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Airline bomber convictions lead to pride and praise for British security

Monday's conviction of three young British Muslims has boosted the service after recent setbacks. But concerns remain about the ongoing radicalization of young Muslims.

By Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / September 8, 2009



London

Having secured the convictions this week of three homegrown terrorists who had plotted to blow transatlantic airliners out of the sky using bombs disguised as drinks, Britain's security service is enjoying its proudest antiterrorism moment in years.

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The recent past has included its share of setbacks. Nine Pakistani students suspected of involvement in what Prime Minister Gordon Brown claimed was a "very big plot" were released without charge in April.

But Monday's high-profile convictions of three young British Muslims, following the largest counterterrorism investigation in British history, is being widely praised.

Abdulla Ahmed Ali, Tanvir Hussain, and Assad Sarwar were found guilty of conspiring to bomb several airliners on routes serving Britain, Canada, and the United States. Prosecutors said the men had planned to make explosive devices from the common disinfectant hydrogen peroxide, batteries, and other household goods while in flight.

Their arrests, and those of a number of others in August 2006, radically altered aviation security for millions of travelers by prompting restrictions on liquids.

Paul Cornish, professor of international security at the Chatham House think tank, said the convictions were evidence of a well-run investigation. "I would also suspect that a lot of work is actually still ongoing," he says, "and has yet to be revealed."

Months of intense surveillance of key suspects, which involved installing a hidden camera in a London apartment that was used as a bomb factory, were described today in The Times by Andy Hayman, a former senior London police officer involved in the operation: "At times like this the police service is at its best: no fuss — just fast, old-fashioned police work."

He also suggested that the police had to swoop in on the plotters sooner than they wanted to because a British-born man who was suspected of being the terror plan's mastermind was arrested in Pakistan due to US pressure.

"We thought we had managed to persuade them to hold back so we could develop new opportunities and get more evidence to present to the courts," Mr. Hayman said. "But I was never convinced that they were content with that position. In the end, I strongly suspect that they lost their nerve and had a hand in triggering the arrest in Pakistan."

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