Three British Muslims were sentenced today to life in jail for plotting to blow up transatlantic airliners with liquid bombs in suicide attacks on the scale of September 11, their judge said. Judge Richard Henriques said the planned "terrorist outrage" was "the most grave and wicked conspiracy ever proven within this jurisdiction", as he passed sentence at the top-security Woolwich Crown Court in south-east London.
The plot's ringleader Abdulla Ahmed Ali, 28, was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum 40-year term. Co-conspirator Assad Sarwar, 29, must spend a minimum of 36 years in jail, while fellow plotter Tanvir Hussain, 28, must spend at least 32 years behind bars. The plot, foiled in August 2006, triggered the wide-ranging new rules now in place on carrying liquids aboard commercial aircraft. The plotters targeted seven flights from London's Heathrow airport to New York, Washington, Chicago, San Francisco, Toronto and Montreal.
Prosecutors said they were operated by United Airlines, American Airlines and Air Canada and left Heathrow daily within roughly two and a half hours of each other, meaning they would all have been mid-air at the same time. Judge Henriques said: "The intention was to perpetrate a terrorist outrage that would stand alongside the events of September 11, 2001 in history. "I'm satisfied that there is every likelihood that this plot would have succeeded but for the intervention of the police and the security service.
"A massive loss of life would almost certainly have resulted ? and if the detonation was over land, the number of victims would have been even greater still." He said a trail of e-mails "establish beyond question the ultimate control of this conspiracy lay in Pakistan", and said the plot was controlled, monitored and funded from there. The counter-terrorism operation to foil the plot was the biggest ever in Britain, costing £35 million (Dh212m).
The evidence included 26,000 exhibits. Police examined 14,000 gigabytes of data, including 15,000 CDs and DVDs. The trial was peppered with evidence that members of the London-based gang were frequently in communication with figures linked to al Qa'eda in Pakistan. *AFP