8 Accused in Transatlantic Bomb Plot Go on Trial

By Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, April 4, 2008

LONDON, April 3 -- Seven transatlantic flights, all leaving Heathrow Airport within 2 1/2 hours of one another, were to be simultaneously blown up in midair with the goal of killing on "an almost unprecedented scale," jurors were told at the opening of the long-awaited trial of eight British Muslims.

The men intended to smuggle liquid explosives onto the planes, including United Airlines Flight 925 to Washington, prosecutor Peter Wright said in court. By his account, flights to New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Montreal and Toronto were also to be targeted.

Hydrogen peroxide, dyed to resemble a sports drink and carried in plastic bottles, was allegedly to be combined with other ingredients in flight and triggered by the batteries of everyday devices such as disposable cameras, Wright alleged.

"These men . . . were indifferent to the carnage that would ensue," Wright said as he began to detail the government's case against the men publicly for the first time since they were arrested in August 2006. The trial is the culmination of the largest anti-terrorism investigation in British history, a case that changed airport security around the world.

Amid exceptional security at Woolwich Crown Court in east London -- including bomb-sniffing dogs and checks of individual roof tiles -- the eight men were ushered into a wood-paneled courtroom and seated behind thick glass. More than a dozen uniformed police officers stood guard behind them.

The men, who range in age from 23 to 29, are almost all of Pakistani heritage. Most wore suits and ties and listened impassively as the prosecution began outlining the case against them. They have denied the charges.

Wright said the men had "the cold-eyed certainty" of fanatics and intended to kill "in the name of Islam." They were aiming, he said, for a "deadly statement of intent that would have truly global impact."

British authorities allege that the arrests of the defendants on Aug. 9, 2006, foiled the most ambitious terrorist plot since the Sept. 11 attacks five years earlier. The initial security scare paralyzed international air travel for days, cost airlines hundreds of millions of dollars and led to permanent restrictions on passengers carrying liquids or gels onto commercial flights.

Perhaps the most dramatic courtroom moment came when Wright screened a computer animation of the flight paths of the seven planes that showed how the planes would all have been airborne over the Atlantic Ocean at the same time at the height of the summer vacation season.

Once the first bomb went off, "the authorities would be unable to prevent the other flights from meeting a similar fate as they would already be in midair and carrying their deadly cargo," he said.

Wright said the targeted flights were United 925 to Washington, 931 to San Francisco and 959 to Chicago; American Airlines 139 to New York and 91 to Chicago; and Air Canada 849 to Toronto and 865 to Montreal.

Those flights were highlighted on a list of departures from London discovered on a computer memory stick belonging to Abdul Ahmed Ali, 27. Prosecutors identified him in court as one of the gang's leaders, along with Assad Sarwar, 27, and Mohammed Gulzar, 26.

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