A British terrorist cell planned to detonate homicide bombs on seven transatlantic flights over North America, causing catastrophic loss of life, a court was told yesterday.

The flights chosen by the alleged terrorists – based in Walthamstow, East London – were scheduled to leave Heathrow Terminal 3 one afternoon carrying almost 2,000 passengers and crew.

Peter Wright, QC, opening the prosecution case against eight men accused of the plot, said that the attacks would have had “a truly global impact”.

The seven aircraft were destined for six American and Canadian cities: New York, Washington DC, Chicago, San Francisco, Toronto and Montreal.

Wright said that the eight defendants shared a common interest in “inflicting heavy casualties upon an innocent civilian population, all in the name of Islam”.

He told Woolwich Crown Court that the key component of the bombs was a liquid hydrogen peroxide explosive carried in half-liter bottles of soft drinks.

The devices would have been carried in hand luggage, along with detonators made from batteries and disposable cameras.

No date had been finalised for the series of attacks but the alleged conspirators had conducted detailed research on flights leaving London between August and October 2006. The date range included the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

The jury was told that the alleged plot was thwarted when police made a series of arrests on August 9, 2006. That operation prompted a massive security alert at airports worldwide. Passengers were banned from carrying hand luggage and many flights were cancelled. Chaos ensued at airports around the world and international travel ground to a halt. The continuing restrictions on carrying liquids on aircraft are a direct result of security measures imposed after the alleged plot.

Wright named the key plotters as Abdulla Ahmed Ali, 27, Assad Sarwar, 27, and Mohammed Gulzar, 26. He said that Mr Ali and the five other defendants – Waheed Zaman, 23, Tanvir Hussain, 26, Ibrahim Savant, 27, Arafat Waheed Khan, 26, and Umar Islam (aka Brian Young), 29 – were prepared to be homicide bombers along with as many as 12 other plotters.

“They are men with the cold-eyed certainty of the fanatic, prepared to board an aircraft with the necessary ingredients and equipment to construct and detonate a device that would bring about not only loss of their own lives but also of all those who happened to be taking that journey,” he said.

The defendants all deny charges of conspiracy to murder and conspiracy to cause an explosion on an aircraft. The trial continues.