites and dreamed of becoming Britain's next suicide bomber.

In the two years that led up to his arrest in April 2006, the 21-year-old told fellow students and workmates of his plans to blow up Glasgow, saying he was involved in a war on behalf of Muslims worldwide and patiently explaining the ideological justifications for Islamic martyrdom to those who would listen.

Among the thousands of video files, essays and documents police seized from his laptop and family PC were manuals giving detailed guidance on how to make explosive devices and assemble automatic weapons, films of suicide bombers promising a holy war against the West and lengthy treatises written in Arabic by some of al Qaeda's leading members.

During the long hours he spent alone in front of his computer, accessing password-protected websites frequented by the most senior of players in al Qaeda's online operation, he saw himself not as a deluded loner but as a heroic "freedom fighter" who would go down in history as the man who brought terror to Scotland's doorsteps. Officers believe his level of access would not be afforded to many.

Yet Siddique's background was as unassuming as his persona. He was born in Stirling and grew up eight miles away in Alva, the small Clackmannanshire town which sits in the shadows of the Ochils, where a few residential streets huddle around the main road.

His parents, Mohammad and Parveen, were Pakistani immigrants who had married in Rochdale before moving from Lancashire to Scotland in the 1980s. They ran a newspaper shop on the western edge of the town, adjacent to their seven-bedroom home, and won respect among locals for their polite manners and hard work.

But, like many of the handful of Muslim families living in Clackmannanshire, they lived a different life from their neighbours. They played little part in social events and appeared to have made few close friends among the white community. Associates described them as conservative, observant Muslims who attended mosques in Stirling and Alloa.

At first, Siddique appeared to have inherited his family's good character. He worked hard at school - his headteacher at Alva Academy described him in court as a "model pupil" - and went on to study computing at Forth Valley College in nearby Alloa before undertaking a two-year HND in information and communication technology at Glasgow Metropolitan College.

As with his family, Siddique's social circle was comprised mostly of other young Muslims: playing football with a local team, drawn mostly from the sons of other Pakistani-British shopkeepers in Clackmannanshire, and going to the mosque.

He held down a number of part-time jobs during his studies: firstly at his parents' shop, then at a nearby cash and carry, and later as a sales assistant at Silicon Group, a small computer shop on the outskirts of Alloa run by a Pakistani family whose upstairs room is home to the local mosque.

But unlike his elder brother Asif, a law student at Strathclyde University, Siddique did not excel academically. He failed nine out of 17 units at college and his lecturers told the High Court that his performance in the second year at Glasgow Met deteriorated rapidly. He graduated with only a Higher National Certificate rather than an HND in the summer of 2005 and found employment in a series of low-paid call centre jobs. He was unemployed for four months before his arrest.

In place of either academic or business success grew an all-consuming interest in online terrorist material. Students at the Met recall him trawling through Arabic websites portraying "freedom fighters" and glorifying suicide bombings. In between shifts at the Response Handling Team call centre in Ibrox, Glasgow, he would download extremist material from the nearby public library.

Siddique was happy to explain his warped ideology and appeared to revel in the shocked response it produced in students and work colleagues. Indeed, one student at Glasgow Met, Razia Hussain, recalled that Siddique, whom she said had earned the nickname "Suicide Bomber", was reluctant to talk about anything that did not involve Islam.

On the web, where Siddique was known by various pseudonyms, including Yahya Ayash - borrowed from the former Hamas chief bomb-maker - he was even more explicit. He praised suicide bombers fighting against American Kufr (unbelievers) in Iraq and signed off some postings with the message: "We promise that we will not let you live safely. Oh Americans wait for us, we have brought slaughter upon you."

At home, Siddique's increasingly militant interpretation of Islam caused friction with his parents. They worried about the amount of time he was spending alone in his bedroom looking at extremist websites and were unhappy that the teenager had grown a beard. Siddique, in turn, argued that his parents should not sell alcohol in the shop as it was haram, or contrary to Islam.

Matters came to a head in 2005 when Siddique's father forcibly cut off his beard, at his mother's insistence. Aged 19, he left home and went on a trip to England with a religious group from Glasgow Central Mosque, where he is believed to have spent time with other extremists.

When he eventually returned several weeks later - after his parents had frantically searched for him, arranging meetings with Habib-ur-Rahman, the head imam at Glasgow Central Mosque, among others - Siddique agreed to delete the extremist files which he had stored on the home computer.

For his family, that was the end of the matter. Throughout the 18-month detention and three-week trial, his parents have stood beside him, privately insisting that the youngster's involvement in terrorist ideology was merely a "phase" he had now grown out of.

Others, including locals in Alva, appeared oblivious to Siddique's extremist bent. William Tainsh, who lives on the same street as the Siddiques and said he had known the family for 20 years, saw Atif the week before his arrest. "He was his same affable self, very nice and approachable," Mr Tainsh said. "He was a pleasant, outstanding laddie. He was hiding something, it would seem. But we knew nothing about that."

Siddique's actions also failed to arouse concerns among members of the local Muslim community, some of whom appeared to mistake his growing obsession with terrorist ideology for a deepening commitment to Islam. After his detention, there was widespread outrage among Clackmannanshire's 200-300 Muslim residents at perceived heavy-handed tactics by the police. Some of them still see Siddique as a victim of over-zealous prosecutors.

One friend of the family, who knew Siddique from his attendance at Alloa Mosque, said he had not suspected him of extremism. "There was no indication of that, nothing untoward about him," he said. "I always thought of him as being quite religious. He kept out of trouble at school, did his work. He was a well-behaved Scottish kid, he didn't cause anyone any harm."

Despite expressing alarm at Siddique's actions, some fellow students appeared to view him as a fantasist, someone who talked up his terrorist credentials. But his online mentors - who had spent years grooming Siddique in preparation for their terrorist purposes - appeared to view the youngster's intentions with greater clarity.

In one exchange on a Jihadist chat forum which was intercepted by police, Siddique was told by one terrorist sympathiser to make a "strategic return" to the family fold. "The reason is we know what you desire to do for the sake of Allah," he wrote.

One of the key figures alleged to have aided Siddique on his path to radicalisation is a man from the north of England, who cannot be named for legal reasons. He is suspected of being a major recruiting agent and handler for the Islamic cause, and is related to a central figure in a Canadian suicide bomb team with whom security sources claim Siddique was involved.

When Siddique was stopped by two Special Branch officers at Glasgow Airport on April 5, 2006, Britain's security services had been monitoring his online activity for months.

According to security sources, they believed that he was travelling to Pakistan and then Canada to join alleged Islamic extremists planning large-scale terror attacks in Ontario. Their alleged mission included detonating truck bombs, massacring shoppers and storming the Canadian Broadcast Centre and parliament building. They also allegedly planned to behead Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other leaders. Twelve men and five teenage boys are in custody in connection with the alleged attacks.

A source close to the investigation said yesterday: "The security services got intelligence that Siddique was about to leave Glasgow Airport for Pakistan where he would completely go off the radar. Special Branch were asked to detain him without delay and under no circumstances to let him board the Pakistan-bound flight. They feared that if Siddique got into Pakistan he would disappear and never come back."

After a massive police operation and three-week trial, Siddique has years ahead of him in prison where he can mull over what might have become of his grandiose ambitions as a "wannabe" suicide bomber.