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Cheat Sheet: Airline Bomb Trial

The story

A conviction was finally secured for the 2006 plot to commit suicide attacks on seven transatlantic flights, disguising explosives as soft drinks. Three men were found guilty of conspiracy to murder by detonating bombs on airliners after a six-month trial at Woolwich Crown Court in London. A previous jury had found them guilty of conspiracy to murder but had failed to reach a verdict on whether the plot existed.

Read the New Statesman's news coverage of the story.

What the papers are saying

The Guardian

The Guardian editorial says that the conviction is a welcome triumph for security services and a valuable reminder of the vast and real nature of the threat from terrorism, which becomes devalued as we hear only of failed plots. It says that securing proper evidence - a difficulty in this trial - was the right thing to do, drawing attention to the recent ruling on control orders.

When security chiefs say the terror threat remains, they are right. But the possibility of terror attacks is not a reason to abandon due process, as the overdue demise of control orders shows. And politicians must be careful not to mislead people about where the danger comes from; the men convicted yesterday were British, influenced from Pakistan. Britain's Afghan war, justified as part of the fight against terror, would not have stopped them.

The Times

In its leader, the Times says that if the trial had failed for a second time, the public would not have taken security warnings seriously again, and America would be angry at the lack of firm action. As the case depended upon emails, it questions why intercepted correspondence remains inadmissible in UK courts. It defends the use of surveillance as key in the fight against terrorism.

Gordon Brown has argued that the war in Afghanistan is being waged to keep the streets of Britain safe. Al-Qaeda is not yet defeated. It was thanks only to co-ordinated action by the intelligence agencies that atrocities were averted. The trial should dispel any complacency or cynicism over terrorism. The threat is far from over.

The Telegraph

Nile Gardiner, blogging for the Telegraph, says that the conviction is a reminder that the West, in particular Britain and America, are at war with "evil and barbaric fundamentalists driven by a belief in militant Islam" and hatred of the liberty of the Judeo-Christian world. He says that this is the tip of the iceberg in terms of the scale of the British threat. He advises that the next (Conservative) government step up spending in Afghanistan and clampdown at home.

Immigration controls must be stepped up, and stronger action must be taken to deport "preachers of hate" and crack down on those mosques that act as recruiting grounds for terrorists, as well as to dismantle the extensive terror supply routes that run from Islamabad to London. The Conservatives must also be prepared to reassert British sovereignty over its courts by withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights, a millstone around Britain's neck in the counter-terror battle.

In numbers

  • 7 flights were targeted for attack. They would have had a total of approximately 1,500 passengers.
  • Anti-Terror command was supported by 220 officers.
  • Police took 9,710 statements and seized 26,000 exhibits.
  • 800 devices were seized including computers, laptop, external hard drives and USB devices.
  • Of these, 226 were taken from internet cafés.
  • Other items seized included 15,000 CDs and DVDs and 500 floppy disks.
  • Counter terrorist police, security services and prosecutors spent approximately £35 million on foiling the plot.
  • £7.8 million of this was spent on scouring woodland in High Wycombe where materials were stashed.
  • It is estimated that the case cost the Crown Prosecution Service and Legal Services Commission a total of £100,000,000.
  • Police found 38 litres of hydrogen peroxide, the main explosive used by the 7/7 bombers, at or near Assad Sarwar's home in High Wycombe.


Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.