Tuesday, September 08, 2009

UK: Liquid bomb plotters guilty

Three men have been found guilty of orchestrating a plot to blow up trans-Atlantic airlines. After 50 hours of deliberation a British court convicted Abdulla Ahmed Ali, 28, Tanvir Hussain, 28, and Assad Sarwar, 29, of conspiring to activate bombs disguised as drinks. The convictions followed two trials and an operation which cost more than £35 million. It has also strained UK-US relations. The three were amongst several arrested in August 2006 and the plot revelations led to increased security at international airports. Many of the restrictions applied such as the carrying on board of liquids still remain in place. The threat of liquid based explosives has also resulted in restrictions in other key locations. In China a ban on all liquids from being taken into the Forbidden City was imposed ahead of the National Day celebrations.

The convictions were a vindication of Britain's intelligence efforts, former security minister Tony McNulty claimed. Should the men have been able to carry out their plan then hundreds, possibly thousands, could have been killed, security experts have said. It has emerged that the MI5 surveillance on the terror cell was being followed at the very top of American politics. But there was no proper coordination between British and American counter-terrorist organisations. One key al-Qaeda operative, Rashid Rauf, was believed to be part of the plot and was under surveillance. He was arrested in Pakistan in 2006 following a meeting at the White House chaired by President George Bush. The president and his advisors were said to be so concerned about the threat to America they encouraged the Pakistanis to arrest Rauf. This has however been denied by former advisors to President Bush.

Nonetheless, Rashid Rauf's arrest angered the British authorities running the surveillance operation of the other suspects, as it meant they had to bring forward the operation. The Guardian newspaper said former US homeland security chief Michael Chertoff confirmed that the US administration had been on such a heightened state of alert about the plot that it turned back a plane in mid-air two days before the arrests of the liquid bomb plotters in the Britain. Scotland Yard's Counter Terrorism Command had what they say was "good coverage" of the suspects on that date and were waiting for more definite evidence before acting.

Abdulla Ahmed Ali, Tanvir Hussain and Assad Sarwa were found guilty in an earlier trial of conspiracy to murder involving liquid bombs, but that jury could not decide whether their plans extended to detonating the devices on planes. This latest trial has now concluded that such a terror plot did exist. During their investigation police found equipment that could have been used to make bombs in King's Wood, High Wycombe, and in Forest Road, east London. Assad Sarwar, the so-called quartermaster, bought a suitcase to store bomb parts in the woods near to his home. There, he hid bottles of hydrogen peroxide, commonly used as hair bleach. This chemical was the key ingredient for the home-made bombs. 

At the bomb factory in east London, the ringleaders experimented with the design of their devices which were to be disguised as soft drink bottles. The small bombs would then be smuggled in hand luggage through airport security. According to the prosecution the drinks would have been removed from the bottles using a hypodermic syringe and replaced with an explosive mixture. The bombs would later have been detonated using adapted batteries and disposable cameras. Although precise details were shown to jurors, they have not been made publicly available. At the time of his arrest, ringleader Ahmed Ali had identified seven US and Canada-bound flights to blow up over the Atlantic within a two-and-a-half-hour period.

Tony Blair, Prime Minister at the time of the arrests, said the convictions were a tribute to "the professionalism, commitment and courage" of the police and security services. Writing in the Sun newspaper he said, "These dedicated men and women work tirelessly behind the scenes, whose names we will often never know, unable to get the full, public credit they deserve. I know we are all safer because of their work." Four other men, arrested as part of the conspiracy, were found not guilty of involvement in the suicide bomb plot.

Meanwhile, British born Rashid Rauf, who escaped from custody in 2007, was reportedly killed by a US drone attack in Pakistan on November 22, 2008. His family have denied that he was killed and in August this year the Asia Times Online reported that he is alive and living in North Waziristan.

No comments: