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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Mixed Verdict in London Terror Trial

08london600A lengthy trial centering on what Scotland Yard called a plot to blow up trans-Atlantic airliners ended Monday when the jury convicted three of eight defendants of conspiracy to commit murder.

But the jury failed to reach verdicts on the more serious charge of a conspiracy to have suicide bombers detonate soft-drink bottles filled with liquid explosives aboard seven airliners headed for the United States and Canada.

The failure to obtain convictions on the plane-bombing charge was a blow to counterterrorism officials in London and Washington, who had described the scheme as potentially the most devastating act of terrorism since the Sept. 11 attacks seven years ago this week. British and American experts had said that the plot had all the signs of an operation by Al Qaeda, and that it was conceived and organized in Pakistan.

The arrest in August 2006 of two dozen suspects, including the eight put on trial, set off a worldwide alarm in the airline industry and led to a tightening of airport security, including time-consuming restrictions on passengers carrying liquids and creams in their carry-on luggage that remain in force at most airports around the globe.

But the case was hampered from the beginning, prosecutors said, by an investigation that was cut short, by the conflicting demands of intelligence agencies, and by problems with introducing evidence in the courtroom. To protect sources and methods, the prosecution was unable to introduce material from British or foreign intelligence agencies. In addition, Britain does not allow information in court that has been gathered from domestic wiretaps.

The arrest in Pakistan of Rashid Rauf, a Briton of Pakistani descent who American, British and Pakistani officials said was a liaison to Al Qaeda, set off a series of events that led the British police to roll up the London-based cell far earlier than they had intended. The haste in making sweeping arrests made it hard for prosecutors to persuade the jury that the bomb plot had reached the stage at which an attack on airliners was imminent.

Partly as a result, prosecutors never convinced the jury that the suspects were prepared to strike immediately, or even that they had chosen planes as their targets. Nor did they convict a man whom they had accused of having links to Al Qaeda in Pakistan.

Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service said it might decide to call for a retrial of the case if it decides it might win convictions on the most serious charges. A decision on that is expected within weeks. In addition, a number of other suspects will face trial related to the plot.

Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]

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