LONDON — A jury convicted three young Britons on Monday of conspiracy to commit murder in an alleged al-Qaida plot to blow up passenger jets bound for North America but acquitted the accused ringleader and failed to reach a verdict for four others arrested.
Moreover, the jury did not reach a verdict on a central allegation that led to worldwide restrictions on liquids in carry-on luggage: that the suspects planned to explode hydrogen peroxide-based bombs on seven trans-Atlantic flights in midair, an alleged attempt to match the carnage of Sept. 11, 2001.
In a statement Monday evening, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith welcomed the guilty verdicts for Abdulla Ahmed Ali, 27; Assad Sarwar, 28, and Tanvir Hussain, 27, all Britons of Pakistani descent. She said that authorities "saved countless lives" by disrupting the group, which was exposed by surveillance conducted by British, U.S. and Pakistani investigators.
Nonetheless, officials expressed disappointment that the jury was not convinced by evidence that included clandestine intercepts of suspects in a safe house filming "martyrdom" videos, working with explosive components and discussing ways to bypass airport security.
The jurors found that Ali, Sarwar and Hussain conspired to bomb unknown targets, apparently based on evidence that the group scouted refineries and other sites around London in addition to the flights bound for the United States and Canada.
Prosecutors said they would have to decide whether to retry the seven on the allegation of targeting planes. The four who were not convicted Monday remain in jail because they pleaded guilty to lesser charges of conspiring to cause a public nuisance.
The defendants denied any violent intent despite their seven videos, which resembled the farewell messages filmed by suicide bombers who killed 52 people on the transport system here in 2005. During the five-month trial in Woolwich Crown Court, the defendants testified that they only planned to set off harmless devices at the airport as part of a publicity stunt to protest mistreatment of Muslims — a claim some jurors apparently accepted.