February 17, 2009 / 1:39 PM / 11 years ago

Britons on trial over "airliner bomb plot"

LONDON (Reuters) - A group of British Islamists plotted to cause deaths on an “almost unprecedented scale” by blowing up transatlantic airliners using liquid explosives hidden in soft drink bottles, a London court heard Tuesday.

A gang of Islamists, shown in this combination photo, plotted to cause deaths on an "almost unprecedented scale" by blowing up trans-atlantic airliners using bombs disguised in soft drink bottles, a London court heard on Tuesday. (Top left to bottom right) Assad Sarwar, Arafat Waheed Khan, Donald Douglas Stewart-Whyte, Waheed Zaman, Tanvir Hussain, Abdullah Ahmed Ali, Ibrahim Savant and Umar Islam. REUTERS/Metropolitan Police/Handouts

The eight men were almost ready to execute their plan to bring down seven aircraft simultaneously in mid-air as they flew from London to the United States and Canada when they were arrested, Woolwich Crown Court was told.

“What these men intended to bring about was a violent and deadly statement of intent that would have truly global impact,” prosecutor Peter Wright told jurors in the high security court.

“It is the crown’s case that these men were actively engaged in a most deadly plan designed to bring about what would have been, if they had been successful, a civilian death toll from an act of terrorism on an almost unprecedented scale.”

The suspects, who deny conspiracy to murder, were arrested in August 2006, just over a year after four young British Islamists killed 52 commuters in suicide bomb attacks on London’s transport system.

The arrests led to a massive increase in security and brought chaos to global airports, airlines and passengers.

More than 1,000 flights were canceled in the aftermath and many countries imposed tight restrictions on carry-on baggage for several days. Limits on the carrying of liquids on planes still stand as a result of the plot.

The men intended to smuggle on board components for their improvised bombs hidden as soft drink bottles, batteries, and involving other innocuous items, the court was told.

They had targeted seven flights, operated by American Airlines, United Airlines and Air Canada, to Chicago, New York, Washington, Montreal, Toronto, and San Francisco.

The planes were either 777s, 767s or 763s, capable of carrying between 241 and 285 passengers and crew.

‘COLD-EYED CERTAINTY’

The plot was directed from Pakistan while Abdullah Ahmed Ali was the ringleader in Britain, Wright said. Some of those on trial were foot soldiers, with the “cold-eyed certainty of the fanatic,” who would have carried out the suicide attacks.

Wright said the men were indifferent to the carnage they would have caused and the identities of their victims was an “irrelevance.” He said the plot was “all in the name of Islam.”

The court heard police had found “martyrdom videos” recorded by six of the men which they had made in front of a black flag inscribed with Arabic writing.

The court was played a recording made by one of them, Umar Islam, which warned non-believers of retaliation for U.S. foreign policy on Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East.

“This is revenge for the acts of the USA in the Muslim lands and their accomplices such as the British and the Jews,” Islam was heard to say.

The men on trial are British citizens Ali, 28, Assad Sarwar, 28, Tanvir Hussain, 27, Donald Douglas Stewart-Whyte, 22, Ibrahim Savant, 28, Arafat Khan, 27, Waheed Zaman, 24, and Islam, 30.

They deny conspiracy to murder “by the detonation of improvised explosive devices on board transatlantic passenger aircraft.” Savant, Khan, Zaman, Islam and Stewart-Whyte also deny a separate charge of conspiracy to murder.

The sat in the dock, all dressed smartly and flanked by security guards. The trial is due to last up to six months.

Editing by Katie Nguyen

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