Militant Islam Monitor > Articles > Three UK Muslims found guilty in airline liquid bomb plot
Three UK Muslims found guilty in airline liquid bomb plot
September 8, 2008
Three found guilty in liquid bomb plotMon Sep 8, 2008 7:27pm BST
By Luke Baker
LONDON (Reuters) - Three Britons were found guilty on Monday of conspiracy to kill using homemade liquid bombs, but a jury failed to agree that they intended to blow up transatlantic airliners in an al Qaeda-style attack.
The verdicts came after a high-profile, five-month trial in which prosecutors had argued that eight co-conspirators planned to smuggle explosives onto half a dozen aircraft at London's Heathrow airport and blow them up midway to North America.
After more than 50 hours of deliberation, the 12-person jury was unconvinced by the prosecution's description of a complex airline bomb plot, finding only three of the defendants -- Abdulla Ahmed Ali, Assad Sarwar and Tanvir Hussain -- guilty of a lesser charge of conspiracy to commit murder.
The jury failed to reach a verdict on four other defendants and the eighth was found not guilty on all charges.
Sentencing is due to take place later.
The trial had been closely watched. Police and secret services described the plot as potentially one of the deadliest ever hatched on British soil.
U.S. authorities said it could have killed as many people as the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
After it was uncovered in August 2006, thousands of flights around the world were disrupted and new restrictions were introduced banning passengers from taking liquids on aircraft.
The government praised Monday's verdict, but the fact only three of the eight were found guilty, and that the main charge failed to stand up, showed there was doubt in the minds of the jury about the full extent of the plot.
The prosecution had described Ali, 27, as the ringleader of the gang and presented evidence taken from him including a diary that contained what they said was a blueprint for an attack.
A memory stick owned by one of the suspects held detailed information about flights from Heathrow to U.S. and Canadian cities, most of them departing between August and October 2006.
The bombs would have been made from liquid explosives based on hydrogen peroxide mixed with an organic component such as tang, a substance used to make soft drinks, prosecutors said.
While Ali, Sarwar and Hussain admitted planning to carry out an attack, they said it was intended merely to be a publicity stunt designed to draw attention to videos they had made denouncing British and U.S. foreign policy in Iraq.
They said they had never intended to attack aircraft.
While some of the men were waiting for new passports, the prosecution presented no evidence that a viable bomb had been made, no airline tickets had been bought and there was little to indicate that an attack was imminent.
However, seven of the defendants had recorded statements on video laying out plans to commit a suicide attack. Some of those videos shown in court showed the defendants laughing and joking in between takes as they tried to get their lines right.
When the trial began, prosecutors said the plot centred on seven flights from Heathrow's Terminal 3, each capable of carrying between 241 and 285 passengers.
But recorded conversations between the gang, all British Muslims aged in their 20s, suggested that other terminals and possibly 18 suicide bombers might have been involved.
Analysis: How the plan was put together
Little did Ahmed Ali and his cohorts know that they were under round-the-clock surveillance while plotting their attacksSean O'Neill, Crime & Security Editor, Michael Evans, Defence Editor
From Times Online (London) September 8, 2008
Ahmed Abdulla Ali walked into the Walthamstow office of Bairstow Eve estate agents on the morning of July 20, 2006, and collected the keys to his new flat.
It had been a good piece of business for the agency: a buyer moving from viewing to completion in a matter of weeks and paying £138,000 cash.
Ali explained the urgency - he was splitting up with his wife and needed to find a new place quickly.
It was a lie. The truth was that Ali had just returned to London from Pakistan with orders from al-Qaeda to step up preparations for a wave of terrorist attacks in Britain.
The top floor flat, at 386a Forest Road, was purchased as the bomb factory, where Ali would put together the liquid devices he had been taught to make by an al-Qaeda explosives expert.
What Ali and the men around him did not know was that they were under round-the-clock surveillance by MI5 and SO15, Scotland Yard's Counter-terrorism Command.
They were followed wherever they went; every item they bought was logged; the rubbish they threw in park bins was recovered and everyone they met was filmed or photographed.
386a was routinely "burgled" by surveillance teams who planted covert video and audio recording equipment to enable them to see and hear every move the plotters made.
Ali had been a target for the security agencies since the autumn of 2005 because of his links to an active circle of extremists in east London which included Muktar Said Ibrahim, the leader of the July 21 bomb gang.
