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Three UK Muslims found guilty of plotting to kill thousands in airplane bomb plot

September 7, 2009

Three guilty of airline bomb plot

Tanvir Hussain, Abdulla Ahmed Ali and Assad Sarwar

Tanvir Hussain, Abdulla Ahmed Ali and Assad Sarwar were found guilty

Three men have been found guilty of plotting to kill thousands of people by blowing up planes over the Atlantic with home-made liquid bombs.

A Woolwich Crown Court jury convicted Abdulla Ahmed Ali, 28, Tanvir Hussain, 28, and Assad Sarwar, 29, of conspiring to activate bombs disguised as drinks.

Four other men were found not guilty of involvement in the airline plot.

The men's arrests in 2006 led to new airport restrictions on liquids and brought chaos to travellers.

The plot's ringleader Ali, along with Hussain and Sarwar, was previously found guilty of conspiracy to murder involving liquid bombs - but that jury could not decide whether the three men's plans extended to detonating the devices on planes.

Now a second jury has decided that such a terror plot did exist.

With thousands killed in the air, the explosions could have caused more devastation than the September 11 attacks.

Baroness Neville Jones, former chairwoman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, told the BBC: "This has brought home to us how potentially vulnerable travel and communication is."

Ibrahim Savant, 28, Arafat Khan, 28, Waheed Zaman, 25, and Donald Stewart-Whyte, 23, were all found not guilty of conspiring to murder by blowing up planes.

GUILTY OF AIRLINE BOMB PLOT Abdulla Ahmed Ali Assad Sarwar Tanvir Hussain
Full verdicts explained

Mr Stewart-Whyte was also cleared of a general charge of conspiracy to murder.

The jury failed to reach verdicts on general conspiracy to murder charges against Mr Savant, Mr Khan and Mr Zaman.

An eighth man, Umar Islam, 31, was convicted of conspiracy to murder, but the jury failed to reach a verdict on whether he was involved in a plot to blow up aircraft.

Bomb factory

The court was told MI5 officers uncovered the plotters as they followed cells of extremists in London.

The jury heard that, at the time of the men's arrest in August 2006, Ali had identified seven flights leaving from Heathrow to North American cities.

Sarwar, meanwhile, was described as the plot's "quartermaster", securing bomb ingredients from his home in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire.

A flat in the Walthamstow area of east London became the bomb factory, where the men put together a special mixture of chemicals.

They planned to take this mixture, sealed in ordinary sports drinks bottles, on board flights in hand luggage.

The men told the court that they had been planning a political stunt, including small explosions only intended to frighten people at airports.

The world's aviation industry was thrown into chaos in 2006 after their arrests, as security experts immediately introduced restrictions on liquids in hand luggage.


Airline terror trial: The bomb plot to kill 10,000 people

Three British Muslims have been convicted of planning a series of co-ordinated suicide bomb attacks on transatlantic airliners, which could have killed up to 10,000 people

By Duncan Gardham, Security Correspondent
Published: 11:00PM BST 07 Sep 2009

Three British Muslims have been convicted of planning a series of co-ordinated suicide bomb attacks on transatlantic airliners, which could have killed up to 10,000 people. Abdullah Ahmed, Tanvir Hussain, Assad Sarwar Photo: PA

The al-Qaeda cell plotted to cause mass murder by detonating home-made liquid explosives on board at least seven passenger flights bound for the US and Canada. The plot had the potential to be three times as deadly as the 9/11 attacks of 2001.

The convictions followed Britain's largest counter-terrorism operation and two criminal trials which, in total, cost an estimated 60million.

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All three men convicted on Monday had been found guilty at an earlier trial last year of conspiracy to murder, but prosecutors said it was vital to secure a conviction on another charge of conspiring to blow up the aircraft in order to prove that the threat to air traffic was genuine.

Their arrests in 2006 resulted in immediate worldwide restrictions on passengers carrying liquids in their hand luggage. A ban on containers larger than 100ml is still in place.

When the men were arrested, one of the plotters, Abdulla Ahmed Ali, had a computer memory stick in his pocket which highlighted seven flights from London to six cities in the US and Canada, each carrying between 241 and 286 passengers and crew.

The flights all departed within 2 hours and 35 minutes of each other, to Chicago, Montreal, Toronto, San Francisco, Washington and New York and police believed there would have been no chance of stopping the attacks once all the aircraft were in the air.

Investigators also believed that the men were considering an even larger attack after they were bugged discussing plans for as many as 18 suicide bombers, which could have led to 5,000 deaths in the air and as many again on the ground.

