By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, April 5, 2008
LONDON, April 4 -- The angry young man stared into the camera and vowed that body parts would be "decorating the streets" of the West if Britain and the United States did not stop "meddling" in Muslim countries.
Prosecutors said the tape, played for a British jury Friday, was a suicide message recorded by one of the eight British Muslim men on trial here for allegedly plotting to blow up transatlantic airliners in 2006. On the tape, the man praised the "blessed operation" and declared to his fellow Britons, "The time has come for you to be destroyed."
In six alleged "martyrdom tapes" shown to a hushed courtroom on the second day of the trial, the men said they planned their attacks to protest U.S. and British policies in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories.
Laying out the government's case in the biggest terrorism trial since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, prosecutor Peter Wright told the jury that police surveillance teams at one point overheard one of the defendants telling another that he was considering taking his infant child on the suicide mission with him, but his wife "would not agree to it."
Wright said that in addition to planning "wholesale death and destruction in the skies above Europe and North America," one of the plotters was gathering information on potential ground targets in Britain. They included nuclear power plants, gas pipelines, oil refineries, tunnels, electrical grids, Internet service providers, the London financial district and the Heathrow Airport control tower.
The men were arrested in August 2006, accused of plotting to smuggle liquid explosives aboard planes departing London for North America and blow them up in midair. The alleged conspiracy grounded flights for days, cost airlines and businesses hundreds of millions of dollars and led to permanent restrictions on liquids carried through airport security checkpoints.
In the tapes, the men are dressed in black and white head scarves and sit before a black flag with Arabic writing. Some jab their fingers angrily at the camera as they speak. One vowed to "punish and humiliate" nonbelievers in Islam and teach Westerners "a lesson they will never forget."
"This is revenge for the actions of the U.S.A. in the Muslim lands and their accomplices, such as the British and the Jews," said a man identified by Wright as defendant Umar Islam, 29, one of the eight men charged with trying to destroy at least seven United Airlines, American Airlines and Air Canada jets bound for the United States and Canada.
"This is a warning to the nonbelievers that if they do not leave our lands, there are many more like us," the man on the tape said, adding, "We are doing this in order to gain the pleasure of our Lord, and Allah loves us to die and kill in his path."
In another video, a man identified as Abdulla Ahmed Ali, 27, said he was the leader of the "blessed operation" and accused his fellow British citizens of caring more about animals than about Muslims.
In what Wright said was a reference to Osama bin Laden, Ali said, "Sheik Osama has warned you many times to leave our lands or you will be destroyed, and now the time has come for you to be destroyed."
He warned the West to "stop meddling in our affairs."
"Otherwise, expect floods of martyr operations against you," he said, warning that "we will take our revenge" and leave "your people's body parts decorating the streets."
The eight defendants sat impassively at the back of the courtroom, behind a wall of thick glass, as the videotapes were played on a large screen. The men, all British Muslims who range in age from 23 to 29, most of Pakistani heritage, have pleaded not guilty.
Wright also played a videotape of a controlled explosion conducted by government scientists. They had constructed a bomb identical to the ones that the defendants are accused of trying to make, he said: a 17-ounce soft-drink bottle, filled with a hydrogen peroxide-based liquid explosive, connected to a detonator set off by the flash in a disposable camera.
On the tape, the device yielded a powerful explosion that caused extensive damage to the room where the test took place.
"In the confined space of a pressurized aircraft, an explosion such as that would, we say, have a devastating and quite lethal effect, particularly at 30,000 feet," Wright told the jury.
On the second day of his opening statement, Wright focused particularly on defendant Assad Sarwar, 27. Wright said Sarwar, Ali and Mohammed Gulzar, 26, were the plot's central planners.
Wright said police had found airline records that showed Sarwar had traveled to Pakistan in June 2006 and returned in July. Wright said prosecutors believe Sarwar has "direct links to those overseas that may have a clear interest in the success of any such terrorist outrage struck in the name of Islam."
He said a search of Sarwar's house yielded a videotape with five of the suicide messages and two computer memory sticks that held "a veritable mine of information" on targets. He said Sarwar did not intend to commit suicide so he could carry out further attacks.
"The horizon in respect of Mr. Sarwar's terrorist ambition was, we say, limitless," Wright declared, adding that the memory stick also contained radical Islamic doctrine on suicide missions with the command, "Slay the infidels wherever you find them."
Wright said police investigators also found records indicating that Sarwar had been stockpiling hydrogen peroxide, a widely available substance that is a common bomb ingredient among violent extremists worldwide.
Wright played a police surveillance video of Sarwar purchasing a suitcase and walking into a wooded area near his home. Later, police found the suitcase partially buried in the woods, filled with syringes, hydrogen peroxide and other materials intended for bombmaking, Wright said.
While Wright methodically built his case against the defendants, the videotapes were by far the most dramatic elements of his presentation. Each was filled with deep anger.
On one tape, a man Wright said was defendant Tanvir Hussain, 27, stated that he wished he could commit more than one suicide attack. He wanted to "just do it again and again until people come to their senses and realize, you know, don't mess with the Muslims."
On his tape, Islam accused the British of caring about nothing other than drinking, soccer and their favorite television shows. He said British residents were responsible for the government's foreign policy because they pay taxes.
"I say to you disbelievers that as you bomb, you will be bombed, and as you kill, you will be killed," he said. "And if you want to kill our women and children, then the same thing will happen to you."