Since his teens, Ali had been involved with Tablighi Jamaat, a strict religious movement viewed with suspicion by intelligence agencies around the world. He also travelled frequently to Pakistan, staying for long periods between 2003-06.
The MI5 assessment in early 2006 was that Ali was probably a fundraiser and facilitator. But there were deeper concerns.
One of his visits coinicided with trips by the 7/7 and 21/7 bombers and a gathering in Waziristan at which the al-Qaeda leadership gathered a group of young British jihadis, the class of 2004, and turned them into suicide bombers.
The intelligence agencies took note when, in May 2006, Ali again flew to Pakistan. It proved impossible to keep track of him there but when he returned on June 24, there were dramatic changes in his behaviour - talk of leaving his wife and the sudden purchase of a flat.
Ali was seen shopping locally for clamps, drills, syringes, glue and latex gloves. Inside 386a officers found batteries which had been bought in Pakistan, filaments from torch bulb batteries, plastic bottles and large amounts of Tang, a high-sugar drink powder. They also witnessed bombmaking experiments using liquid explosives injected into the bottom of soft drinks bottles.
The stepping up of Ali's activity coincided, the prosecution claimed, with the arrival in Britain of Mohammed Gulzar, a Birmingham man who fled to Pakistan in 2002 after he was allegedly involved in a serious offence.
Gulzar had left Britain at the same time as his friend Rashid Rauf, who also went to Pakistan. Security officials say Rauf became a key conduit between British radicals and militant groups linked to al-Qaeda.
Gulzar arrived in London on a flight from Mauritius on July 18, avoiding identification by using a South African passport in the name of Altaf Ravat, the court heard. He was accompanied by his wife of six weeks, Zora Siddique.
Gulzar never visited the Forest Road bomb factory. Instead he lived in spartan conditions at an otherwise empty house in Barking, east London.
He became known to the authorities after one of the key plotters, Assad Sarwar, was followed to the house in Barking. Monitoring of his phone logged a high number of calls to Pakistan; one phone had just one number stored, for a contact in Pakistan listed as B.
Surveillance officers were able to film one late-night meeting between Gulzar and two of the men convicted - Ali and Sarwar.
But the jury in the case rejected the Crown's case that Gulzar was a key emissary of al-Qaeda and found him not guilty of charges of conspiracy to murder. He had denied any involvement.
Ali had been researching flights from London to North America, lining up a range of aircraft which would depart Heathrow at regular intervals during one afternoon.
Details of the flights were found on a computer memory stick in his possession and investigators became convinced the flights were his target.
Ali also appeared to be trying to recruit others to take part in his mission. Six men recorded what the Crown claimed were "martyrdom videos" in the Walthamstow flat. A number of them applied for new passports, allegedly to disguise previous travel to Pakistan.
Meanwhile Sarwar, the cell's quartermaster, was scouring the country for bomb making materials. On July 28 alone he made 84 calls to companies around the country inquiring about purchasing chemicals.
The investigation team was confident that the plotters could not make a move without being followed and watched, photographed and overheard.
One source said: "We burgled the flat every couple of days, we had the place plumbed for sound and video, we knew every move they were making."
The feeling among the watchers was that the plot should be allowed to "run" for as long as possible. There were signs that the cell in London had links with other groups elsewhere in the country - including one in the north-west.
But the American authorities, who feared that their cities would be the targets for any airborne attacks, were nervous and the White House was keen for the plotters to be arrested.
When they were told that the plotters were planning a "dummy run" to test airport security, the Americans took matters into their own hands.
They demanded that the Pakistani authorities move to arrest Rashid Rauf, the Briton said to be directing the plot from afar.
On the morning of August 9, the Pakistani authorities swooped on Rauf's home in Bahawalpur and detained him. Rauf has since escaped from custody, but in the summer of 2006 his arrest caught British agencies by surprise.
A decision was made to arrest the UK-based suspects before they heard news of Rauf's detention.
John Reid, then Home Secretary, was called away from watching Celtic play Chelsea in a pre-season friendly to chair a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee as the arrests began.
At 9.43pm, Ali and Sarwar were arrested as they sat on a wall in the car park of Walthamstow Town Hall. Further arrests followed across east London and in High Wycombe throughout the night.
