London Court Sentences Men for Foiled Terror Plot to Blow Up Transatlantic Airplanes
Links to Extremists and Terrorist Groups
Posted: January 5, 2010
Several of the men charged in connection to the alleged plot to blow up seven airplanes flying from Britain to the United States and Canada have been linked to Al Qaeda and other Muslim extremist organizations that have a history of supporting terrorism.
A week after the men were arrested in England, Pakistani officials alleged that Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda's second-in-command, sanctioned the planned attacks against the U.S. and Canada-bound airliners. American counterterrorism officials have alleged that several of the suspects made numerous visits to Pakistan and the Pakistan-Afghanistan border (an area largely controlled by Al Qaeda and the Taliban), including trips made within weeks of their arrests.
Abdullah Ahmed Ali, the group's apparent ringleader, reportedly learned bomb-making skills in Pakistan. Another suspect, Assad Sarwar, admitted during his trial that he had also learned how to make bombs during a trip to Pakistan.
Pakistani authorities have further alleged that one of the suspects arrested in Pakistan, Rashid Rauf, arrived in Pakistan in 2002 from Britain and stayed in Punjab province, a stronghold of a number of U.S.-designated terrorist groups linked to Al Qaeda. Some reports indicate that Rauf met with an Al Qaeda operative in Pakistan, while other reports suggest that he had been in contact with a high-ranking Al Qaeda leader in Afghanistan.
Rauf is a suspected member of Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistan-based terrorist group that carries out terrorist operations against Indian interests, installations of the secular Pakistan government, sectarian minorities and civilians. He reportedly admitted to investigators that he is connected by marriage to the group's leader. Rauf's brother, Tayib, was among those arrested during the in Britain; he has since been released.
The Britain and Pakistan-based suspects were also reportedly directed by Al Qaeda operative Abu Ubaida al-Masri, an explosives expert who allegedly helped mastermind the July 2005 terrorist attacks on London's transport system. Al-Masri, who taught classes in Pakistan on building hydrogen peroxide bombs, died in 2008 of natural causes.
Additional evidence at the trial also indicates that the men were influenced by Al Qaeda and its ideologies. In a "martyrdom video" played for the jury, Ali referred to Osama bin Laden's previous warnings to the West to leave Muslim countries, such as Iraq and Afghanistan. "Sheikh Osama warned you many times to leave our lands or you will be destroyed," Ali said, "And now the time has come for you to be destroyed and you have nothing but to expect of floods of martyr operations, volcanoes of anger and revenge erupting among your capital."
Prior to their arrests, British authorities reportedly recorded the men discussing their plan to recruit 19 bombers, presumably to emulate the 19 Al Qaeda hijackers involved in the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Ali was also reportedly involved with Al Muhajiroun, a now-disbanded Muslim extremist group that supported terrorism and the imposition of Islamic hegemony worldwide. Ali, along with suspects Sarwar and Waheed Zaman, was also involved with Tablighi Jamaat, a strict Islamic movement that has been labeled by the FBI as a "recruiting ground for Al Qaeda." Tablighi operates from several mosques in the U.K., including one frequented by a number of the defendants. Other terrorists have also followed Tablighi Jamaat, including Richard Reid, the so-called "shoe bomber;" Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen sentenced to more than 17 years in prison for conspiracy to provide and providing material support to terrorists; and the Lackawanna Six, a group of six Yemeni-Americans who were convicted of providing material support to Al Qaeda.
While the degree to which Al Qaeda was involved remains unclear, the planned attack resembles another Al Qaeda plot – dubbed "Operation Bojinka" – in which Al Qaeda members planned a series of coordinated terror attacks in 1995, including the bombings of 11 airplanes using liquid explosives.