Bomb plot: toll could have been thousands

The terrorist masterminds behind the bomb plot wanted the carnage to overshadow that of the 9/11 attacks.

Prosecutors claimed thousands of people would have died in an unstoppable wave of suicide bombings on flights from Heathrow to North American cities.

It was alleged that the terrorists targeted up to seven flights, all scheduled to depart within hours of each other, making it impossible for the authorities to intervene.

Today the jury convicted ringleader Abdulla Ahmed Ali, Assad Sarwar and Tanvir Hussain conspiring to kill hundreds of people in a terrorist bombing campaign involving home-made liquid bombs used to attacks British targets including Heathrow Airport's terminal three.

The jury rejected the prosecution claim that Ali was responsible for an airline bomb plot, discarding evidence that he intended to target passenger jets flying from London to major North American cities with suicide attacks.

But police were convinced at the time that there was a viable airliner bomb plot,

Detectives discovered the al Qaida-inspired cell created ingenious liquid bombs which they believed were disguised as soft drinks to beat airport security.

In the chaotic hours that followed a wave of arrests in August 2006, aviation security chiefs implemented stringent new baggage restrictions.

Almost all liquids were banned from passenger hand-luggage, wrecking the travel plans of thousands of travellers and changing the face of air travel forever.

As time passed the restrictions were eased but a tight security regime remains in place and liquids in carry-on bags are limited to 100ml.

Counter terrorist police believed a senior member of the cell was preparing to test security with a dummy run transatlantic flight within days of their arrest.

A massive round-the-clock surveillance operation and a bug hidden in the gang's Walthamstow bomb factory gave detectives a ringside seat as the plot unfolded.

But several arrests in Pakistan and an intercepted text message encouraging the conspirators to act convinced police they must intervene.

The new information led police to mount a huge arrest and search operation on the night of August 9 2006.

The ensuing 24 arrests marked the turning point of what was to become the biggest counter terrorism investigation in British history.

The £30 million inquiry, codenamed Operation Overt, began in May 2006 when MI5 agents focussed their attention on the activities of Abdulla Ahmed Ali.

The operation quickly expanded as it became clear Ali was linked to a large circle of potential extremists, both in Britain and Pakistan.

Police believe he was given the blueprint for the plot during several visits to Pakistan where he met top al Qaida fixers.

Detectives discovered the shadow of extremist godfathers in Pakistan loomed large over every aspect of the conspiracy.

One of them, al Qaida militant Abu Obaidah al-Masri, who died earlier this year, may have been behind both Ali's plot and July 7.

Pakistani intelligence sources said the Egyptian-born militant specialised in recruiting and training British Muslims for attacks at home.

Furthermore, phone records linked Ali to July 21 ringleader Muktar Said Ibrahim and police cannot rule out they met in Pakistan.

Records showed conversations between the two men stopped between December 2004 and May 2005, possibly because they were together.

Two of the July 7 conspirators, Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, also travelled to Pakistan during this period.

The July 21 and July 7 plotters used hydrogen peroxide-based bombs similar to those Ali's gang was planning to deploy.

Meanwhile in Walthamstow, High Wycombe and the West Midlands, dozens of surveillance teams watched and recorded key conspirators 24 hours a day.

They looked on as members gathered materials, identified their targets and tried to recruit footsoldiers.

Ali was watched visiting shops including Tesco, B&Q and Ikea to collect materials while Sarwar stockpiled chemicals in woodlands near his home.

Computer records revealed members also considered other mainland targets, potentially for a second wave of attacks.

Among them were gas terminals and oil refineries, Canary Wharf, internet service providers, London's electricity grid and various UK airports.

Several members experimented with 500ml Lucozade and Oasis bottles that would be injected with highly-concentrated hydrogen peroxide.

Police believed the bombs would have been assembled in flight, sparked by a detonator concealed inside cheap batteries and detonated with the flash from a disposable camera.

In the final days, officers listened in as some members recorded martyrdom videos, threatening further attacks against Western targets and non-Muslims.

But there were still fears among senior ranks that undetected members of the east London cell might exist with an unknown hoard of explosives.

One counter terrorism source said police were confident they "ripped the heart out" of an operation, which may have been launched within weeks.

He said: "From intelligence sources we were just aware it was likely towards the end of that week someone may try to travel on an aircraft across the Atlantic.

"That was something I was not willing to contemplate because it was too risky. The plot was coming to its denouement. One of the main leaders was going to travel.

"We are satisfied we arrested the key individuals and key conspirators in this plot and disrupted the attack."

News
Patrick Stewart in the classiest ice bucket to date
people
News
Australian rapper Iggy Azalea was left red faced but, thankfully, unhurt after taking a few too many steps backwards, sending her tumbling off the stage.
peopleIggy Azalea was left red faced but apparently unhurt after taking a few too many steps backwards
News
newsComedian Lee Hurst started trend with first tweet using the hashtag
News
The current recommendation from Britain's Chief Medical Officer, is that people refrain from drinking on at least two days a week
food + drinkTheory is that hangovers are caused by methanol poisoning
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
A nearly completed RoboThespian robot inside the Engineered Arts workshop is tested in Penryn, England. The Cornish company, operating from an industrial unit near Falmouth, is the world's only maker of commercially available life sized humanoid robots
techSuper-intelligent robots could decide destroying the human race is the kindest thing to do
News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
News
newsRyan Crighton goes in search of the capo dei capi
Life and Style
techConcept would see planes coated in layer of micro-sensors and able to sense wear and tear
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Extras
indybest

Arts and Entertainment
Actors front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyongío Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyongío and Angelina Jolie as they pose for a
film
Sport
sport
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Software Developer (Java /C# Programmer)- London

£30000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A global investment management fi...

Senior Network Engineer-(CCIE, CCNP, Cisco, London)

£65000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-(CCIE, CC...

Senior Network Analyst - (CCIE, Cisco, CISSP)

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Analyst - (CCIE, C...

Senior Network Engineer-(Design, Implementation, CCIE)

£60000 - £80000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-(Design, ...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition