Image: Terror plot defendants
Metropolitan Police via AP
These images released by London's Metropolitan Police show eight men accused of plotting to blow up jetliners in mid-air. The defendants are top row, from left, Waheed Zaman, Ibrahim Savant, Arafat Waheed Khan, Umar Islam, and, bottom row, from left, Tanvir Hussain, Donald Stewart-Whyte, Abdulla Ahmed Ali and Assad Sarwar.
updated 2/17/2009 10:53:45 AM ET 2009-02-17T15:53:45

Eight British Muslims plotted to cause unprecedented carnage by blowing up passenger planes over the Atlantic Ocean with homemade liquid bombs disguised as soft drinks, a prosecutor said at their trial Tuesday.

Peter Wright said the men planned to smuggle the bomb ingredients aboard jets bound from Britain to North America disguised as "soft-drinks bottles, batteries and other innocuous items" carried in hand luggage.

"They were to be detonated in-flight by suicide bombers," including several of the accused, he said.

Eight men aged between 22 and 30 deny conspiracy to murder. But Wright said the defendants were close to carrying out their plan when they were arrested in August 2006.

The arrests led to the grounding of hundreds of flights and disruption for thousands of people and triggered huge changes to airport security — including restrictions on carrying liquids on planes — that persist to this day.

Wright said the plot would have caused "a civilian death toll from terrorism on an almost unprecedented scale."

'Violent and deadly statement'
He said alleged ringleaders Abdulla Ahmed Ali and Assad Sarwar, both 28, "shared a common interest ... that involved inflicting heavy casualties upon an unwitting civilian population, all in the name of Islam."

The defendants, he said, were "men with the cold-eyed certainty of the fanatic." The blasts were intended as "a violent and deadly statement of intent that would have a truly global impact."

Wright said that the plot was organized in Britain but was being directed from Pakistan.

A court order restricts reporting of some details of the case, which is expected to last 10 months.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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