LONDON - A gang of British Islamists plotted to cause deaths on an "almost unprecedented scale" by blowing up transatlantic airliners using bombs disguised in soft drink bottles, a London court heard on Tuesday.
The eight men were almost ready to execute their plan to simultaneously bring down seven aircraft in mid-air as they flew from London to the United States and Canada when they were arrested, Woolwich Crown Court was told.
"What these men intended to bring about was a violent and deadly statement of intent that would have truly global impact," prosecutor Peter Wright told jurors in the high security court.
"It's the crown's case that these men were actively engaged in a most deadly plan designed to bring about what would have been, if they had been successful, a civilian death toll from an act of terrorism on an almost unprecedented scale."
The suspects were arrested in August 2006, just over a year after four young British Islamists killed 52 commuters in suicide bomb attacks on London's transport system. The arrests led to a massive increase in security and brought chaos to global airports, airlines and passengers.
More than a thousand flights were canceled in the aftermath and many countries imposed tight restrictions on carry-on baggage for several days. Limits on the carrying of liquids on planes still stand as a result of the plot.
The men intended to smuggle on board components for their improvised bombs disguised as soft drink bottles, batteries, and other the innocuous items, the court was told.
They had targeted seven flights, operated by American Airlines, United Airlines and Air Canada, to Chicago, New York, Washington, Montreal, Toronto, and San Francisco, the jury was told.
The planes were either 777s, 767s or 763s, capable of carrying between 241 and 285 passengers and crew.
The plot was directed from Pakistan while Abdullah Ahmed Ali was the ringleader in Britain, Wright said. Some of those on trial were foot soldiers, with the "cold-eyed certainty of a fanatic," who would have carried out the suicide attacks.
Wright said the men were indifferent to the carnage they would have caused and the identities of their victims was an "irrelevance." The plot was "all in the name of Islam," he said.
British citizens Ali, 28, Assad Sarwar, 28, Tanvir Hussain, 27, Donald Douglas Stewart-Whyte, 22, Ibrahim Savant, 28, Arafat Khan, 27, Waheed Zaman, 24, and Umar Islam, 30, are the men on trial.
They are accused of conspiracy to murder "by the detonation of improvised explosive devices on board transatlantic passenger aircraft." Savant, Khan, Zaman, Islam and Stewart-Whyte are also charged with conspiracy to murder.
The men -- one from north London, two from High Wycombe, west of London, and the rest from east London -- deny the charges. They sat in the dock, all dressed smartly and flanked by security guards. The trial continues.
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