The case has also led to a review of visa restrictions on Britons travelling to the US, and yesterday's convictions, which came during the diplomatic row over the release of the Lockerbie bomber, focused yet more attention in the US on how Britain deals with terrorists. Ali, 28, Assad Sarwar, 29, and Tanvir Hussain, 28, were found guilty of conspiracy to murder by detonating bombs on airliners at the end of a six-month trial at Woolwich Crown Court in London. A jury at their previous trial had failed to reach verdicts on whether such a plot existed.

The men made suicide videos, and they were bugged by MI5 which revealed how they discussed details of the plot. They were also filmed in their bomb factory in east London where they had practised making bombs from household goods, including soft drink bottles, batteries and disposable cameras.

But new evidence was put to the jury at their retrial in the form of a series of emails in which the men used code words to discuss their plans with an al-Qaeda fixer based in Pakistan. The emails and conversations suggested that the plot was in its final stages, possibly days away from execution.

MI5 believed the plotters were linked to the highest levels of al-Qaeda through a British man called Rashid Rauf, who was also involved in the build-up to the attacks of July 7 and July 21 2005. Rauf was reported to have been killed by an unmanned drone in Pakistan last year but senior security sources have told The Daily Telegraph that he may have survived.

The jury found a fourth man, an Islamic convert called Umar Islam, 31, guilty of conspiracy to murder, but could not decide if he knew about the plan to blow up aircraft.

Three others, Ibrahim Savant, 28, Arafat Waheed Khan, 28, and Waheed Zaman, 25, were acquitted of the airlines plot but the jury could not decide if they were guilty of conspiracy to murder.

The Crown Prosecution Service must now decide whether those men, who were also tried last year, should face a third trial.

An eighth man, Donald Stewart-Whyte, 23, was acquitted of all charges.

Six of the eight men, most of whom were British-born and university educated and three of whom were converts, had recorded fiery videos that blamed the West for the slaughter of Muslims and promised floods of martyr operations in return.

Security sources have called the investigation the most significant since the Second World War.

Ali, from Walthamstow, east London, was described in court as the leader who was able to identify in other Muslims a kindred spirit or vulnerability while Sarwar, from High Wycombe, Bucks, was the bomb-maker and Hussain the quartermaster, helped to prepare the bombs.

The others were described as foot soldiers ready to respond when the time was right.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner John McDowall, head of the Metropolitan Police's Counter Terrorism Command, said the men intended to commit "mass murder on an unimaginable scale".

"If these terrorists had been successful, many people would have lost their lives. Many more would have died if they had chosen to detonate their bombs over land," he said. "But their plans were thwarted by the police and security services."


Airline terror bomb plot: profiles of the accused

Sean O'Neill, Crime & Security Editor From Times Online (London) September 7, 2009 #yiv1815548638 div#related-article-links p a, #yiv1815548638 div#related-article-links p a:visited { color:#06c;}

One was a ticket inspector on London's buses who was sent to help passengers after the 7/7 bombings; another worked in Hamleys toy shop on Regent Street and a couple were avid football fans.

Two others had known each other since primary school, while one maintained that he preferred drinking beer and chasing girls over prayer and politics.

They were British, either born or raised here, with British educations and British habits, accents and mannerisms. Two were converts to Islam. But the jury was told they had learnt to hate Britain and had agreed to play their parts in a terrorist operation which, had it succeeded, would have rivalled September 11 in shocking the world.

It was part of their indoctrination that they would be lionised in parts of the Muslim world and would emulate the men known to al-Qaeda sympathisers as the "magnificent 19", the 9/11 hijackers.


Abdulla Ahmed Ali, 28, a married father of a young child, has a degree in computer systems engineering. He was born in east London and lived in Walthamstow where he knew a number of his co-defendants from school and college.

In 2004 his first son was born two months prematurely and died in hospital. Ali said the experience left him emotionally devastated.

He has a brother who works as a probation officer, another working on the London Underground and a third who is a property developer. He has been religiously devout since he was 15 when he became an adherent of the ultra-orthodox Tablighi Jamaat movement.

Ali visited Pakistan extensively and claimed that many of his trips were as a volunteer for an Islamic medical charity. But in reality he was attending training camps and meeting senior figures in militant groups.

Ali took the lead role in recruiting the would-be suicide bombers, continually motivating them and sitting with them as they recorded their martyrdom videos in the flat he had bought in Walthamstow. He discussed taking his baby on the bombing mission to reduce his chances of arousing suspicion.

Prisoners in Belmarsh jail have described Ali as the "emir" or leader of the east London group with considerable influence over other inmates.

