Rashid Rauf, the alleged mastermind of the alleged plot, was arrested in Pakistan shortly before the UK arrests, and his arrest was said to have triggered the arrests in Britain. Rauf is still imprisoned in Pakistan, and UK officials have apparently been trying to arrange for his extradition.
Although officials in both countries have repeatedly implied that an extradition deal is in the works, recent reports describe the extradition of Rashid Rauf as "conditionally stalled". It's as good a description as any.
Pakistan reportedly wants 8 Balochi nationals in return for Rauf, and routinely imposes the death penalty, so the British are reluctant to hand anyone over to the tender mercies of the Pakistanis. Meanwhile Rashid Rauf supposedly awaits trial in Pakistan, but his trial appears to be on indefinite hold. And the Pakistanis are saying that even if the Brits were willing to hand over the 8 Balochis, Rashid Rauf is not going anywhere until his trial is over. Or so the official story runs.
But there's an unreported subtext, an aspect of this case which has not just been unreported but actively suppressed: the alleged plot was so unlikely that it must be considered impossible.
The alleged plot, as described in breathless detail by US and UK officials such as Michael Chertoff and John Reid, involved attacks on as many as a dozen aircraft simultaneously, with the objective of killing "hundreds of thousands of people", as Chertoff said at the time.
We've been told that the plotters were planning to smuggle ordinary household liquids such as acetone and hydrogen peroxide onto airplanes, mix them together in the sinks of the airplanes' restrooms, and produce explosives capable of knocking all those planes out of the sky simultaneously.
But it didn't take much research to find out that the reaction which makes explosives out of acetone and hydrogen peroxide takes at least several hours (some sources say two or three days!) You'll forgive me if I don't link to any of the bomb-making recipes, especially since the FBI considers that a serious offense now, despite the fact that some of the most accurate bomb-making recipes reside on the FBI's own website. But let's not get bogged down in tricky administrative details!
Then a bit of math revealed that the quantity of explosive needed to puncture the fuselage of a plane is at least fifteen times as much as anyone could make in a tiny airplane sink. So, unless each of the accused plotters had fifteen or twenty accomplices -- who could all find sinks to work in without being detected -- there would be no way for a plotter to make enough explosives to take down a plane.
But at Heathrow, officials imposed strict security anyway, even after all the so-called plotters had been arrested. And airline passengers are bound by very strict rules to this day, supposedly to defeat the threat that the alleged liquid bombers allegedly posed.
But it's all a sham. It couldn't possibly be anything else. The only interesting question remaining is: What kind of a sham is it?
Either the Brits are lying about everything and there never was such a plot, or else there was a plot but it was impossible to pull off and therefore of little or no danger. Certainly there was no way any number of terrorists making bombs from acetone and peroxide could kill hundreds of thousands of people! There's really no way -- barring outrageous assistance from the flight crew -- that anyone could make a peroxide bomb on a plane at all.
Nonetheless, Rashid Rauf is still being held in Pakistan on multiple charges.
In addition to his terror-related charges, he's also accused of carrying forged identity papers. The terror charges were dropped in December, then reinstated, and his case was delayed because the police didn't file a charge sheet. Later when they did the paperwork, we learned that Rashid Rauf is accused of possessing 29 bottles of hydrogen peroxide for the purposes of terrorism. His trial -- off and on and off -- was scheduled to resume April 16th, but he hasn't appeared in court, then or since.
The nature of the mechanism whereby Rashid Rauf's 29 bottles of peroxide in Pakistan were supposed to be used in attacking airliners leaving Heathrow for the USA remains to be explained, as do the circumstances of his arrest, and the nature of the trigger whereby his arrest caused a wave of arrests in Britain. We've had a number of reports on these issues and they have differed greatly in ways that have never been explained, satisfactorily or otherwise. The entire case is strange from one end to the other.
It was widely reported that Rashid Rauf was the mastermind of the plot, although in some accounts he was described as the mastermind's assistant, and in other versions he was represented as merely a messenger. But he was always portrayed as the al-Q'aeda connection, for there never was any doubt that this alleged plot was the work of al-Q'aeda.
And perhaps because al-Q'aeda was established by the CIA through their friendly cutout, the Pakistani intelligence service (ISI), and Rashid Rauf is alleged to have ISI connections, it came as a surprise to see reports indicating that Rashid Rauf also had connections to the banned terrorist group JeM.
How and when was he arrested? Accounts differ. How was the news of his arrest connected with the arrests made in Britain? Accounts differ. Some say he was arrested a week before the others and tortured by the ISI until he revealed the names of those who were arrested in Britain.
