Page last updated at 16:51 GMT, Monday, 14 September 2009 17:51 UK

Airline plot trio get life terms

(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 who plotted to blow up liquid bombs on flights from the UK to North America have been jailed for life, with minimum terms of up to 40 years.

Ringleader Abdulla Ahmed Ali, 28, was jailed for at least 40 years.

Plot "quartermaster" Assad Sarwar, 29, must serve at least 36 years, while Tanvir Hussain, 28, was jailed for at least 32 years at Woolwich Crown Court.

Their aim was a terrorist outrage to "stand alongside" the 9/11 attacks on the US in history, the judge said.

Mr Justice Henriques called the plot "the most grave and wicked conspiracy ever proven within this jurisdiction".

Home Secretary Alan Johnson said the sentences "reflected the severity of this horrendous plot to kill and maim thousands of people".

Alan Johnson: 'They were the right sentences'

"I'm very pleased the jury gave a sentence that was proportionate to this potential crime," he said.

"Our police and our national security service is a national asset, they've proven that again today."

The trial heard that at the time of his arrest, Ahmed Ali, of Walthamstow, east London, had identified seven US and Canada-bound flights that were to be attacked within a two-and-a-half-hour period.

"I'm satisfied that there is every likelihood that this plot would have succeeded but for the intervention of the police and the security service," he said.

"Had this conspiracy not been interrupted, a massive loss of life would almost certainly have resulted - and if the detonation was over land, the number of victims would have been even greater still."

Dominic Casciani, home affairs correspondent

Dominic Casciani, BBC home affairs reporter

Judges follow Court of Appeal sentencing guidelines for terrorism offences. But in the case of the three airline bomb plotters, Mr Justice Henriques said the "quite exceptional" nature of their "grave and wicked" plan meant he would jail them for longer than other men found guilty of conspiracy.

Abdulla Ahmed Ali's minimum term of 40 years is the same term as that now being served by the men convicted of the failed London suicide attacks of 21 July 2005. They had taken the final step in their plot, but the judge said Ali's plan was, in fact, more likely to have succeeded.

Ahmed Ali had sparred with the prosecution when he gave evidence - and during the judge's sentencing, he angrily shook his head several times. He wanted to die in a "blessed operation" comparable to 9/11 - but he may eventually die an old man, in a prison cell.

The judge said that the plot had "reached an advanced stage in its development", with the men in possession of enough chemicals to produce 20 detonators.

The flights due to be targeted were from London's Heathrow airport to San Francisco, Washington, New York, Chicago, Toronto and Montreal.

Sarwar had obtained bomb ingredients which he kept at his home and in woods in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire.

A flat in the Walthamstow area of north-east London became the men's bomb factory, where they mixed chemicals that they planned to take onto planes in ordinary sports drinks bottles stored within hand luggage.

The plot prompted the biggest terror investigation ever mounted in the UK.

No emotion

The convicted men displayed no emotion at their sentences, although Ahmed Ali shook his head and appeared angry and frustrated at earlier sentencing remarks from the judge.

"With this plot you sought the attention of the world and now you have it," Mr Justice Henriques told him.

"You have embraced Islamic extremism and it is that burning extremism that has motivated you throughout this conspiracy and is likely to drive you again."

E-mails submitted as evidence in the trial had shown that "the ultimate control of this conspiracy lay in Pakistan", the judge said.

Ahmed Ali, Sarwar and Hussain, from Leyton, east London, had been "high-level executives within this country".

'Act of revenge'

The men's defence had been that they were 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 aimed at changing opinion on Western foreign policy.

But Mr Justice Henriques dismissed that claim, saying their intention had been "an act of revenge inspired by extremist Islamic thinking" toward the "governments of several allied forces in Iraq and Afghanistan".

Ahmed Ali, Sarwar and Hussain, were found guilty of conspiracy to murder using explosives on aircraft.

They were also convicted of a more general conspiracy to murder offence.

A fourth man, Umar Islam, 31, convicted of the more general conspiracy to murder charge, was also given a life sentence and will serve a minimum of 22 years in prison.

The men's arrests in August 2006 caused chaos to the global aviation industry and prompted continuing restrictions to the amount of liquids passengers can take on to aircraft.

This had meant "massive expenditure" and "huge inconvenience for the travelling public" as a direct result of the plot, the judge said.

"Tons of liquids are confiscated from the public on a daily basis at airports," he said.

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, is seeking a retrial of three other men for conspiracy to murder, after the jury failed to reach a verdict on this charge against them.

A hearing on 5 October will decide whether Ibrahim Savant, 28, Arafat Khan, 28, and Waheed Zaman, 25, will face another trial.

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