Just before midnight, police detained Gulzar in Barking. He insisted his name was Ravat and it was not until DNA and fingerprint results had been obtained that he admitted his real identity.
As details of the plot emerged, airports around the world were ordered to implement stringent security checks which paralysed global travel. Yesterday, a British jury rejected the notion of the airline plot and questioned whether those checks were ever necessary.
The players in the terror plot
Abdullah Ahmed Ali, Assad Sarwar and Tanvir Hussain, who have been found guilty of conspiracy to murder by a jury at Woolwich Crown CourtSean O'Neill, Crime & Security Editor From Times Online (London) September 8, 2008 http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/crime/article4707712.ece
They were British, either born or raised here, with British educations and British habits, accents and mannerisms. But they had learned 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.
The lead bomber:
Abdulla Ahmed Ali, 27, 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-conspirators from sixth form 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.
Assad Ali Sarwar, 28, 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 bombmaking. 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.
Tanvir Hussain, 27, 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".
Terror mastermind Abdulla Ahmed Ali guilty of bombing plot
(Metropolitan Police/ PA)
Abdulla Ahmed Ali, who was found guilty of conspiring to kill hundreds of peopleNico Hines From Times Online (London) September 8, 2008 http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/crime/article4707468.ece
A young married father was found guilty today of conspiring to kill hundreds of members of the public in a terrorist bombing campaign.
Abdulla Ahmed Ali planned to detonate homemade liquid bombs in attacks on British targets, including at Heathrow Airport's Terminal 3.
Two other men were found guilty of conspiracy to murder. One of the defendants was found not guilty and the jury was unable to reach a verdict for four other men on trial.
But embarrassingly for counter-terrorism police, the jury rejected the main charge made against the men that there was a plot to cause a series of explosions on airliners to rival the 9/11 attacks.
Police claimed that the men were planning to use an unusual hydrogen peroxide liquid bomb disguised in soft drink bottles. The case led to the security procedures which have prevented thousands of holidaymakers carrying containers of liquid onto aircraft since 2006.
Ali, 27, was the leader of an east London al-Qaeda-inspired terror cell, a jury at Woolwich Crown Court found. He and his co-defendants, Assad Sarwar, 28, and Tanvir Hussain, 27, admitted plotting a series of small-scale headline-grabbing bomb attacks. But the jury rejected Ali's claims he did not plan to kill or hurt anyone in the blasts. It also failed to reach verdicts on Ibrahim Savant, Arafat Waheed Khan, Waheed Zaman and Umar Islam. An eighth man, Mohammed Gulzar, was found not guilty on all counts.
The jury of eight men and four women had been deliberating for more than 50 hours at the end of a trial which began in April.
Police said the plot was drawn up in Pakistan with detailed instructions passed to Ali during frequent trips to its lawless border region with Afghanistan.
Prosecutors said his gang considered national infrastructure targets, including gas terminals and oil refineries.
Evidence revealed Canary Wharf, the Bacton gas terminal pipeline, various airports, the electricity grid and internet providers were studied.
Surveillance teams watched Ali on his return to Britain as he assembled his terror cell, gathered materials and identified targets.
Undercover officers watched the unemployed former shop worker use cash to purchase a £138,000 second-floor flat in Forest Road, Walthamstow. They then planted a secret bug that revealed it was converted into a bomb factory where Ali met others to construct the bombs.
The flat was also used as a location for Ali and others to record suicide videos threatening further attacks against the West.
In his video, Ali warned the British public to expect "floods of martyr operations" that would leave body parts scattered in the streets.
Ali was observed as he used public phone boxes, mobile phones and anonymous e-mail accounts to keep in touch with mystery terrorist organisers in Pakistan.
On his arrest, he was found carrying an elaborate and damning blueprint for the plot, scrawled in a battered pocket diary. Airport security arrangements and details of flights, including the seven highlighted services, were discovered on a computer memory stick in another pocket.
In his defence, Ali said he wanted to create an internet documentary protesting against British foreign policy in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon.
He claimed the apparent suicide video, and those created by five of his co-defendants, were spoofs created to make the documentary more provocative.
Ali said the blasts would create a storm of media attention that would propel the video into the spotlight.
