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September 8, 2009

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3 British Muslims convicted over air plot

THREE British Muslims were convicted yesterday of plotting to murder thousands by downing at least seven airliners bound for the United States and Canada in what was intended as the largest terrorist attack since September 11.

A jury at a London court found Abdulla Ahmed Ali, 28, Assad Sarwar, 29, and Tanvir Hussain, 28, guilty of conspiracy to murder by detonating explosives on aircraft.

Four other alleged conspirators - whom the prosecution said were to have smuggled liquid explosives onboard jetliners disguised as soft drinks - were acquitted of conspiring to blow up planes. The jury could not reach a verdict on an eighth man.

Security officials said the plan - unlike many recent homegrown European terrorist plots - was directly linked to al-Qaida and guided by senior Islamic militants in Pakistan, who hoped to mount a huge strike on the West.

The officials said British plotters were likely just days away from mounting their suicide attacks when police rounded up 25 people in dawn raids in August 2006.

Their arrests led to travel chaos as hundreds of jetliners were grounded across Europe. Discovery of the plot also triggered changes to airport security, including new restrictions on the amount of liquids and gels passengers can take onto flights.

Prosecutors said suspects had identified seven specific flights from London's Heathrow airport to New York, Washington, Chicago, San Francisco, Toronto and Montreal, as their targets.

British authorities estimate that, if successful, around 2,000 passengers would have died. If bombs were detonated over US and Canadian cities, hundreds more would have been killed on the ground.

Plotters planned to assemble bombs in airplane toilets using hydrogen peroxide-based explosives injected into soda bottles.

All eight defendants had denied most charges against them, claiming they were planning a "stunt" to expose failings in Western foreign policy. Prosecutors were unable to produce evidence that the men had produced a single viable bomb.


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