Page last updated at 22:14 GMT, Monday, 7 September 2009 23:14 UK

Three guilty of airline bomb plot

(L to R) Tanvir Hussain, Abdulla Ahmed Ali and Assad Sarwar
(L to R) Tanvir Hussain, Abdulla Ahmed Ali and Assad Sarwar were found guilty

Three men have been found guilty of plotting to kill thousands of people by blowing up planes flying from London to America with home-made liquid bombs.

A Woolwich Crown Court jury convicted Abdulla Ahmed Ali, 28, Tanvir Hussain, 28, and Assad Sarwar, 29, of conspiring to activate bombs disguised as drinks.

Four other men were found not guilty of involvement in the suicide bomb plot.

The arrests in August 2006 caused chaos to international aviation and prompted the current restrictions on liquids.

The jury heard that at the time of his arrest, plot ringleader Ahmed Ali had identified seven US and Canada-bound flights to blow up over the Atlantic within a two-and-a-half-hour period.

They were flights from London's Heathrow airport to San Francisco, Washington, New York, Chicago, Toronto and Montreal. Had the planes taken to the air with bombers on board, there would have been little chance of saving them.

This was a calculated and sophisticated plot to create a terrorist event of global proportions
Sue Hemming
Crown Prosecution Service

His "quartermaster", Sarwar, had secured bomb ingredients at his home and in woods in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. A flat in the Walthamstow area of north-east London became the bomb factory.

There the men put together a special home-made mixture of chemicals that they planned to take onto planes in ordinary sports drinks bottles stored within hand luggage. Ahmed Ali, of Walthamstow, Hussain, of Leyton, east London, and Sarwar had been found guilty previously of a conspiracy to murder involving liquid bombs.

The jury in that first trial could not decide whether their plans extended to detonating the devices on planes. But a second jury was convinced.

The plot became the biggest terror investigation in the UK and intelligence officers believe it was directed by al-Qaeda figures in Pakistan.

The BBC understands that the key contact for the plotters was a British man, Rashid Rauf, now thought to be dead.

'Daring plot'

Security officials on both sides of the Atlantic believe the men wanted to kill thousands in the air and possibly more on the ground in a wave of attacks causing more devastation - and political fall-out - than the 11 September attacks.

We moved in at the time that we felt that the risks were too great
John McDowall
Head of the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command

Home Secretary Alan Johnson welcomed the verdicts, saying: "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."

Sue Hemming, from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), said the plot had been sophisticated and calculated to create a terrorist attack event of "global proportions".

"The CPS is committed to prosecuting to the full extent of the law those who would use terror to try to achieve their aims, whatever their motivation and their perceived justification," she said.

"This trial has been another demonstration of that commitment."

Other defendants

Umar Islam, 31, from Plaistow, east London, was convicted of conspiracy to murder, but the jury failed to reach a verdict on whether he was involved in a plot to blow up aircraft. He, like the ringleaders, faces life imprisonment.

Alan Johnson: "This was a particularly horrendous plot"

Three others were found not guilty of plotting to bomb aircraft: Ibrahim Savant, 28, Arafat Khan, 28, Waheed Zaman, 25.

The jury failed to reach verdicts on a more general conspiracy to murder charges against Mr Savant, from Stoke Newington, east London, and Mr Khan and Mr Zaman, both from Walthamstow. The CPS has a week to decide whether to try the men for a third time.

An eighth man, Donald Stewart-Whyte, 23, of High Wycombe, was cleared of all charges. His lawyers have called for an inquiry into why the Muslim convert was prosecuted.

The security services installed a hidden camera in the Walthamstow bomb factory and saw both Ahmed Ali and Hussain preparing devices and making arrangements for the jihadist suicide videos, recorded in the same property.

The men's defence was that they had been planning a political stunt, including small explosions intended only to frighten people at airports.

These political demonstrations, they said, would be backed up by a documentary they were making about western injustices.

The videos they had made were part of that documentary, they said. No other material from the alleged documentary was ever uncovered.

Airline terror plot: The evidence

Slide 1
Abdulla Ahmed Ali, Tanvir Hussain and Assad Sarwar were arrested in August 2006. They were each accused of two charges of conspiracy to murder using home-made explosives.

All three were found guilty in an earlier trial of conspiracy to murder involving liquid bombs - but that jury could not decide whether their plans extended to detonating the devices on planes.

Now a second jury has decided that such a terror plot did exist.

Slide 1
The prosecution alleged that the three ringleaders planned to explode home-made bombs disguised as soft drinks on seven trans-Atlantic flights from London's Heathrow airport.

  • 1. 1415 UA931 LHR-SAN FRANCISCO (United Airlines)
  • 2. 1500 AC849 LHR-TORONTO (Air Canada)
  • 3. 1515 AC865 LHR-MONTREAL (Air Canada)
  • 4. 1540 UA959 LHR-CHICAGO (United Airlines)
  • 5. 1620 UA925 LHR-WASHINGTON (United Airlines)
  • 6. 1635 AA131 LHR-NEW YORK (American Airlines)
  • 7. 1650 AA91 LHR-CHICAGO (American Airlines)
Slide 1
During their investigation police found equipment that could have been used to make bombs in King's Wood, High Wycombe, and in Forest Road, east London. Assad Sarwar, the quartermaster, bought a suitcase to store bomb parts in the woods near to his home. There, he hid bottles of hydrogen peroxide, also known as hair bleach. This chemical was the key ingredient for the home-made bombs.

At the bomb factory in east London, the ringleaders experimented with the design of their devices which were to be disguised as soft drink bottles. The small bombs would then be smuggled in hand luggage through airport security.
Slide 1
The theory of bomb construction is detailed above, but precise details shown to jurors have been omitted.
This video simulates the damage caused by a liquid bomb to a commercial airliner. The BBC used a qualified explosives engineer, Sidney Alford, to construct the devices to demonstrate their likely effect on an aircraft fuselage.
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