Inside the terror plot that ‘rivaled 9/11’

By Richard Greenberg, Paul Cruickshank, and Chris Hansen In one of the most significant terrorism cases since 9/11, a British court Monday sentenced three British citizens to life in prison for conspiring to blow up transatlantic airliners in a plot that was thwarted in August 2006. The terrorist plot, which disrupted international air travel at ...

580979_090914_liquidsbanned22.jpg
580979_090914_liquidsbanned22.jpg

By Richard Greenberg,
Paul Cruickshank,
and Chris Hansen

In one of the most significant terrorism cases since 9/11, a British court Monday sentenced three British citizens to life in prison for conspiring to blow up transatlantic airliners in a plot that was thwarted in August 2006. The terrorist plot, which disrupted international air travel at the time, led authorities in 2006 to impose restrictions on liquids and gels on airplanes. Those restrictions remain in place today.


By Richard Greenberg,
Paul Cruickshank,
and Chris Hansen

In one of the most significant terrorism cases since 9/11, a British court Monday sentenced three British citizens to life in prison for conspiring to blow up transatlantic airliners in a plot that was thwarted in August 2006. The terrorist plot, which disrupted international air travel at the time, led authorities in 2006 to impose restrictions on liquids and gels on airplanes. Those restrictions remain in place today.

The three men, who were convicted by a British jury one week ago, were considered ringleaders of the conspiracy, according to prosecutors. They were among twelve charged in the case. To date, nine have stood trial.

In addition to the three convicted, the jury last Monday found four other defendants not guilty of the airliner conspiracy. One defendant was acquitted. The verdicts came at the end of a six-month retrial ordered by British authorities after a jury delivered mixed verdicts in an initial trial held in 2008.

In spite of the four acquittals in the retrial, British authorities expressed relief and satisfaction that those they described as ringleaders were found guilty. “I cannot thank enough those involved for their professionalism and dedication in thwarting this attack and saving thousands of lives,” said U.K. Home Secretary Alan Johnson in statement. Johnson described it as the largest counterterrorism operation ever in the U.K.; the U.K. Press Association estimated the cost of the investigation and two trials at around $200 million.

The case highlighted the continuing threat posed by British-born radicals and the potential for Britain to serve as a staging ground for attacks against the United States.

Authorities said the men, arrested in August 2006, planned to smuggle liquid explosives disguised as sports drinks aboard a half-dozen or more flights headed from London’s Heathrow Airport to cities in the United States and Canada. Counterterrorism investigators say that such an attack could have killed well over 1,500 on board the planes, and many more if detonated over densely populated urban areas.

In an interview last year, then-Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff told Dateline NBC that, if successful, the alleged plot “would have rivaled 9/11 in terms of the number of deaths and interms of the impact on the international economy.”

A review of the nearly 5,000 pages of trial transcripts and interviews with key British, American and Pakistani officials involved in the investigation offer insights into the current state of al Qaeda and the evolution of its operations, adding to the body of evidence that recruits from the West are being trained and directed by al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan.

To read the rest of this in-depth investigation of the plot that “rivaled 9/11,” visit Dateline NBC, where this was originally published.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Paul Cruickshank, an alumni fellow at the NYU Center on Law and Security, is currently working on a CNN series on the U.S. domestic terrorism threat.

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