Trial of six in botched London bombings opens

Prosecution says failed plot was more than copycat of earlier attack

January 16, 2007|By New York Times News Service

LONDON --The city was still edgy, two weeks after the London bombings of July 2005, when suddenly on a summer's day the horror seemed to return. On three subway cars and a bus, young men boarded with backpacks stuffed full of explosives, but there was an all-important difference: This time the explosives failed to detonate.

Yesterday, in a courthouse here close to the high-security Belmarsh prison, six men appeared on trial, charged with conspiracy to murder and cause explosions on July 21, 2005. They are accused of attempting an attack that seemed to mimic the one on July 7 in which four bombers killed themselves and 52 bus and subway travelers in London's bloodiest peacetime attack.

The men have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The prosecution did not directly link the two bombings. But "it is our case that the events with which this case is concerned are plainly not some hastily arranged copycat," Nigel Sweeney, a prosecutor, said when the men's trial opened yesterday.

In yesterday's session, devoted entirely to the prosecution, all six men were accused of taking part in what Sweeney called "an extremist Muslim plot, the ultimate objective of which was to carry out a number of murders and suicide bombings."

His opening statement was the first comprehensive official account of the events as depicted by British authorities. The allegations offered a remarkable insight into the makings of an alleged jihadist conspiracy.

Sweeney denied a claim by one of the men that the bombs had been meant as a politically motivated hoax, to frighten - not kill.

"We say that the failure of these bombs to explode has nothing to with the intentions of the defendants," he said. "It was simply the good fortune of the traveling public that this day they were spared."

The bombs failed to explode because the concentration of one ingredient in the explosive, hydrogen peroxide, was too low, he said, so the detonators went off but did not ignite the main charge.

Outlining the prosecution case, he painted a picture of young Muslims, one of them alleged to have been trained in Sudan and Pakistan, preparing homemade explosives in a north London housing project and setting out to create carnage with bombs wrapped in shrapnel, hidden in backpacks.

He said two of the men had at one stage prayed at the Finsbury Park mosque run by Abu Hamza al-Masri, a radical Egyptian-born cleric who is serving a prison term for incitement to murder.

Even after the failure of the alleged attack, the drama did not cease. One man fled north on a bus to Birmingham clad in a loose-fitting Muslim woman's gown called a burqa, which conceals the face and body. Another used a brother's passport to slip past police and board a train to Paris before heading to Rome. Both were arrested quickly.

The defendants are Muktar Said Ibrahim, 28; Ramzi Mohamed, 25; Yassin Omar, 26; Manfu Asiedu, 33; Adel Yahya, 24; and Hussain Osman, 28. All lived in London; some were born in the Horn of Africa.

Sweeney provided an unusually detailed description of the men as they allegedly prepared for the attack, some of them attending fitness camps in Scotland and in the Lake District of England, where police had kept a group under surveillance in May 2004, including five of the accused.

The prosecutor said the role of Ibrahim, Asiedu, Osman, Omar and Mohamed was ultimately "that of would-be suicide bombers" and Yahya had taken part in "some of the essential preparation done in furtherance of the conspiracy." Sweeney said Yahya left Britain six weeks before the attack and was still out of the country when it occurred. He was arrested when he returned.

The preparations began with the purchase of chemicals in April or May 2005, Sweeney said, but one of the men told witnesses that he had trained in Sudan in 2003 and Pakistan a year later.

According to the prosecution, the men fashioned an explosive of hydrogen peroxide mixed with flour. The detonators were made of a high explosive called triacetone triperoxide, or TATP, and would be triggered by an electrical current from a nine-volt battery.

The main explosives were to be packed in plastic containers surrounded with "screws, tacks, washers or nuts," Sweeney said, adding that when the attacks took place, one of the men, Asiedu, lost his nerve and "dumped his bomb in a wooded area."

But Ibrahim, Osman, Omar and Mohamed set off with bombs on July 21, three of them on subway trains and one on a bus, the prosecutor said, a configuration of targets similar to that of July 7.

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