Three airliner bomb plotters were jailed for life in the UK today for planning what judge Mr Justice Henriques said was an atrocity comparable with the September 11 attacks.
British-born ringleader Abdulla Ahmed Ali was told he would serve a minimum of 40 years for his role in “the most grave and wicked conspiracy ever proven within this jurisdiction”.
Accomplices Assad Sarwar and Tanvir Hussain were also given life sentences. Sarwar was told he would serve a minimum of 36 years. Hussain will serve a minimum of 32 years.
The al-Qaida-inspired terror cell planned to detonate home-made liquid bombs on flights bound for major North American cities.
Ali, of Walthamstow, east London, was found guilty along with Sarwar and Hussain last week at Woolwich Crown Court of conspiracy to murder on a mass scale following the largest-ever counter-terrorism operation in the UK.
Mr Justice Henriques said: “The intention was to perpetrate a terrorist outrage that would stand alongside the events of September 11, 2001 in history.”
The judge added that the airline bomb plot had “reached an advanced stage in its development”.
He said the men had “sufficient chemicals for 20 home-made detonators of commercial strength. I’m satisfied that there is every likelihood that this plot would have succeeded but for the intervention of the police and the security service."
Referring to a video of a mock explosion on board an airliner, Mr Justice Henriques said: “I could only conclude the chance of an aircraft surviving such an explosion at altitude was remote.
“Had this conspiracy not been interrupted, a massive loss of life would almost certainly have resulted – and if the detonation was over land, the number of victims would have been even greater still.”
The judge said the emails at the centre of the retrial – which were unavailable to prosecutors in the first trial last year – “are a vital source of information as to the control, progress and scope of this conspiracy”.
“They establish beyond question the ultimate control of this conspiracy lay in Pakistan.”
He said others in Pakistan controlled, monitored and funded the plot.
Ali, Sarwar, from High Wycombe, Bucks, and Hussain, from Leyton, east London, were “high-level executives within this country”, the judge added.
Mr Justice Henriques told Ali: “I have concluded you are a driven and determined extremist with boundless energy and an ambition to lead a terrorist outrage of boundless proportion.
“By this conspiracy you sought the attention of the world, and you now have it.”
The judge went on: “Not only did you recruit, but you also obtained much of the bomb-making equipment.”
He said Ali was “producer, director, cameraman, part-author and actor in six martyrdom tapes” which warned the British public to expect “floods of martyr operations” that would leave body parts scattered in the streets.
“You made it as clear as can be that innocent people were going to die – men, women and children,” the judge said.
He went on: “You have embraced Islamic extremism and it is that burning extremism that has motivated you throughout this conspiracy and is likely to drive you again.”
Mr Justice Henriques said that, from watching Ali give evidence, it was clear he was “intelligent” as he “argued the unarguable over many days with senior Treasury counsel” and “sought to justify the mass killing” in videos.
“This was a viable and meticulously planned conspiracy and I conclude it was imminent,” the judge said.
He said the plot was not an attempt by Ali to change the Government’s foreign policy, but “an act of revenge inspired by extremist Islamic thinking” and aimed at the “governments of several allied forces in Iraq and Afghanistan”.
“The extent of harm would have been unprecedented,” he said.
He added that grave economic consequences should follow.
Mr Justice Henriques also said the plot caused “massive expenditure” and “huge inconvenience for the travelling public” as extra security measures were brought in to airports.
“Tons of liquids are confiscated from the public on a daily basis at airports,” the judge said.
The tighter security measures, and the restrictions on liquids on flights, was “entirely attributable to this conspiracy”.
The jury of nine women and three men failed to reach a verdict on a fourth man, Umar Islam, in connection with the airliner plot last week.
Prosecutors are not seeking a retrial and the charge will be left to lie on file.
But Islam, 31, of Bushey Road, Plaistow, was convicted of conspiracy to murder and was sentenced to life with a minimum of 22 years today.