LONDON – Five men accused of plotting to detonate liquid explosives on board trans-Atlantic passenger jets have pleaded guilty to lesser charges but maintain they never planned to destroy airliners, a jury was told Monday.
Prosecutors say the five, along with three other defendants, wanted to kill hundreds of passengers by detonating bombs concealed in soft-drink bottles as their flights crossed the Atlantic Ocean or passed over North American cities.
Prosecutors say they were close to carrying out their plan when they were arrested in August 2006 and that they had created "martyrdom" videos to be shown after the suicide-bombings were carried out.
The unraveling of the alleged plot quickly led to tough new restrictions on the amount of liquids and gels airline passengers could take in their carry-on luggage — restrictions which remain in place.
Three men — Abdulla Ahmed Ali, 27, Assad Sarwar, 28, and Tanvir Hussain, 27 — admitted they planned to set off bombs, just not aboard passenger planes bound from London's Heathrow Airport to North America, the jury was told.
They and two other defendants — Ibrahim Savant, 27, and Umar Islam, 30 — have also admitted to "conspiring to cause a public nuisance" by publishing videos threatening suicide bomb attacks.
Ali and Sarwar told the court they were assembling the weapons as part of a publicity stunt to promote an anti-Western documentary which would feature the videos. Ali said he hoped a small, non-fatal, bombing — at Britain's Houses of Parliament, at an oil refinery, or at an airport — would jolt Londoners and draw attention to his movie.
"We did not want to kill or injure anyone," Ali told Woolwich Crown Court in southeast London last month. He added that he wanted to set off something "that would be considered serious and credible, something to generate that mass media attention."
Jurors still need to rule on whether the eight defendants are guilty of plotting to murder hundreds of people by using their bombs aboard planes. Their trial is drawing to a close, and, if convicted, the men face maximum sentences of life imprisonment.
Prosecutors say the men planned to strike at the height of the summer vacation season and that they had gathered vast quantities of hydrogen peroxide for use as explosives. Although they had not yet been able to create a viable bomb, prosecutors maintain the attacks were not long off when the men were arrested in August 2006.
The defendants allegedly identified seven specific flights from Heathrow airport to Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Washington, Toronto and Montreal, although prosecutors say no specific date had been selected.
They were rounded up in raids in and around London.
It was not immediately clear when the guilty pleas were made, although the jury was informed of them Monday. Britain's Crown Prosecution Service did not immediately return a call seeking clarification.