updated 9/11/2009 9:59:43 PM ET 2009-09-12T01:59:43

British prosecutors said Friday night they would seek a retrial in the case of three British Muslims suspected of plotting to blow up trans-Atlantic airliners.

The men are accused of plotting to down seven airliners in August 2006 with liquid explosives smuggled onto the planes disguised as soft drinks. They planned to destroy planes headed to the United States and Canada, officials said.

Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer said in a statement that the public interest in the case merited another trial even though two earlier cases had ended inconclusively.

He said that a jury earlier this week had failed to reach verdicts in the case against the three suspects — Ibrahim Savant, 28, Arafat Waheed Khan, 28, and Waheed Zaman, 25. An earlier jury also was unable to agree on a verdict, he said.

Starmer said he believes there is a "realistic" chance of convicting each man on conspiracy to murder charges in a retrial.

"Having regard to the very serious nature of the charge and the very considerable public interest in having the allegation determined by a jury one way or the other, I have concluded that, in this exceptional case, it is in the public interest to seek a further retrial," he said, admitting that it is unusual for prosecutors to seek a third trial.

Officials: Plotters tied to al-Qaida
Three other British Muslims were found guilty in the case earlier this week. The London jury found Abdulla Ahmed Ali, 28, Assad Sarwar, 29, and Tanvir Hussain, 28, guilty of conspiracy to murder by detonating explosives on aircraft while they were in-flight.

British and U.S. officials say the plotters had close ties to al-Qaida.

The officials said British plotters were likely just days away from mounting their suicide attacks when police rounded up 25 people in dawn raids in August 2006.

Their arrests led to travel chaos as hundreds of jetliners were grounded across Europe. Discovery of the plot also triggered changes to airport security, including new restrictions on the amount of liquids and gels passengers can take onto flights.

Prosecutors said suspects had identified seven specific flights from London's Heathrow airport to New York, Washington, Chicago, San Francisco, Toronto and Montreal, as their targets.

British authorities estimate that, if successful, about 2,000 passengers would have died. If bombs were detonated over U.S. and Canadian cities, hundreds more would have been killed on the ground.

Plotters planned to assemble bombs in airplane toilets using hydrogen peroxide-based explosives injected into soda bottles, prosecutors said.

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