Terror suspects planned to use liquid explosives to blow up planes
Terrorism suspects plotting to blow up American planes headed from the United Kingdom to the United States were planning to smuggle hydrogen peroxide-based liquid/slurry explosives in modified sports drink bottles, U.S. News has learned. The suspects had figured out a way to modify the bottoms of the factory-sealed bottles and fill them with the explosives that were similar to those used in other recent attacks in London, and at least nine planes were targets, the official said. So far, British police have arrested at least 24 suspects in the plot, which had been months in the planning.
At least some of the suspects had ties to those involved in the July 7, 2005, coordinated bombings on the London subways, a law enforcement source told U.S. News. British police were watching the suspects for weeks and had to make some "gut wrenching" decisions on how long they could wait before making the arrests, this law enforcement source said. Several of the plotters made trips to and from Pakistan for meetings, recruiting, and training. British police decided to make the arrests after some of these men, believed essential to the plot, returned to the United Kingdom. This source told U.S. News that the British police realized that the suspects were "accelerating" their efforts "quicker than we realized" and that the subjects were close to "getting ready to get on planes to do it."
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said that the suspects were in the "final stages" of carrying out the attacks. "There were very concrete steps underway to execute all elements of the plan," he said.
In a search of the suspects' homes, U.S. News has learned, British police have found low-concentration hydrogen peroxide, sugar solutions, peanut butter, and in one instance, nine tins of baked beans under a suspect's bed. Now it's up to the explosives experts to figure out whether these ingredients were intended for bomb-making purposes or, as one law enforcement official said, "Perhaps the guy just likes peanut butter." One theory is that the suspects may have intended to use the containers of peanut butter and baked beans to make the bombs look innocuous. The tins of baked beans were X-rayed, and said one official, "By golly, they all had baked beans." Common household ingredients such as peanut butter and sugar solutions could be modified to provide the fuel and oxygen needed to make explosives. Law enforcement officials discount reports in the press that hair gel was one of the ingredients intended for the explosives.
British forensic authorities are playing catch-up because the arrests were made earlier than anticipated, because key players in the plot all had arrived in London after making trips to Pakistan, putting British police under pressure to bust the plot before it went too far, officials say. So while they have found possible precursors of explosives, they have not found any of the actual devices themselves, sources say. Law enforcement officials told U.S. News that the United States brought pressure to bear on Pakistan to make a key arrest, leading to a "domino" effect in Britain and the arrests there.