Three men accused of plotting to kill trans-Atlantic airline passengers by detonating explosives concealed in soft-drink bottles admitted Monday they intended to cause explosions — but insist they never meant to use them on planes.
The suspects appealed to the jury to believe that they wanted to stage an elaborate publicity stunt at one of London's iconic sites to promote a film — not commit mass murder. The change of plea on some of the charges comes as the case that changed the face of air travel wound to a close, infuriating prosecutors who say the men simply wanted to sway jurors before deliberations.
"This was no propaganda video, no documentary, no exercise or stunt — this was for real," prosecutor Peter Wright said. "Human beings ready, able and willing to commit carnage for the sake of Islam."
The trio — Abdulla Ahmed Ali, 27, Assad Sarwar, 28, and Tanvir Hussain, 27 — pleaded guilty to the charge of conspiring to set off explosions, but still say they are innocent of conspiracy to murder, a charge for which they are still being tried.
Ali, Sarwar, Hussain, along with two other defendants — Ibrahim Savant, 27, and Umar Islam, 30 — have also admitted to "conspiring to cause a public nuisance" by publishing the alleged martyrdom videos.
Bombing would 'shock the world'
Prosecutors accuse the five — along with three other co-defendants — of planning a mid-air bombing that would "shock the world."
The jury in the three-month-long trial must now decide whether the eight men are also guilty of the main charge, of conspiring to murder thousands of airline passengers. If they are found guilty, they face a maximum life sentence.
The men are charged with a plot to kill hundreds of passengers at the height of the summer vacation season by detonating explosives in soft-drink bottles on flights over the Atlantic Ocean or U.S. cities. When police discovered the plot in August 2006, airports around the world changed their security procedures in an instant.
As security guards examined every bag by hand, passengers dumped bottles of water, wine and perfume. Tents were erected in airport parking lots as passengers waited, sometimes for days, to board flights. Airports and airlines needed weeks to recover from the chaos.
In his opening statement in April, Wright said officers found a computer memory stick in Ali's pocket with details of flights from London's Heathrow Airport to Chicago, New York, Boston, Denver, Miami and Montreal. He was not interested in return bookings, prosecutors say.
Ali, Sarwar and Hussain admitted they conspired to cause explosions, but deny intending to wreak havoc on passenger jets. Ali, the alleged ring leader of the plot, testified early in the trial that began in April that he and Sarwar wanted to promote an anti-Western documentary with an explosion. Ali said he hoped a small, nonfatal, bombing — at a site such as Britain's Houses of Parliament, an oil refinery, or an airport — would jolt Londoners and draw attention to the movie.
Suspects say they wanted to make movie
The suspects said they intended to record injustices against Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan and distribute their movie on the Internet. It is not clear whether the film was actually made, though prosecutors have said it was not.
"Each was prepared to kill and to do so on a wholly indiscriminate basis, irrespective of age, belief, sex and to do so without the slightest blink of an eye," Wright said. "(The attack) was intended to be an act of terrorism to not only alter aviation history but also to strike a blow on behalf of radicalized Islamists the world over."
Wright told jurors the men made the confessions — which he termed "bogus" — to distract attention from the main plane-bombing allegations and were "almost ready to go" when they were arrested in and around London.
Wright told Woolwich Crown Court in London the defendants wanted "to murder as many civilian passengers as possible."
The eight men are accused of stockpiling enough hydrogen peroxide to create 20 liquid bombs, although they did not create any viable explosives.
"We did not want to kill or injure anyone," Ali testified last month.
Defense attorneys are expected to begin their closing arguments in the case Tuesday.