Others say he was his arrest happened just before the others and was noted by an associate who sent a message to the alleged plotters in Britain -- telling them to go ahead with their plan! -- or that Rashid Rauf sent such a message himself. The "go" message would have come as a shock to the alleged plotters, since only one of them had any airline tickets, and some didn't even have passports. But it was allegedly intercepted by the British authorities, who had supposedly had all these people under surveillance for months, and this, we are told, was the reason for their arrest.
Having spent nine months arranging for the accused plotters to enter a plea, the swift British justice system now shifts into overdrive, with the trial scheduled to begin in April of 2008.
British authorities attribute the long pre-trial period to an abundance of evidence. But an enormous police search of the woods near where some of the suspects lived was called off in December, apparently because of the cost of the investigation (nearing 30 million pounds -- roughly $60M) and the apparent fact that they have apparently found very little -- if anything at all -- in their previous months of searching the woods.
For a recap on the accused, the charges and the pleas, here's the most recent report from the BBC (slightly edited for grammar and punctuation):
Accused deny airliner bomb plot
Twelve men accused of plotting to bring down an airliner with a bomb have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.There's a bit of new information in this report, such as the fact that Mohammed Usman Saddique is in trouble because of the names of the tracks on a CD. But not much.
They denied charges of conspiracy to murder and conspiracy to cause an explosion on an aircraft between January and August last year.
The defendants also denied other charges in an indictment which contained 27 counts.
They are due to face trial at Woolwich Crown Court in April 2008.
The accused were: Abdul Ahmed Ali, 26, from Walthamstow, east London; Assad Sarwar, 26, of High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire; Tanvir Hussain, 26, of Leyton, east London; Mohammed Gulzar, 25, of Barking, east London; Ibrahim Savant, 26, of Walthamstow; Arafat Waheed Khan, 26, of Walthamstow; Waheed Zaman, 22, of Walthamstow; Adam Khatib, 20, of Walthamstow; Umar Islam (also known as Brian Young), 29, of High Wycombe; Donald Douglas Stewart-Whyte, 20, of High Wycombe; Mohammed Shamin Uddin, 36, of Stoke Newington, north London and Nabeel Hussain, 23, of Chingford, east London.
Additionally, Nabeel Hussain is accused of involved in the preparation of terrorism by meeting Mr Ali, having a will contemplating a violent death, and taking out a bank loan worth £25,000.
Mr Ali, Tanvir Hussain, Mr Savant, Mr Khan, Mr Khatib, Mr Islam and Mr Sarwar denied separate charges under the Explosives Substances Act.
Other charges on the indictment include possessing articles for use in terrorism.
A 13th man, Mohammed Usman Saddique, 25, of Walthamstow, will face a separate trial.
He denied being involved in the preparation of terrorism by owning a number of mobile phones as well as a CD containing titles such as Bombs And More.
Abdul Ali's wife, Cossor Ali, 25, will also face a trial on her own.
She denied failing to disclose information which could have prevented a terrorist act.
All of the accused, except Cossor Ali and Nabeel Hussain, who are on bail, appeared by video link from prison.
In other recent Liquid Bomber news, four British newspaper groups have agreed to pay substantial libel damages to Abdul Rauf for having falsely reported that he was detained for questioning over suspected involvement in the plot. Two of the papers had previously printed retractions and apologies. There was a similar report in the Turkish Press at the time, but there's been no correction or apology from Turkish media, let alone a libel settlement. Nor has there been any mention of the fact that Abdul Rauf is Rashid Rauf's father.
This is the second time British newspapers have made substantial payments over inaccuracies in their reporting. Amjad Sarwar was paid £170,000 in December after British papers falsely reported that he had been arrested in August along with the others. Amjad Sarwar's brother, Assad Sarwar, is one of the twelve facing "conspiracy to murder" charges.
It's tough not to speculate that the British media may be growing tired of huge libel suits and wondering how they could have been led so badly astray. And it's also tough not to speculate that the longer Rashid Rauf stays in Pakistan, the better it might be for UK authorities, who could be severely embarrassed by whatever he might say in a British courtroom. At this point it appears that the most incriminating thing he could say would be "Yes, I know the bombing plot was impossible, but I convinced all these aspirational jihadis to pretend they were planning to do it, so that you would have somebody to arrest when you needed to claim you'd made a major achievement and inject another jolt of fear into the bogus War on bogus Terror."
Sixteenth in a series.