LONDON – Two doctors accused of terrorizing Britain in a brief, botched car-bomb campaign turned to a suicide strategy because they realized police were about to catch them, the lead prosecutor said Thursday.
Bilal Abdulla, 29, and Mohammed Asha, 28, sat flanked by four prison guards at Woolwich Crown Court as barrister Jonathan Laidlaw went through a catalog of video, financial, e-mail and cell-phone evidence linking them to three failed June 2007 car-bomb attacks.
Abdulla, an Iraqi born in Britain, and Asha, a Jordanian born in Saudi Arabia, studied and worked in Britain from 2004 until their arrests.
Each faces two counts of conspiring to murder and cause explosions outside a London nightclub, near a West End bus stop and inside Glasgow International Airport. They deny all charges.
Police captured Abdulla beside the flaming wreckage of a sport utility vehicle that had rammed the airport's pedestrian entrance. The driver, Kafeel Ahmed, a 28-year-old Indian, later died from his burns. Asha was apprehended on an English highway hours after the attack.
The prosecutor said Abdulla would argue that the bombs were designed to make political points but hurt nobody.
"We suggest that his defense is ludicrous," he said, citing the use of nails in the bombs, the lack of warnings, and the placing of bombs in crowded civilian areas.
He said Abdulla and Ahmed had decided to commit suicide in the airport attack because their two bombs in London the day before had misfired, leaving obvious evidence identifying them inside the cars. The pair "were absolutely determined that the next vehicle would explode," he said.
Laidlaw described Asha as the terror cell's financier and mentor who played no hands-on role in making or delivering bombs.
He said Asha spoke with the front-line bombers "at almost every material stage during both the preparation for, and the carrying out of, these attacks."
The prosecutor said the three men met in Cambridge in 2004 and prayed together at a house for Muslim men run by the Islamic Academy charity. He said religious fanaticism and anger about British policy in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan motivated them.
He said the contents of Asha's home computer demonstrated that he "believes that violent jihad conducted against the innocent of this country can be justified."
Abdulla, a brawny man dressed an open-collar white dress shirt, listened to Laidlaw with a look of mild irritation on his face, his head tilting frequently left or right. He fingered through a copy of the books of evidence stacked beside him.
Three feet away, Asha — an angular, slim man with wire-rimmed glasses and curly hair pulled into a small ponytail — read extensively from the books. He frequently nodded as the prosecutor spoke, oddly looking as if he agreed with even the most critical commentary.
The prosecutor said a badly damaged laptop computer recovered from the charred remains of the Glasgow car contained records of the bombmakers' Internet research on London night clubs and bomb-making.
But their homework was not good enough to produce bombs that would actually catch fire, much less explode with lethal force.
Laidlaw said the bombers saturated the car interiors with fuel, filled the insides with slowly leaking gas, then triggered the cocktail by using cell phones with an electronically sparked book of matches. Next to nothing happened.
"In error, the bombers had allowed what's called the 'fuel richness' of the air within the two cars to exceed the optimum level for ignition. ... There was not enough oxygen inside either of the cars for the petrol and gas to ignite," Laidlaw said.
Both bombs were discovered accidentally — one when paramedics saw it emitting smoke, the other after the car had been towed away by traffic officials.