Trial begins in London of would be airline bombers
April 3, 2008
April 4, 2008
'Terror plot' to blow up transatlantic flights out of LondonSean O'Neill, Crime and Security Editor
A British terrorist cell planned to detonate suicide bombs on seven transatlantic flights over North America, causing catastrophic loss of life, a court was told yesterday.
The flights chosen by the alleged terrorists – based in Walthamstow, East London – were scheduled to leave Heathrow Terminal 3 one afternoon carrying almost 2,000 passengers and crew.
Peter Wright, QC, opening the prosecution case against eight men accused of the plot, said that the attacks would have had "a truly global impact".
The seven aircraft were destined for six American and Canadian cities: New York, Washington DC, Chicago, San Francisco, Toronto and Montreal.
Mr Wright said that the eight defendants shared a common interest in "inflicting heavy casualties upon an innocent civilian population, all in the name of Islam".
He told Woolwich Crown Court that the key component of the bombs was a liquid hydrogen peroxide explosive carried in 500ml bottles of soft drinks.
The devices would have been carried in hand luggage, along with detonators made from batteries and disposable cameras.
No date had been finalised for the series of attacks but the alleged conspirators had conducted detailed research on flights leaving London between August and October 2006. The date range included the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
The jury was told that the alleged plot was thwarted when police made a series of arrests on August 9, 2006. That operation prompted a massive security alert at airports worldwide. Passengers were banned from carrying hand luggage and many flights were cancelled. Chaos ensued at airports around the world and international travel ground to a halt. The continuing restrictions on carrying liquids on aircraft are a direct result of security measures imposed after the alleged plot.
Mr Wright named the key plotters as Abdulla Ahmed Ali, 27, Assad Sarwar, 27, and Mohammed Gulzar, 26. He said that Mr Ali and the five other defendants – Waheed Zaman, 23, Tanvir Hussain, 26, Ibrahim Savant, 27, Arafat Waheed Khan, 26, and Umar Islam (aka Brian Young), 29 – were prepared to be suicide bombers along with as many as 12 other plotters.
"They are men with the cold-eyed certainty of the fanatic, prepared to board an aircraft with the necessary ingredients and equipment to construct and detonate a device that would bring about not only loss of their own lives but also of all those who happened to be taking that journey," he said.
The defendants all deny charges of conspiracy to murder and conspiracy to cause an explosion on an aircraft. The trial continues. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/crime/article3672067.ece
Terrorists plotted 'mass murder in mid-air
Islamic fanatics planned to blow up at least seven transatlantic flights (Picture: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
By CHRIS GREENWOOD AND ROSS LYDALL A GANG of Islamic fanatics plotted to blow at least seven airliners out of the sky as they crossed the Atlantic, creating a death toll "on an almost unprecedented scale", a court heard yesterday.
Security services would have been powerless to halt the plot as all the flights, out of Heathrow and destined for the United States or Canada, would have been in mid-air at the time of the first blast.
Outlining the case, which brought chaos to UK airports when stringent rules on carrying liquids on board were imposed after the men were arrested, Peter Wright, QC, prosecuting, said some of the plotters had been ready to sacrifice their own lives.
He said: "What these men intended to bring about was a violent and deadly statement of intent that would have truly global impact.
"These men and others were actively involved in a deadly plan designed to bring about what would have been, had they been successful, a civilian death toll from an act of terrorism on an almost unprecedented scale. Fortunately. they were arrested before they could put those plans into effect."
Three men – Abdulla Ahmed Ali, Assad Sarwar and Mohammed Gulzar – were named as the masterminds of the plot. They often met at a flat in Walthamstow, east London, where police later discovered what they believed to be bomb-making materials.
After watching the alleged conspirators for months, police swooped on Ali in a London car park. They found a computer memory stick containing details of one-way flights out of Heathrow's terminal three. The flights, with capacities for up to 285 people, were bound for San Francisco, Toronto, Montreal, Washington, New York, plus two to Chicago.
Mr Wright said the jury at Woolwich Crown Court might conclude that the defendants were "almost ready to put their plot into practice" at the time of their arrests. "The disaster they contemplated was not long off," he said.
The accused and others were prepared to board the aircraft carrying their "deadly cargo" and detonate it in flight, he said. "They were prepared to board an aircraft with the necessary ingredients and equipment to construct and detonate a device that would bring about not only the loss of their own lives but also all of those who happened by chance to be taking the same journey," he said
Mr Wright, who described the defendants as having the "cold-eyed certainty of the fanatic", said there was evidence that they planned to bring down more than seven flights. Two of the alleged plotters had spoken of other terminals and as many as 18 suicide bombers.
The aim was to use syringes to inject a hydrogen peroxide mixture into 500ml plastic bottles of soft drinks Oasis and Lucozade – hydrogen peroxide can be bought legally but develops "explosive properties" when combined with an organic material. A sugary drink called Tang would have been added to add extra force to the explosion, the court was told. The detonation would have been caused using another substance, that was to have been concealed in AA 1.5 volt batteries, and the bulb or flash from a disposable camera.
