By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
LONDON, June 2 -- A man accused of leading a plot to bomb transatlantic airliners in 2006 denied the charges in court Monday, telling a jury that he planned to detonate a bomb in the British Parliament but never targeted airplanes or intended to kill anyone.
In the first detailed laying out of defense arguments in the trial, Abdulla Ahmed Ali, 27, said that his planned Parliament explosion would have been a protest against British participation in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but not meant to cause injuries.
He testified that a video that prosecutors played for the jury, in which he invokes Osama bin Laden and threatens to leave "body parts decorating the streets" of Britain, was simply a "publicity stunt."
Prosecutors contend it was a suicide video, intended for release after his death, and similar to ones made by his seven fellow defendants, all young British Muslims. The statements are a key part of the government's case that the men intended to carry out the most ambitious and deadly terrorist plot ever uncovered in Britain.
The men planned to smuggle liquid explosives and detonators onto at least seven United Airlines, American Airlines and Air Canada jets bound for the United States and blow up the planes, causing thousands of deaths, the government contends.
The alleged conspiracy, announced by British authorities in August 2006, grounded flights for days, cost airlines and related businesses hundreds of millions of dollars and led to permanent restrictions on liquids carried through airport security checkpoints.
"I never had any intention of murdering anyone or injuring anyone," Ali testified Monday, taking the stand for the first time, according to the Press Association news service. "At no stage did I ever even think of going on an airplane or causing an explosion there."
Ali told jurors that the Parliament bomb he planned would have been "something small enough to cause a large bang, maybe some smoke. Something that would be considered serious and credible, something to generate that mass media attention."
Ali said he and co-defendant Assad Sarwar had gone to Pakistan and worked with refugees from the war in Afghanistan. But he said they decided that charity work would not change their main grievance: British foreign policy. "It is nothing to do with Islamic fundamentalism or radical Islam, it is purely down to foreign policy," he said.
Ali testified that he and Sarwar considered a number of bombing sites, including the Bank of England and the Canary Wharf financial district. "But the one we were most enthusiastic about was the Houses of Parliament, something that would have the best political impact and generate the most media attention," he said.
By his account, the bombing would have been timed to the release on the Internet video site YouTube of a "documentary" made from their video statements, edited together with "graphic and shocking" footage of terrorist attacks downloaded from the Internet.
Ali testified that the Parliament bomb would have been a "publicity stunt" to draw attention to their film, which they hoped would influence British policies toward the Muslim world.
Ali, whose family moved to Britain from Pakistan in the 1960s, said he had become more active in religion and politics as a teenager but denied that he was an "extremist."