From ABC News' Jean Fievet: Three men have been found guilty of plotting to commit what security officials in the U.S and U.K describe as mass murder on a par with the 9/11 attacks. Today a jury in London convicted three British Muslims of planning in 2006 to blow up planes en route from London to cities in the U.S. and Canada.
Their arrests three years ago led to restrictions on taking liquids on flights and long queues at airport security checkpoints across the world.
Had the plot been successful, it “would have been comparable to 9/11” in scale, according to former U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. A senior counterterrorism official at Scotland Yard said today that as well as “massive” loss of live, the attacks “would have had enormous world-wide economic and political consequences”.
The plan was uncovered by a huge counterterrorism investigation, involving the biggest ever surveillance operation in British history. At one point, law enforcement officers broke into the London flat being used as a bomb factory, and installed a hidden camera. The extraordinary result was that police were actually listening as two of the plotters recorded their suicide videos.
The case has again involved so-called “homegrown” terrorists, since all the plotters are British nationals. Senior counter-terrorism sources claim however that the plot originated from Pakistan, and was directed by Al Qaeda from that country. The three men convicted today were second generation British Muslims with strong family ties to Pakistan. During the trial the prosecution presented evidence that several of them had travelled from Britain to Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Their key link is believed to be Rashid Rauf, a shadowy British man whose arrest in Pakistan in August 2006 triggered the arrests of the airline plotters in London. Rauf is suspected of being a senior al-Qaeda facilitator, and evidence released today from the trial shows that the plotters and Rauf communicated about the plan via e-mail.
In December 2007, Rauf made an extraordinary escape from custody by giving his guards the slip after appearing in court in Islamabad. Pakistani officials told ABC News in November 2008 that Rauf had been killed in a CIA predator missile strike in North Waziristan. But his body has never been recovered, and his status remains unclear.