LONDON — Three men accused of plotting to blow up trans-Atlantic airliners in 2006 have pleaded guilty to conspiring to set off bombs, but denied targeting planes or attempting to cause injuries, prosecutors told a London court Monday as one of Britain's most important terrorism trials neared its end.
The three men — Abdulla Ahmed Ali, 27, Assad Sarwar, 28, Tanvir Hussain, 27 — and five other British Muslim defendants have pleaded not guilty to the most serious charge against them, conspiracy to murder.
Prosecutor Peter Wright dismissed the changed pleas, saying they sought to disguise the men's "true motive" of "wholesale murder above the skies of Europe and North America."
Ali and Sarwar testified during the trial that they intended to set off bombs at Parliament or other high-profile sites. They said the bombs were not intended to cause injury, but were to be a "publicity stunt" in protest of British participation in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Defense attorneys are to begin their final arguments today.
Prosecutors contend that the eight defendants, whose trial began in April, are responsible for the most ambitious terror plot ever uncovered in Britain, which led to permanent restrictions on passengers carrying liquids or gels onto planes.
The men planned to smuggle liquid explosives and detonators onto at least seven United Airlines, American Airlines and Air Canada jets bound for the United States and blow up the planes, causing thousands of deaths, according to prosecutors.
Among the evidence against the defendants are videotapes seized by police shortly after the men were arrested in August 2006. Prosecutors contend the videos were martyrdom messages intended for release after their suicide attacks. In one, Ali, the alleged gang leader, invokes Osama bin Laden and threatens to leave "body parts decorating the streets" of Britain.
Wright said the defendants assembled enough chemicals and other materials to make at least 20 bombs hidden in soft drink bottles.