Three British Muslims were convicted on retrial yesterday for their August 2006 conspiracy to bring down seven planes with liquid explosives destined for locations across Canada and the United States.
The three men were retried and convicted after a jury in September 2008 acquitted them of trying to detonate bombs on board the airliners. The jury, however, did convict them of the lesser charge of conspiracy to murder for a plot to detonate bombs across London. The defendants said that that plot was only to draw attention to injustice in the Middle East and that they did not intend to hurt anyone.
Yesterday, the retrial vindicated the prosecution.
The men -- Ahmed Ali, Assad Sarwar, Tanvir Hussain -- were part of a group of eight accused of plotting to blow up at least seven planes, which led to restrictions on liquids on passenger flights. One man was found guilty of a less-serious count and another was found not guilty on all charges.
Prosecutors claimed the men, who were arrested in August 2006, were preparing to take bombs disguised as soft drinks on carriers leaving from London’s Heathrow airport for cities in the U.S. and Canada. Prosecutors decided to retry the case after a jury last year was unable to reach a decision on the plot to bomb passenger planes.
If the conspiracy succeeded, the trans-Atlantic airline plot could have murdered 1,500 people—possibly more if the bombs detonated over cities as they approached their destinations: San Francisco, Washington, New York, Chicago, Toronto and Montreal.
Before today's convictions, the biggest repercussions of the plot remained airport security restrictions placed on bringing liquids on board planes. After today, it may be that the criminal justice model can be successfully used against jihadist terrorism.
"The [Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)] is committed to prosecuting to the full extent of the law those who would use terror to try to achieve their aims, whatever their motivation and their perceived justification,"said Sue Hemming of CPS. "This trial has been another demonstration of that commitment."
Crispin Black, an independent intelligence consultant and frequent media commentator, argued in the Guardian that the convictions showed that the British approach to counterterrorism—using the legal system—outperformed that of the United States underneath the Bush administration, namely extralegal indefinite detention of suspected terrorists at places like Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
President Bush and Vice-President Cheney took a different view – despite real-time briefings from Tony Blair. They wanted to be sure that the plot was disrupted – and that was it. The idea that, after arrest, the plotters would have to be brought to justice seems to have been a secondary consideration. What did they care about British justice? Or the fact that if the evidence-gathering side of the operation was screwed up by moving too early, we would be left with having to set aspirational mass murderers free?
Sentencing for Ali, Sarwar, and Hussain is set for Sept. 14.
♦ Photo of United Airlines passenger jet in flight by mattingham/Flickr