*Guilty of conspiracy to cause explosions on aircraft, conspiracy to murder, conspiracy to cause explosions and conspiracy to cause public nuisance.


Assad Ali Sarwar, 29, lived with his parents and sister in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. He was a university drop-out and a loner who was unemployed at the time of his arrest.

But Sarwar was valuable to the jihadi cause, too valuable to be allowed to die in a suicide mission. He was the man who would distribute the martyrdom videos after the attack and who conducted detailed research on oil refineries and power stations as possible alternative targets for the bombers.

He also scoured the country to obtain supplies of hydrogen peroxide for use in bomb making. Strong concentrations of the chemical became harder to obtain in the wake of the July 2005 bombings in London.

Sarwar was born and brought up in High Wycombe, did well at school but dropped out of Brunel University, west London, where he had been studying Earth Sciences.

He became involved in religious charities and travelled to Pakistan where he said he met Ali at a refugee camp near the Afghan border.

Between 2002-05 he held a variety of jobs as a postman, shelf-stacker at Asda, security guard and IT worker for BT.

*Guilty of conspiracy to cause explosions on aircraft, conspiracy to murder, conspiracy to cause explosions and conspiracy to cause public nuisance.


Tanvir Hussain, 28, claimed he had been a womaniser who drank heavily, used drugs and loved nightclubs but emerged as Ali's loyal lieutenant.

He was born in Blackburn, Lancashire, but moved to London with his family when he was six and met Ali while studying A levels at Waltham Forest College. Hussain later took a business and computers course at Middlesex University and told his trial that as a student he regularly drank and used drugs.

By 2003, however, he was a devout Muslim and began to display signs of extremism. One former colleague at St Anne's hospital, North London, said he became "quite agitated" after the 7/7 attacks in London. Zenda Rogers added: "He said I didn't understand what was going on and they were being persecuted".

*Guilty of conspiracy to cause explosions on aircraft, conspiracy to murder, conspiracy to cause explosions and conspiracy to cause public nuisance.


Donald Stewart-Whyte was the most unlikely plotter, the art student son of a former Tory election agent and a Muslim convert for less than five months after his arrest

Stewart-Whyte, 23, admitted to dealing cannabis and having possession of a Baikal 9mm handgun with ammunition but denied that he was part of any terrorist mass murder plot. He was cleared by the jury of the terrorism charges.

The prosecution had alleged that he was a "foot soldier" who had signalled his willingness to take part in a mid-air suicide mission. But he claimed he knew nothing of the airline plot and had turned to Islam as a route away from anxiety attacks, mental health problems and drug use.

*Not guilty of conspiracy to cause explosions on aircraft and conspiracy to murder. Guilty of firearms charge and drugs charge.


Waheed Zaman, 25, was the most highly educated of the group. He did poorly at GCSE level at school in east London but his ambitious parents, who wanted him to study medicine, sent him to a private boarding school to improve his chances of getting into university.

Zaman took a degree in biomedical sciences at London Metropolitan University but also devoted a lot of time to the student Islamic Society. The institution has since appointed an imam tasked with countering campus radicalism.

Zaman hung the red flag of Liverpool FC in his bedroom window on match days. He was also a dedicated political activist, attending Islamist events, and a devout follower of Tablighi Jamaat, the orthodox sect which controls the mosque opposite his family home on Queen's Road, Walthamstow.

To his family's disappointment, he did not use his education for a career and devoted most of his time to political and religious activities. Zaman's only paid employment appeared to be a Saturday job at Hamleys on Regent Street where he was working on August 5 2006, four days before his arrest.

*Guilty of conspiracy to cause a public nuisance. Not guilty of conspiracy to cause explosions on aircraft. Jury failed to reach a verdict on conspiracy to murder.

Umar Islam, 31, was known as Brian Young and was a cannabis user and sometime Rastafarian before he converted to Islam and embraced fundamentalism.

He was one of five children and was brought up in a Methodist family in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. His conversion to Islam came in March 2001 and he was a regular attendee at the Islamic Education Centre in High Wycombe.

In 2002 he travelled to Pakistan to work in a refugee camp on behalf of the charity and told the court he represented the charity in meetings with UN officials.

Back in Britain he left his job as a postman in his home town and moved to east London to live with his new wife, a strict Muslim. Islam said he clashed with his wife's family, who were of Pakistani origin and disapproved of their daughter marrying a black man.

Islam began working for Transport for London as a ticket inspector on the buses in January 2005.

On July 7 2005 Islam was on duty close to Tavistock Square when a suicide bomber blew up a No 30 bus killing 13 passengers and himself. Islam was among the transport staff who rushed to the scene to help shocked and stricken passengers and passers by.

