Congratulations are then in order to the Crown Prosecution Service for second time around managing to convince a jury that the three main ringleaders of the "liquid explosives plot" had indeed intended to target airplanes. There was never much doubt that they had indeed been plotting an attack; the devil was in the detail of just what they were planning to target, and the case that it was to be transatlantic flights was flimsy at best, amounting it still seems to little more than the fact that when arrested Abdulla Ahmed Ali had a USB memory stick with flight times on it, as well as an e-mail, supposedly written in code to a handler in Pakistan where Ali made clear that all he had to do was "sort out opening timetable and bookings".
Not that you would have noticed from the celebrations from the authorities and also from the press that the "liquid doom" plot was indeed viable, but this second trial was also a miserable failure in as far as convincing a jury again that the underlings, including those who recorded "martyrdom videos" were guilty not only of conspiracy to murder on aircraft, but also conspiracy to murder persons unknown. Only Umar Islam was convicted of the second charge, the jury hung on the first; the three others were cleared of the first charge while they were hung on the second, and lastly Donald Stewart-Whyte, who had only converted to Islam four months before his arrest, was cleared of any involvement in the plot. This, it's worth remembering, is what the police are again calling "the strongest terrorism case ever presented to a court". This strongest ever case has now been presented to a jury twice, and it's still only succeeded in convicting 3 individuals of conspiracy to murder on two separate charges, and one on a single charge.
Also interesting is that this time round everyone is openly accusing Rashid Rauf of being the plotters' main conduit to al-Qaida, which just shows how you can smear the dead, or rather, supposedly dead, of anything you like. Suddenly Rauf is the new Khalid Sheikh Mohammed of international jihadist terrorism, not just helping the liquid plotters but also the 7/7 and 21/7 crews. Rauf, of course, mysteriously disappeared from Pakistani custody while visiting a mosque, then equally mysteriously turned up, apparently dead, in a missile strike. His family, quite reasonably considering that no body has been forthcoming, think that he's either still alive and his "death" is to cover up Pakistani embarrassment, or that Rauf has instead entered the American "black" system, or at least the parts which haven't been shut down, a view that I'm partial to, even if I dislike believing in a conspiracy theory.
It remains the fact that there was no need whatsoever to retry the main three convicted again today; the sentences that they would have received, which have been deferred and they will presumably now receive, likely to run concurrently with the sentences to be handed down for the new convictions, would have been substantial, likely to be in the 30 year range. The real reason for doing so was two-fold: both to prove that there definitely had been a "liquid bomb" plot, regardless of whether or not it could actually have been carried out, and also to ensure that the government and security services were not embarrassed again for hyping up a plot out of all proportion, ala the ricin fiasco and the other plots which haven't even got past the arrest stage. Hence tomorrow the Telegraph is running with the front page legend that up to 10,000 could have died, despite the fact that only four people have actually been convicted. They keep claiming that up to 18 could have taken part in the attacks, but where are these supposed people and how can they even begin to suggest that was possible when they can't even convince a jury that those whom recorded videos were out to commit "mass-murder on an unimaginable" scale as John Reid so famously put it?
It would be even worse if the government were to use today's verdicts to rally support for the war in Afghanistan as Alan Johnson already seems to be doing. The whole plot in fact illustrates the folly of what we are doing in that benighted country. Not only does the exact foreign policy we continue to insist on enrage the likes of Abdulla Ahmed Ali and Assad Sarwar, if not radicalising them entirely then sowing the seeds which lead to them coming into contact with those of like minds who then poison them further, the policy is even further counter-productive because it's in the wrong country. What's happening in Afghanistan is a civil war which we still seem to imagine is a global one; what's happening in Pakistan rather, is a civil war with global dimensions. This isn't even to begin to suggest that what we're doing in Afghanistan we should start doing across the border, but it is about being honest both with ourselves and with them that the real problem is in the autonomous areas of the Pakistani state where they do still exist safe havens. We need to help Pakistan without getting ourselves fully involved. Tackling Salafist ideology involves not walking into exactly what it feeds upon: Western states acting like bulls in a china shop. When we finally learn that we might not have to keep pretending that we're all doomed by 500ml bottles of soft drinks.
Labels: Abdulla Ahmed Ali, al-Qaida, civil liberties, jihadists, John Reid, liquid bombs plot, media reporting, security services, terror, terror suspects