'Martyr' Videos Shown in British Terror Trial
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
Eight men are on trial in a London courtroom for plotting to blow up transatlantic flights bound for the U.S. and Canada. They are British Muslims alleged to have been an Islamist terrorist cell that was broken up in 2006. The prosecution has been making its opening statement last week and today, charging among other things that the men planned to board seven airliners and detonate explosive mixtures they'd injected into soft drink bottles, that most of them made martyrdom videos to be viewed after their suicidal attacks and that one of men was not a foot soldier like the others - he didn't make a video. He was said to have flown to Britain from South Africa not long before the bombings were to take place.
Sean O'Neill is the crime and security editor for the British daily The Times. He's covering this case, and he joins us from London. And Sean O'Neill, first of all, according to the prosecution, how far along was this plot to blow up airplanes?
Mr. SEAN O'NEILL (Crime and Security Editor, The Times): I think the prosecution feels this was fairly far advanced, Robert. There's no exact timing and no exact day as to when the attacks may have taken place, but what has been outlined to us is that in the three weeks after the arrival of a fairly key figure from South Africa, we had a real acceleration in the preparations. They had bought a flat for cash, which they were using as a bomb factory. They were experimenting and making quite ingenious devices, recruiting people to act as suicide bombers and were making martyrdom videos.
SIEGEL: And in those martyrdom videos, what did they say about this plot or their intentions?
Mr. O'NEILL: Very repetitive statements, very tense young men sat in front of a camera, a black flag with Arabic script behind them, all dressed in black wearing head scarves and kind of hectoring tone - pointing, jabbing their fingers all saying we are doing this as revenge for the actions of the United States and its allies, the British in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in the Muslim lands. Repeatedly saying, if you do not leave the Muslim lands, then this is what you can expect. We have - with very vivid descriptions of tornados of death and destructions sweeping upon the West. You know, quite sort of bloodcurdling stuff, you know, we love death as much as you love life.
SIEGEL: What about this man Mohammed Gulzar, who is the one who flew in from South Africa. And you say after that point, the prosecutions claims the plot accelerated. What's claimed about him? Where is he from? What does he do?
Mr. O'NEILL: He is British. The interesting thing about him is he arrives in Britain on about 18th of July 2006. He comes from South Africa via the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, arrives in Britain with his wife under a false name. He's got a South African passport, South African identity, documents, but when he's eventually arrested and fingerprinted, they discovered who he really is. He hasn't told them very much at all. He has told them a story that he's a newlywed, that he was on a kind of a honeymoon, but that he was also part of an Islamic missionary group called Tablighi Jamaat. Now, the prosecution's case is that the arrival of this guy really spurred on the preparations for the attack.
SIEGEL: The explosives that they were supposed to be using, according to the prosecution, involved liquids and soft drink bottles. This is why we don't - we aren't allowed to carry fluids anymore on airplanes. It was this case that ended the idea of carrying on any liquids with you.
Mr. O'NEILL: This is absolutely the plot that closed down airports all around the world and caused chaos in August 2006 and still a reason why we carry tiny little 100-mil bottles around in clear plastic bags when we go to airports.
SIEGEL: Yes. Will the government claim, by the way, that these explosives involving hydrogen peroxide and the Tang, the most famous...
Mr. O'NEILL: Yeah.
SIEGEL: ...by-product of the space program many years ago.
Mr. O'NEILL: Yeah.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIEGEL: Does it actually work? Could you blow up a plane with these ingredients?
Mr. O'NEILL: We've seen a test explosion in the opening of the prosecution case, and it did work, according to the recipe created by these guys. You know, they hadn't absolutely finessed it and we're not sure if they'd actually tested it, but the scientists had time to work on it. They blew it up in a protective chamber. The first one that they blew up, blew out the mini camera that was in the chamber. The second one cracked the security glass. So, it was a fairly powerful explosion. Yeah.
SIEGEL: Sean O'Neill, thanks a lot for talking with us about it.
Mr. O'NEILL: Thank you very much.
SIEGEL: Sean O'Neill, crime and security editor for The Times of London speaking to us about the trial of eight British Muslims charged with a plot to blow up airliners. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.