Guardian : Bomb plot targeted seven Heathrow flights, court told

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Bomb plot targeted seven Heathrow flights, court told

Haroon Siddique and agencies | | April 3, 2008

Seven transatlantic flights carrying hundreds of passengers would have been "entirely at the mercy of suicide bombers" if a plot to blow the planes up had succeeded, a court was told today.

Peter Wright QC said eight men on trial at Woolwich crown court intended to smuggle a "deadly cargo" of homemade liquid explosives aboard the aircraft, detonating them to kill an "unwitting civilian population".

The prosecutor told how two of the defendants were watched by police as they met in Walthamstow, north-east London, on August 9 2006.

He told jurors they might conclude from the evidence that the accused were "almost ready to put their plot into practice" at the time of their arrest.

"The disaster they contemplated was not long off," Wright 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."

Abdulla Ahmed Ali and Assad Sarwar "shared a common interest", he told the court.

"It was an interest in which they were actively engaged at the time in other areas, an interest that involved inflicting heavy casualties on an unwitting civilian population, all in the name of Islam," he added.

"Unfortunately for these men, but to the considerable good fortune of those that were their intended targets of those devices, their activities had come to the attention of the police."

He described Ali, Sarwar and Mohammed Gulzar as the main men behind the plot.

A computer memory stick recovered from Ali contained details of "flight timetables, baggage information, security advice in respect of restricted items and other information about Heathrow airport", the court heard.

Although Ali claimed the information related to holiday destinations, Wright said: "Those interested in the fruits of this research appeared merely interested in a one-way flight."

Seven flights on commercial airliners, each with a passenger capacity of between 285 and 241 people, had been highlighted on the memory stick, the court was told.

"If each of these aircraft was successfully blown up, the potential for loss of life was indeed considerable," Wright said.

The flights allegedly targeted included aircraft bound for Montreal and Toronto in Canada, and the US cities of San Francisco, Washington, Chicago and New York.

All departed daily from Heathrow's Terminal 3 between 2.15pm and 4.50pm.

The fact that the planes all left at similar times meant they would be "entirely at the mercy of the suicide bombers who happened to be on board with their explosive devices", Wright said.

The court was told that hydrogen peroxide would be the main ingredient used to bring the planes down.

Although hydrogen peroxide is legal, it would have been combined with organic materials to create an explosive mixture.

Wright said the conspirators planned to use a syringe to insert the explosive liquid into the base of 500ml bottles of Oasis and Lucozade in order to smuggle it on board the aircraft.

They would then top the bottles with a soft drink called Tang.

The mixture would be detonated by another substance concealed within batteries, jurors were told.

Wright claimed that entries in Ali's diaries "amount to a blueprint" for certain aspects of the plot. On one page, he wrote: "Decide on which battery to use for D, small is best."

In a separate entry, 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. Plus keys and chewing gum on the D in the electronic device."

Wright said Ali had "chosen to lie" when asked by police about the diary entries, claiming he could not remember their significance.

The men deny conspiring to murder between January 1 and August 11 2006 and conspiring to commit an act of violence likely to endanger the safety of an aircraft between the same dates.

The accused are Ali, aka Ahmed Ali Khan, 27, of Walthamstow; Sarwar, 27, of High Wycombe; Tanvir Hussain, 27, of no fixed address; Gulzar, 26, of Barking, east London; Ibrahim Savant, 27, of Walthamstow; Arafat Waheed Khan, 26, of Walthamstow; Waheed Zaman, 23, also of Walthamstow; and Umar Islam, aka Brian Young, 29, of High Wycombe.

The trial is expected to last up to eight months.

The seven flights allegedly targeted:

1415 United Airlines Flight 931 to San Francisco

1500 Air Canada Flight 849 to Toronto

1515 Air Canada Flight 865 to Montreal

1540 United Airlines Flight 959 to Chicago

1620 United Airlines Flight 925 to Washington

1635 American Airlines Flight 139 to New York

1650 American Airlines Flight 91 to Chicago