By Jenni Hesterman
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff believes that a significant story regarding the terror threat has been mostly overlooked by the press…and he’s right.
About 18 months ago, transportation officials announced worldwide restrictions for carrying liquids on domestic and international flights. Not much could be said at the time about the threat, and frustrated travelers, airline and security personnel all questioned the basis for the directive. A case playing out this month in a London this courtroom finally provides the long-awaited answer.
Eight men are currently on trial for conspiring to smuggle explosive agents on board seven international flights in August 2006, all originating at Heathrow Airport in London, with destinations in North America. The group planned to detonate the devices mid-flight, halfway across the ocean, “in the name of Islam“.
The explosive devices were to be fashioned from a mixture of hydrogen peroxide bleach and Tang powdered drink, which provides citric acid. This mixture which would then be carried onboard the flight in plastic bottles, disguised as sports drinks or soda. Once airborne, the remaining component (a common device which I will omit from this posting) would be added to the liquid, forming a powerful explosive device. Court-appointed scientists used the material to create a sample blast, which was so powerful that it destroyed the video camera capturing the event.
The plotters targeted full flights to achieve maximum loss of life. The first flight in the sequence of seven targeted flights was to take off at 2:30pm for San Francisco, and the last just 1 hour and 41 minutes later, a 5:11pm flight bound for Chicago. According to British officials, who had been watching the group for months, the plot was disrupted just 2 weeks from execution.
Only 1 month prior to their arrest, the group paid roughly $240K in cash for a flat in East London to use as a meeting place and laboratory for assembling the devices. The flat contained not only the ingredients and instructions for the bombs, but several suicide martyrdom tapes calling for jihad, and expressing individual motives for planning the attacks.
The self-professed leader of the group, Abdulla Ahmed Ali, said that Osama bin Laden was his inspiration for the pending attacks, and also stated “the time has come for you to be destroyed”. On the tape, he boasts that “body parts will decorate the streets”, and that he wanted to join in holy war to “punish and humiliate” nonbelievers. Another defendant, Uma Islam states “this is revenge for actions by the USA in the Muslim lands, and their accomplices, such as the British and the Jews” and “this is a warning to the nonbelievers that if they do not leave our land, there are many more like us, and many more like me, ready to strike until the law of Allah is established on this earth”. Waheed Zaman professes that “America and England have no cause for complaints. I am warning these two nations death and destruction will pass upon you like a tornado.”
One of the men, Assad Sarwar, who is suspected of links to extremists in Pakistan, wasn’t going to be an actual suicide bomber–he had other deadly ambitions. His briefcase was recovered in the woods behind his house with a computer memory stick containing information about attacks on other U.K. targets, such as power stations, oil refineries, and a major gas terminal.
Today, a tape was shown to the court showing the men shopping for the bomb ingredients at B&Q, Ikea and Tesco stores in London. Despite the overwhelming evidence, all 8 men deny the charges against them. The trial is expected to continue for several more weeks before the jury renders its verdict.
About the Author
Jenni Hesterman is a retired Air Force colonel and counterterrorism specialist. She is a senior analyst for The MASY Group, a Global Intelligence and Risk Management firm that supports both the U.S. Government and leading corporations. She is also an adjunct professor at American Military University, teaching courses in homeland security and intelligence studies.