Despite the jury's scepticism, security officials insist that today's verdict would not lead to an alteration of security measures.
High Wycombe terror suspect guilty
5:07pm Monday 8th September 2008
Bucks Free Press (UK)By Oliver Evans »
HIGH Wycombe terror suspect Assad Sarwar has been found guilty with two others of plotting to murder.
But a jury could not decide whether ringleader Abdullah Ali, 27, Assad Sarwar, 28, of Walton Drive, and Tanvir Hussain, 27, planned to blow up transatlantic passenger jets.
A verdict was not reached over High Wycombe co-defendant Umar Islam, 30.
They failed to reach verdicts on him and three other suspects who made "martyrdom videos" declaring their willingness to die.
The other three are Ibrahim Savant, 27, Arafat Waheed Khan, 27 and Waheed Zaman, 24.
An eighth man, Mohammed Gulzar, 26, was acquitted of all charges and was formally discharged.
The jury dismissed claims he was an "international terrorist" who came to the UK to supervise the plot.
The jury had been deliberating for 56 hours and nine minutes.
Surveillance on the alleged bottle bombers began after Ali returned from Pakistan in June 2006.
Over the following weeks, Ali and his friend Tanvir Hussain were seen visiting shops to buy tools and drinks bottles for their plot.
"Chemist" Assad Sarwar also began buying hydrogen peroxide, the main ingredient for the sophisticated bombs.
But it was only when a bug was secretly placed in the gang's bomb factory - an empty flat at Forest Road, Walthamstow - that the full scale of the plot was revealed.
Recordings from July 31, 2006, revealed Ali and Hussain talking about flights and holiday destinations in America.
They were also allegedly heard counting up the number of bombers - reaching a total of 18.
A video camera installed at the bomb factory also showed the pair drilling holes in the base of a drinks bottle.
On August 6, 2006, a surveillance officer watched Ali looking at the BAA Heathrow website in an internet cafe.
Ali selected seven flights, all leaving from Heathrow Terminal Three, and copied them on to a memory stick.
On August 9 the bug at the bomb factory recorded the making of a martyrdom video by 30 year-old convert Umar Islam.
Ali was also heard telling Islam that the 'time-frame' was a couple of weeks.
Three hours later Ali was arrested meeting chemist Assad Sarwar at nearby Waltham Forest Town Hall.
Officers discovered not only the recently-made martyrdom video but also Ali's memory stick containing details of seven highlighted flights.
The non-stop transatlantic journeys were to depart Heathrow for New York, Washington, Montreal, Toronto, San Francisco, Chicago at the same times each day between July and October 2006.
Between 241 and 285 passengers would travel on each 777, 767 or 763 jet belonging to Air Canada, United Airlines or American Airlines.
Ali was also carrying an address book containing a 'blueprint' for the bombs.
It included references to Lucozade and Oasis soft drinks and using colours and Tang fruit concentrate as part of the 'disguise'.
The blueprint also suggested the terrorists were planning to smuggle them through security, using condoms and a "dirty mag" to distract the attention of security guards.
It later emerged the bombs were a sophisticated new version of the explosives used in both the 7/7 and 21/7 attacks.
The 500ml drinks bottles would be filled with a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and Tang fruit concentrate.
Everyday AA batteries filled with the high-explosive HMTD would be used as detonators to set off the bombs in mid-air.
Government scientists were later able to construct a bottle bomb and film its devastating effects.
Six of the gang, including Ali, made martyrdom videos declaring their willingness to die for the cause of jihad against the West.
Neither Sarwar nor Gulzar made videos but were said by the prosecution to be important figures in the terrorist network.
The gang told jurors that they were only making a fake film to 'shock and awe' the British public and force a change in UK foreign policy.
Ali also claimed he was only intending to set off a small device and did not intend to kill or injure anyone.
But prosecutor Peter Wright QC told Woolwich Crown Court: "These men were actively engaged in a deadly plan designed to bring about what would have been a civilian death toll from an act of terrorism on an almost unprecedented scale."
Airline bomb trial: Five potential suicide bombers 'still at large'
By Duncan Gardham and Gordon Rayner
Up to five potential suicide bombers may still be at large in Britain, the security services has admitted after the convictions of three British Muslims accused of plotting the world's biggest terrorist atrocity.
