Eight British Muslims plotted to kill thousands of civilians by blowing up at least seven trans-Atlantic passenger planes in mid-air with homemade liquid bombs disguised as soft drinks, a prosecutor has said at their trial.
Lawyer Peter Wright said on Tuesday the men planned to smuggle the bomb ingredients aboard jets bound from Britain to North America disguised as “soft-drinks bottles, batteries and other innocuous items” carried in hand luggage.
“They were to be detonated in-flight by suicide bombers,” including several of the accused, Wright said as he opened the case against the defendants.
The eight men aged between 22 and 30 deny conspiracy to murder.
But Wright said the defendants were close to carrying out their plan when they were arrested in August 2006.
The arrests led to huge travel chaos, as hundreds of flights were grounded and thousands of people had their trips disrupted. They also triggered massive changes to airport security — including restrictions on carrying liquids on planes — that persist to this day.
Wright said the plot would have caused “a civilian death toll from terrorism on an almost unprecedented scale.”
He said alleged ringleaders Abdulla Ahmed Ali and Assad Sarwar, both 28, “shared a common interest ... that involved inflicting heavy casualties upon an unwitting civilian population, all in the name of Islam.”
The defendants, he said, were “men with the cold-eyed certainty of the fanatic.”
The blasts were intended as “a violent and deadly statement of intent that would have a truly global impact.”
Wright said that the plot was organized in Britain, but was being directed from Pakistan.
Wright said the plotters planned to inject a hydrogen peroxide-based explosive mixture into plastic bottles with hypodermic syringes to make deadly liquid bombs.
He said notes indicated the bombers planned to deflect suspicion by carrying items such as pornographic magazines and condoms in their luggage.
The prosecutor said a computer memory stick found in Ali’s possession contained flight timetables, with seven flights highlighted, operated by American Airlines, United Airlines and Air Canada from London’s Heathrow airport to San Francisco, Washington, Chicago, New York, Montreal and Toronto.
All were to take off from Heathrow’s Terminal 3 within three hours of one another and would be in mid-flight at the same time.
Wright said the plot may have involved attacks on even more flights. He said plotters were overheard talking about different airport terminals and up to 18 suicide bombers.