The prosecution said a "blueprint" of the plot, hand-written by Ali, was found in his diary. He planned to place a pornographic magazine and a condom in his luggage to distract attention from the explosives. The jury saw pages from the diary in which he apparently refers to how the materials for the bombs were to be transported on to the aircraft.
On one page, he wrote: "Select date, five days before jet. All link up.
"Dirty mag to distract, condom.
"One drink use, other keep in pocket, maybe will not get through."
Mr Wright said: "These flights were particularly vulnerable to a co-ordinated attack upon them while in flight. If each of these aircraft was successfully blown up, the potential for loss of life was indeed considerable. And there would be little, if any, chance of saving any of them from their impending disaster."
He said police had watched several members of the gang for many months. "From what had been observed in the days and months prior to the arrests, it was realised that these men, together with others, were engaged in some sort of terrorist plot," he said.
Speaking about Ali and Sarwar, he said: "Although these men lived some distance apart, they were known to each other. They shared a common interest. It was an interest … that involved inflicting heavy casualties on an unwitting civilian population, all in the name of Islam. They intended to construct and detonate a device that would bring about not only the loss of their own lives but also all those that happened to be taking, by chance, the same journey."
Ali, Sarwar and Gulzar, together with Tanvir Hussain, Ibrahim Savant, Arafat Waheed Khan, Waheed Zaman and Umar Islam, deny conspiracy to murder and to endanger the safety of an aircraft between January and August 2006.
The trial continues.
Huge security alert
THE alleged airline terrorism plot led to a range of security measures being implemented which left Britain with one of the strictest pre-flight security routines in the world. Much tougher constraints on the size of hand luggage and more security searches of passengers were introduced.
Passengers were advised to arrive earlier than usual at airports to allow time for security checks – but many complained about this leading to massive queues and delays.
Hand luggage was to consist of only essential items, such as wallets and passports, which had to be carried in a clear plastic bag through security.
More armed police officers, both uniformed and plain-clothes, were deployed at airports.
At the height of the alert airports around the country were brought to a standstill, with many inbound and outbound flights cancelled and increased security measures imposed.
The threat level to the UK was raised by MI5 to critical after the arrests in London, High Wycombe and Birmingham. Critical threat level – the highest – means "an attack is expected imminently and indicates an extremely high level of threat to the UK".
Airlines including Ryanair and Virgin Atlantic reacted with anger and legal threats.
Seven passenger planes 'singled out for destruction'
THE plotters researched details of scores of departures from Heathrow to north America, but appeared to single out seven flights, the court heard.
A computer memory stick belonging to Abdulla Ahmed Ali was found to contain flight timetables, baggage information and security advice on restricted items.
The jury was shown information from the memory stick listing departure and arrival times, aircraft types and the length of the flights.
But there was only information on outgoing flights.
The sorts of aircraft researched included 777, 767 and 763 jets with a passenger capacity of between 285 and 241 people.
Seven particular flights from Heathrow's Terminal 3 to Canada and the United States were highlighted on Ali's memory stick, the jury was told.
They departed daily to six major cities, setting off within two hours 35 minutes of each other.
The seven flights were:
&149 1415 United Airlines Flight 931 to San Francisco;
&149 1500 Air Canada Flight 849 to Toronto;
&149 1515 Air Canada Flight 865 to Montreal;
&149 1540 United Airlines Flight 959 to Chicago;
&149 1620 United Airlines Flight 925 to Washington;
&149 1635 American Airlines Flight 139 to New York;
• 1650 American Airlines Flight 91 to Chicago.
Peter Wright QC, prosecuting, said: "These flights were particularly vulnerable to a co-ordinated attack upon them while in flight.
"If each of these aircraft was successfully blown up the potential for loss of life was indeed considerable. And there would be little if any chance of saving any of them."
He added: "For when the mid-flight explosions began the authorities would be unable to prevent the other flights from meeting a similar fate as they would already be in mid air and carrying their deadly cargo."
Mr Wright said there is evidence the conspirators had ambitions to bring down more than just seven aircraft. He said in recorded conversations that two of the men made reference to different terminals and as many as 18 suicide bombers being involved.
SOME OF THE EVERYDAY INGREDIENTS FOR A DEADLY BOMB
The alleged bombers' methods – obviously with some details missing for security reasons – were outlined in court yesterday.
This is what the Crown claims:
Main charge made from hydrogen peroxide mixed with other chemicals.
Chemicals mixed with sugary powdered drink named Tang to add power to blasts and aid subterfuge.
Mixture injected into base of 500ml plastic bottles of Oasis and Lucozade. Hole sealed with Super Glue. Cap left factory-sealed.
Charge detonated with another chemical made from mixture of freely available household and commercial ingredients.
Detonator concealed inside AA 1.5-volt batteries, plugged with foam.
Detonator powered by disposable camera.