The al-Qaeda terrorists planned to cause carnage by detonating liquid-based bombs disguised as soft drinks, and recorded suicide videos in which they promised "body parts" would be scattered on the streets.
The police and MI5 believed the extremists wanted to cause an "unprecedented" loss of life with simultaneous suicide attacks on several transatlantic airliners bound for America. The arrest of the gang in 2006 led to permanent restrictions on liquids being carried in hand luggage.
But a jury was unable to agree on whether Abdulla Ahmed Ali, Assad Sarwar and Tanvir Hussain had decided on specific targets, and instead they were convicted of conspiracy to murder "persons unknown".
Four other men are likely to face a retrial after the jury failed to agree on whether they were part of the plot.
Last night, police admitted that up to five would-be bombers may still be on the loose, as a bugged conversation between the plotters in their east London bomb factory revealed they had recruited up to 18 people.
To date, only 13 people have been arrested in connection with the plot.
Senior officers believe the "key players" have been rounded up, but admit they would be "unwise" to suggest there were no more terrorists connected with the gang.
The Daily Telegraph can disclose that police were forced to move in early to arrest the gang after a jittery President Bush put pressure on the Pakistani authorities to arrest their al-Qaeda contact in Pakistan.
MI5 - who had been watching Ali since 2004 - had hoped to continue gathering intelligence on the remaining members of the cell, but their hand was forced by the US intervention.
The gang had stockpiled enough explosives for 20 detonators and 28, half-litre bottles which were to be disguised in Lucozade or Oasis soft drink bottles.
The jury at Woolwich Crown Court was played a surveillance tape in which one member of the gang discussed recruiting 19 bombers, which would have emulated the hijackers who killed almost 3,000 people in the September 11 attacks on America.
If the gang had gone ahead with one of the plans they discussed - to blow up passenger jets over North American cities, investigators believe the death toll could have reached nearly 5,000 in the air and perhaps as many again on the ground.
Intelligence services also believe the same al-Qaeda commander was behind the July 7, July 21 and liquid bomb plots and that members of all three plots may have met each other in Pakistan.
Ali, 27, Sarwar, 28, and Hussain, 27, who have yet to be sentenced, were convicted of conspiracy to murder after earlier admitting conspiracy to cause explosions. As well as researching passenger flights, the men had looked into other possible targets, including the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf, nuclear power stations and oil terminals.
The jury was unable to reach verdicts on conspiracy to murder charges relating to four other defendants - Ibrahim Savant, Arafat Khan, Waheed Zaman and Umar Islam, who may all now face a retrial.
All seven had previously admitted a charge of causing a public nuisance by recording what the prosecution claimed were "suicide videos" in which they promised to bring death and destruction to the West in retaliation for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
They claimed the videos were merely a propaganda stunt. Ali said the videos were to be released after bombs were detonated at targets including Heathrow's Terminal 3, which is used by several American airlines. He denied any intention to kill, but the jury rejected his claim.
An eighth man, Mohammed Gulzar, was found not guilty on all counts, including conspiracy to murder.
The covert investigation into the airline gang came to an end after a top-level meeting involving George Bush and senior staff at the White House, US intelligence sources say.
MI5 wanted to wait until tickets had been bought and the plotters had received new passports they had applied for, but their hand was forced by the arrest of their co-conspirator Rashid Rauf in Pakistan.
The decision was taken just days after MI5 told American intelligence agencies that a gang of suicide bombers were researching flights and building liquid bombs at a flat in Walthamstow, East London.
Police in Britain insist the bombers were only days from launching an operation after they heard the plotters saying they had a "couple of weeks" to go.
Ironically Rauf, described as the key link-man with al-Qaeda, escaped from Pakistani custody 16 months after he was detained and remains on the run.
It was only after the arrests that investigators pieced together the connections between the airline bombers and the failed bombers of July 21 the year before.
Muktar Ibrahim, the leader of the July 21 bombers, had been in telephone contact with Abdulla Ahmed Ali, two months before he launched his attacks.
The July 7, July 21 and airlines bombs all share common features and the leaders of all three plots were in Pakistan at the same time in early 2005.
In overall command of the three operations, police believe, was Abdul Hadi al-Iraq, said to be al-Qaeda's number three. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/2707241/Airline-bomb-trial-Five-potential-suicide-bombers-still-at-large.html