Extremists guilty of airline bomb plot

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The Independent Online

Islamic extremist Abdulla Ahmed Ali was today found guilty of conspiring to murder thousands in an unprecedented airline bomb plot.

The 28-year-old was the leader of an east London al-Qa'ida-inspired terror cell, a Woolwich Crown Court jury found.

He planned to detonate home-made liquid bombs in suicide attacks on transatlantic aircraft bound for major north American cities.

Ali was responsible for the most complex and daring British-based terrorist conspiracy in modern times.

With thousands killed in the air and on the ground, the explosions would have exceeded the carnage of the September 11 attacks.

Counter terrorist police, the security services and prosecutors spent more than £35 million foiling the plot and bringing Ali to justice.

The arrest of the gang in August 2006 sparked tight restrictions on carrying liquids on to aircraft that led to travel chaos.

The guilty verdict will come as an enormous relief for Government ministers who endured heavy criticism for introducing the draconian luggage restrictions.

It will also be seen as a vindication of the decision to retry Ali after he was found guilty of conspiracy to cause explosions last September. The previous jury failed to reach verdicts on the airline plot.

British-born Ali, of Walthamstow, was inspired by the 7 July bombers and Osama bin Laden and considered taking his baby son on his suicide mission.

He planned to smuggle home-made bombs disguised as soft drinks on to passenger jets run by United Airlines, American Airlines and Air Canada.

The hydrogen peroxide devices would have been assembled and detonated in mid-air by a team of suicide bombers.

Ali singled out seven flights to San Francisco, Toronto, Montreal, Washington, New York and Chicago that departed within two-and-a-half hours of each other.

Authorities on both sides of the Atlantic would have been left powerless to stop the destruction once the first bomb exploded.

Police said the plot was drawn up in Pakistan with detailed instructions passed to Ali during frequent trips to its lawless border with Afghanistan.

They believe a mystery al-Qa'ida bomb-maker was responsible for the ingenious liquid bomb design, concealed within 500ml Oasis or Lucozade bottles.

Surveillance teams watched Ali on his return to Britain as he assembled his terror cell, gathered materials and identified targets.

Undercover officers looked on as the unemployed former shop worker used cash to purchase a £138,000 second-floor flat in Forest Road, Walthamstow.

They 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 watched as he used public phone boxes, mobile phones and anonymous email accounts to keep in touch with mystery terrorist controllers in Pakistan.

On his arrest, he was found to be 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.

Along with Ali, Assad Sarwar 29, of Walton Drive, High Wycombe, and Tanvir Hussain, 28, of Nottingham Road, Leyton, were also found guilty of involvement in the airline bomb plot today.

But Ibrahim Savant, 28, of Denver Road, Stoke Newington, Arafat Waheed Khan, 28, of Farnan Avenue, Walthamstow, Waheed Zaman, 25, of Queen's Road, Walthamstow, were found not guilty of the airliner plot.

The jury failed to reach a verdict on Umar Islam, 31, of Bushey Road, Plaistow, of the airliner plot.

But Islam was convicted of conspiracy to murder.

Donald Stewart-Whyte, 23, of Hepplewhite Close, High Wycombe, was found not guilty of both conspiracy to murder on aircraft and conspiracy to murder.

Ali, Sarwar and Hussain were convicted of conspiracy to murder in the first trial but retried, along with the five other men, for the airliner plot after the first jury failed to reach verdicts on those charges.

All the defendants except Muslim convert Stewart-Whyte admitted conspiracy to cause a public nuisance and will be sentenced on Monday.

The jury took a total of 54 hours and 11 minutes to reach their verdicts in the retrial.

Ali, wearing a dark blue sweater, showed no emotion as the verdicts were read out, while Hussain nodded his head as the verdicts were read and shrugged his shoulders as he left the secure dock at the back of the court.

Stewart-Whyte looked to the ground as he was cleared before smiling.

Trial judge Mr Justice Henriques thanked the jury for their service over the last six months of the trial and encouraged them to attend the sentencing hearing on Monday.

Although Savant, Khan and Zaman were cleared of the airliner plot, the jury failed to reach verdicts on general conspiracy to murder charges against them.

The jury rejected the defence of Ali, Sarwar, and Hussain that the plot was an elaborate publicity stunt.

The men claimed they wanted to draw attention to an internet propaganda documentary, complete with spoof martyrdom videos, attacking British foreign policy.

Home Secretary Alan Johnson said: "I am pleased that the jury has recognised that there was a plot to bomb transatlantic flights and that three people have been convicted of that plot.

"This case reaffirms that we face a real and serious threat from terrorism. This was a particularly complex and daring plot which would have led to a terrible attack resulting in major loss of life.

"The police, security services and CPS have done an excellent job in bringing these people to justice.

"This was the largest ever counter terrorism operation in the UK and I cannot thank enough those involved for their professionalism and dedication in thwarting this attack and saving thousands of lives."

John Reid, who was Home Secretary at the time of the plot, said: "I am very pleased that a conclusion has now been reached and the jury has decided that there was indeed a serious plot to blow up airliners.

"This verdict is a testimony both to the hard work of the police and intelligence services that saved the potential loss of hundreds, possibly thousands, of lives, and also a reminder of the level of threat that we have to face and the hard work necessary to counter it.

"Normally success in terms of terrorist operations does not receive coverage because by definition some problem has been averted.

"It is only on occasions like this that the true extent of the threat is brought home."