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Britain convicts three for ‘ingenious’ airline bomb plot

The Muslim men’s 2006 plan to detonate liquid explosives on aircraft flying across the Atlantic was stage-planned in Pakistan.

By David MonteroCorrespondent / September 8, 2009



Remember in 2006 when you suddenly couldn’t take liquids aboard airplanes? The terrorists who brought you that inconvenience were convicted in England yesterday.

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Prosecutors there convicted three British-born Muslims of plotting to blow up several cross-Atlantic airliners using liquid bombs and kill as many as 10,000 people. The antiterrorist investigation, the largest in England’s history, exposed that the would-be bombers traveled frequently to Pakistan to learn bomb-making techniques, and that the plot was stage-directed by masterminds in Pakistan.

One of those masterminds is thought to have been Rashid Rauf, a militant with links to the central command of Al-Qaeda. He escaped from a Pakistani jail last year, and was later killed by a Predator drone attack in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

England’s Independent newspaper reported that the airliner plot was conceived on Pakistani soil:

One senior counter-terrorism source said: "In terms of al Qaida involvement, there is a large part of this plot that has been thought through or invented in Pakistan.

It was to be put in motion in England through a deadly and ingenious plan, The Guardian describes:

The liquid bombs, disguised in drinks bottles, were so ingenious, relying on batteries and detonators carried separately, that they would have bypassed airport security. UK scientists, who constructed versions of the devices, concluded that if exploded, they would have punched a hole in the aircraft skin.

The Guardian adds that the bombs were perfected in Pakistan:

In June 2006 [Assad] Sarwar flew again to Pakistan, where he was taught how to refine hydrogen peroxide to the high concentration required to produce a bomb, and how to make the chemical detonator HMTD.

British and American investigators caught wind of the plot as it progressed in 2006, and began “thousands of hours of surveillance and investigation conducted across two continents,” as the Independent adds:

Their visits to public telephone boxes and internet cafes in Walthamstow, north-east London, and Buckinghamshire between January and August 2006 were the subject of Operation Overt – the biggest surveillance operation in Britain since the Second World War – as dozens of MI5 and undercover Metropolitan Police Special Branch officers painstakingly tracked the conspirators' every move.

Somewhere in the jigsaw puzzle of evidence, Mr. Rauf’s central role became clear, writes the BBC:

British officials believe he was their link with al-Qaeda, possibly involved in their training…
At the end of 2008, MI5 and MI6 wrote to Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee to say that "in the light of recent analysis of intelligence received" Rauf may have been involved in the 7 July London bombings.
They said their assessment was that he was a "facilitator" of the attacks, and that the bombers were "directed some way by elements of al-Qaeda based overseas"…

When the plotters were arrested in 2006, it caused an immediate security overhaul, as the Telegraph points out:

Their arrests in 2006 resulted in immediate worldwide restrictions on passengers carrying liquids in their hand luggage. A ban on containers larger than 100ml is still in place.

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