*Guilty of conspiracy to murder and conspiracy to cause a public nuisance. Jury failed to reach a verdict on conspiracy to cause explosions on aircraft.

Arafat Waheed Khan, 27, bumbled his way through two recordings of his martyrdom video, stopping at one point to ask Ali "What do you mean by that?".

Khan was brought to London from Pakistan by his parents when he was just 12 months old and first met Ali at primary school in east London.

He went astray aged 16, when his father died of a heart attack, and failed his A-levels. Khan had a series of jobs as a shop assistant at House of Fraser, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and Ralph Lauren.

In 2000 he was given an 80-hour community service order for stealing a car and the following year escaped with a conditional discharge after being caught with a small amount of heroin.

At the time of his arrest he was working as a mobile phone sales assistant at a branch of The Link.

*Guilty of conspiracy to cause a public nuisance. Not guilty of conspiracy to cause explosions on aircraft. Jury failed to reach a verdict on conspiracy to murder.

Ibrahim Savant, 28, was brought up as Oliver Savant, the son of an English mother and an Indian father. As a design student at the University of Hertford, he took up his father's Muslim faith and adopted the name Ibrahim.

Friends said he was not a fanatic and loved English life; he was an Arsenal supporter whose favourite food was fish and chips.

Savant became involved in charity work with Ali and worked as a freelance book-keeper. His wife was eight months pregnant when he was detained in August 2006.

Savant had left an envelope containing 650 and a farewell note to her stating: "Life here is tempory (sic), that's why its so fragile. I wish for you to be part of my permant (sic) life in the hereafter."

*Guilty of conspiracy to cause a public nuisance. Not guilty of conspiracy to cause explosions on aircraft. Jury failed to reach a verdict on conspiracy to murder.

------------------------------------------------------------More plane terror plots 'likely'

Al-Qaeda is likely to try again to use aircraft to attack the West, Whitehall officials have told the BBC.

Security correspondent Frank Gardner said they believed the airline bomb plot was part of al-Qaeda's "obsession" with using commercial airliners.

The warning comes after three British men were convicted of plotting to blow up flights from London to North America using bombs disguised as soft drinks.

Defence expert Michael Clarke agreed that al-Qaeda was "still plotting".

On Monday, Abdulla Ahmed Ali, 28, Tanvir Hussain, 28, and Assad Sarwar, 29, were found guilty at Woolwich Crown Court after the UK's largest ever counter-terrorism operation.

Their arrests in 2006 changed the face of air travel, prompting the introduction of restrictions on the carriage of liquids.

UK intelligence officers believe the plot was directed by al-Qaeda figures in Pakistan, including a British man - Rashid Rauf - from Birmingham, now thought to be dead.

'Close thing'

" We moved in at the time that we felt that the risks were too great "
John McDowell Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command

Prof Clarke, director of defence think tank the Royal United Services Institute, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that al-Qaeda was more "marginalised" now than in the past, but still posed a threat to the West.

"There's no doubt there are people in the tribal areas on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan who have tried these plots," he said.

"There were four or five big plots and they've all come to light in the UK. They haven't worked, but they're still plotting."

Earlier, John McDowell, head of the Metropolitan Police's Counter Terrorism Command, said security staff and police were racing against time when they foiled the plot.

He told the BBC the arrest of the men was "a relatively close thing".

"It's always a balancing act to try to acquire the necessary evidence while at the same time ensuring that public safety is your most important consideration," he said.

"So, we ran this as long as we could run it as a covert, proactive operation and we moved in at the time that we felt that the risks were too great."

The operation also had to be speeded up after alleged US pressure led to the arrest of Rauf in 2006.

'Our UK 9/11'

Michael Chertoff, former US Homeland Securities Secretary, said Rauf "was the individual involved in essentially supervising the plot, although he was not someone who was going to take part in the actual attack itself".

Scotland Yard's former head of specialist operations, Andy Hayman, said securing the arrests from a "standing start" after Rauf's arrest was a "very difficult challenge".

He told the BBC: "We couldn't gamble with the prospect that if the cell we were watching was alerted by that arrest, then all the things we'd built up along with other colleagues from the security services would have been lost potentially."

Mr Hayman also said he believed they foiled "our UK 9/11".

At the time of his arrest, ringleader Ahmed Ali had identified seven US and Canada-bound flights to be blown up over the Atlantic within a two-and-a-half-hour period.

In a jihadist suicide video, he warned the British public to expect "floods of martyr operations" which would leave body parts scattered in the streets.

This item is available on the Militant Islam Monitor website, at