NYT : British Prosecutors Open Case in Airline Bombing Plot

Friday, April 04, 2008

British Prosecutors Open Case in Airline Bombing Plot

By ALAN COWELL | April 4, 2008

LONDON — British prosecutors laid out charges on Thursday at the trial of eight men accused of planning suicide attacks on trans-Atlantic airliners “in the name of Islam,” using explosives made of household liquids mixed into a deadly cocktail, as the planes flew from London to the United States and Canada.

Peter Wright, the lead prosecutor, said the men had identified seven United Airlines, American Airlines and Air Canada flights leaving within 2 hours and 35 minutes for what were to have been coordinated attacks. The bombs were to have been made of hydrogen peroxide and other organic chemicals and smuggled onto the planes disguised as soft drinks.

“These flights were particularly vulnerable to a coordinated attack upon them while in flight,” Mr. Wright told Woolwich Crown Court. “When the midflight explosions began, the authorities would be unable to prevent the other flights from meeting a similar fate as they would already be in midflight and carrying their deadly cargo.”

The defendants might have contemplated attacking more flights, he said.

His was the first detailed official account of the events in August 2006 that sounded widespread alarms as the British police descended on 21 suspects, and terrorism threat levels were raised. Senior British officials said then that the men had not been ready to strike immediately.

But Mr. Wright said that they had been “almost ready to put their plot into practice.”

“The disaster they contemplated was not long off,” he said in court on the first day of the trial, after the jury was sworn in Wednesday.

The defendants in the trial, expected to last eight months, were identified by the police as Abdulla Ahmed Ali, 27, also known as Ahmed Ali Khan; Assad Sarwar, 27; Tanvir Hussain, 27; Mohammed Gulzar, 26; Ibrahim Savant, 27; Arafat Waheed Khan, 26; Waheed Zaman, 23; and Umar Islam, 29, also known as Brian Young. Mr. Sarwar was said to have lived in High Wycombe, west of London.

The others were said to be residents of east and north London.

The defendants are charged with conspiracy to murder and conspiracy to “commit an act of violence likely to endanger the safety of an aircraft.” All have denied the accusations. Mr. Wright said the liquid explosives based on hydrogen peroxide would be mixed with the drink Tang. The plotters planned to detonate the explosives with a substance called HMTD concealed in AA batteries. The detonator would have been ignited using metal wire, a bulb or the flash from a disposable camera, he said.