Inside the Liquid Bomb Plot

Did the U.S. push the British to make arrests too soon, hurting the prosecution?

ByABC News
September 9, 2008, 10:04 AM

September 8, 2008— -- After six weeks of deliberation, three British Muslim men were convicted today of plotting to kill "persons unknown" but were not found guilty of orchestrating an airline bomb plot.

Authorities had charged Abdulla Ahmed Ali, Assad Sarwar and Tanvir Hussain with plotting to simultaneously blow up seven passenger jets with liquid bombs as they flew from London to the US and Canada.

At U.S. urging, British police moved in well before the men had finalized their plans.

"So the police move happened earlier than we would otherwise have done, so the plots were intercepted when they were only really half-formed, but there's no doubt what the intention was," said Michael Clarke, director of the Royal United Services Institute.

Another suspect, Mohammad Gulzar, was cleared of all charges, while the jury could not reach verdicts for three other accused men - Ibrahim Savant, Umar Islam, Waheed Zaman, and Arafat Waheed Khan.

"No doubt about it that al Qaeda directed this attempt to bring down multiple airlines over the Atlantic, probably some of them over American soil so that this created as big an outrage as 9/11," said Clarke.

Terrorism expert Phil Mudd of the FBI's National Security Branch applauded his "British brothers" for the convinctions that did come in.

"I'm not a legal expert but I can tell you many crimes, if you commit the crime of murder, or sell drugs you have an act that's been committed," said Mudd. "In this case it's a conspiracy that hasn't. I know these are difficult to prove, but in terms of an intelligence perspective they got three convictions."

The plot involved liquid explosives – concentrated hydrogen peroxide – to be smuggled on board in sports drinks bottles, dyed orange with Tang.

A key piece of evidence in the case was a surveillance video of the ringleaders allegedly on a shopping trip to buy components for their bombs. Jurors also saw videos that authorities said were left as suicide notes and which the men planned to have released after their deaths.

The Devastating Power of a Liquid Bomb

BBC News commissioned a demonstration of the effects of a liquid bomb on an airplane fuselage recovered from a scrap yard.

See the full demonstration video tonight on World News with Charles Gibson and Nightline.

This video shows the potential effect on an airplane if a liquid bomb was detonated inside. Explosives engineer Dr. Sidney Alford was brought in to concoct a liquid bomb using ingredients and techniques similar to those devised by the terrorists. Following their plans, Dr. Alford filled a sports drink bottle with a mixture of concentrated hydrogen peroxide and powdered orange Tang.