UK

The would-be bombers of Walthamstow

Ibrahim Savant, Arafat Waheed Khan and Waheed Zaman
Image caption Found Guilty: Ibrahim Savant, Arafat Waheed Khan and Waheed Zaman

It has taken three attempts and almost four years - but finally, the men whom security officials assessed to be among the most committed and dangerous al-Qaeda recruits in the Western world are behind bars.

Today, a jury at Woolwich Crown Court has convicted the final three members of a conspiracy that rocked security services around the world.

Ibrahim Savant, Arafat Waheed Khan and Waheed Zaman, all of east London, face life sentences for conspiracy to murder after their third trial in the aftermath of what the police called Operation Overt.

The plot's leader, Abdulla Ahmed Ali, wanted to bomb airliners crossing the Atlantic, in an al-Qaeda directed plot against the West.

It was the discovery of that plot that led to sweeping restrictions in 2006 on what could be taken on board flights, changes that we live with today.

At the first trial in 2008, a jury found the ringleaders guilty of conspiracy to murder - but could not decide whether they had wanted to bomb aircraft.

At the second, the ringleaders were found guilty of targeting airliners and jailed for life.

Savant, Khan and Zaman were cleared of that particular charge - but the jury, for a second time, still could not decide whether they had been part of a plot.

In a rare move, the courts sanctioned their third trial, saying a jury had to try to decide once and for all whether the trio were working with Ali, even if they did not know the targets when they were arrested.

Abdulla Ahmed Ali had devised a means of smuggling liquid bombs through airports by disguising them as soft drinks.

Ali's right-hand man, Assad Sarwar, acquired the parts from ordinary shops while Ali oversaw the production line in his Walthamstow bomb factory.

He had been trained in bomb-making training in Pakistan and had sent coded emails to his al-Qaeda contacts there, keeping them up to date with the plot's progress.

But the bombs needed one vital element that could not be bought over the counter: volunteers who would be willing to blow themselves up.

Ali needed recruits to take the devices on board, assemble them in flight and destroy the aircraft before they could reach their destination.

Prepared to play their part

Prosecuting, Peter Wright QC said: "What was required… was a willingness to participate or to demonstrate a willingness to participate in the deployment of suicide bombers as part of a deadly and co-ordinated campaign against the general public.

Image caption Anger: Arafat Waheed Khan's video

"A willingness to die the death, as they saw it, of a martyr.

"Each of these young men was prepared to play their part, to wreak death and destruction on an unsuspecting civilian population, because they believed in the justness of their cause."

The willingness of the would-be suicide bombers to take part - even though they did not necessarily know the final plan - was at the heart of the retrial.

The most important evidence against each of the three men convicted in this third trial was their "martyrdom video".

Each had recorded a vitriolic rant against the West in a style now familiar to anyone who has seen news reports of jihadists attacks around the world.

Ibrahim Savant said he was taking part in a "blessed raid" and was prepared to sacrifice his life "cheaply".

Waheed Zaman told the camera that he had not been brainwashed into taking part.

"I'm warning you today, so tomorrow you have no cause for complaints. Remember, as you kill us, you will be killed and as you bomb us, you will be bombed," he said.

In his video, Khan jabbed his finger, predicting "floods of martyrdom operations"

He said: "I would like to thank Allah for giving me this opportunity to bless me with this Shahada [martyrdom]. I ask Allah to forgive me for all my sins, to accept me as a martyr. I ask Allah to help the Mujahedeen everywhere in every way."

During each of their three trials, the men said the films were hoaxes - part of Ali's supposed plan to make a propaganda film about the plight of Muslims.

Ali claimed that he wanted to set off firework-style explosions to scare people in a propaganda stunt. The films were part of that protest, he said.

In relation to this defence, Savant, Khan and Zaman admitted conspiring to commit a public nuisance.

But prosecutors showed Woolwich Crown Court further evidence of the men's involvement in a plot.

Arafat Khan helped buy materials for the bomb factory.

Savant had two valid passports - but had applied for a third so that he had a "clean" identity.

Zaman had emptied his ISA savings account as part of his preparations.

All three had been in the bomb factory where the martyrdom videos were recorded.

"With varying degrees of sophistication, these men were making preparations for the final journey of their lives," said Mr Wright.

"They were active as a cell in London. They were awaiting further instructions."