Tuesday, September 15, 2009

UK: Liquid bomb plotters jailed

Three men who had plotted to blow up liquid bombs on flights travelling from Britain to North America have been jailed for life, with minimum terms of up to 40 years. The so called ringleader Abdulla Ahmed Ali, 28, was given a 40 year prison sentence, while plot "quartermaster" Assad Sarwar, 29, must serve at least 36 years, and Tanvir Hussain, 28, at least 32 years.

The judge at Woolwich Crown Court said their aim was a terrorist outrage to "stand alongside" the 9/11 attacks in the US. Mr Justice Henriques called the plot "the most grave and wicked conspiracy ever proven within this jurisdiction". Home Secretary Alan Johnson said the sentences "reflected the severity of this horrendous plot to kill and maim thousands of people". He also praised the police and security services who he described as a "national asset."

"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," Johnson said. "Had this conspiracy not been interrupted, 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."

The men showed no emotion when sentences were read out, though Ahmed Ali shook his head and appeared angry and frustrated at earlier sentencing remarks from the judge. "With this plot you sought the attention of the world and now you have it," Mr Justice Henriques had told him. "You have embraced Islamic extremism and it is that burning extremism that has motivated you throughout this conspiracy and is likely to drive you again."

The men's defence had been that they were planning a political stunt, including small explosions intended only to frighten people at airports. These 'political demonstrations'  would be backed up by a documentary aimed at changing opinion on Western foreign policy. 

Ahmed Ali, Sarwar and Hussain, were found guilty of conspiracy to murder using explosives on aircraft. They were also convicted of a more general conspiracy to murder offence. A fourth man, Umar Islam, 31, convicted of the more general conspiracy to murder charge, was also given a life sentence and will serve a minimum of 22 years in prison. 

Meanwhile the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, is seeking a retrial of three other men for conspiracy to murder, after the jury failed to reach a verdict on this charge against them. A hearing on 5th October will decide whether Ibrahim Savant, 28, Arafat Khan, 28, and Waheed Zaman, 25, will face another trial.

The uncovering of the liquid bomb plot in August 2006 caused chaos in the global aviation industry and prompted continuing restrictions to the amount of liquids passengers can take on to aircraft. This had meant "massive expenditure" and "huge inconvenience for the travelling public" as a direct result of the plot, the judge said during his summing up. "Tons of liquids are confiscated from the public on a daily basis at airports," he said.

Passengers travelling by airlines may often be restricted to bottles of liquid no larger than 100 ml. The restrictions have also stretched to other key locations such as tourist sites and concert venues. In Beijing all liquids, including bottled water, were confiscated from concert goers at a recent performance in July by Stefanie Sun at the Workers' Stadium despite sweltering temperatures. They could however but drinks inside though there was only Coca Cola available in large paper cups at 10 yuan each. No reason for the confiscation was given other than a stated general security risk. 

Similar restrictions also currently apply at the Forbidden City in Beijing. According to the Beijing Youth Daily published on 28th August visitors would be banned from entering the tourist attraction with bottles containing water, alcohol or any other liquids. The ban "is intended to insure visitors' safety and protect the 600-year-old building complex from any possible danger" the paper said. The restrictions come as Beijing tightens up on security as celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China approach.

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