( AP ) - Eight British men planned to set off homemade bombs aboard at least seven airliners flying over the Atlantic to the United States and Canada, hoping to kill hundreds in a mammoth terror attack, a prosecutor said Thursday as their trial opened.
Prosecutor Peter Wright said the men had plotted coordinated strikes on United Airlines, American Airlines and Air Canada flights at the height of the summer vacation season in 2006.
Details of seven specific flights from London's Heathrow airport to Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Washington, Toronto and Montreal were stored on a computer memory stick, he said in the opening statements of a trial expected to last around six months.
Major disruptions were caused at British airports as hundreds of flights were ordered grounded when police arrested the suspects in August 2006 in the alleged plot to use explosive liquids to blow up planes.
"The attack they contemplated was not long off" when police swept in, Wright said.
Discovery of the purported plot led to tight new restrictions on the items that passengers carry on board planes.
The group hoped to recruit as many as 18 suicide bombers and did not confine their ambitions to blowing up just seven airplanes, Wright alleged.
He said the seven targeted flights would have all departed within three hours of each other and been in the air at the same time. Each would have held between 240 to 285 passengers and crew.
"The plan was designed to bring about what would have been a civilian death toll on an almost unprecedented scale," Wright said.
He said the plot was intended to be a "violent and deadly statement of intent" and designed to "inflict heavy casualties on an unwitting civilian population all in the name of Islam."
Wright told jurors the suspects hoped to smuggle hydrogen peroxide-based explosives on board, disguised with food dye to look like soft drinks or mouthwash. Using other innocuous pieces of hand luggage, like disposable camera batteries, improvised bombs would be assembled and detonated mid-flight, he said.
"They are men with the cold-eyed certainty of the fanatic, prepared to board an aircraft with the necessary ingredients and equipment to construct and detonate a device that would bring about not only the loss of their own life but also all of those who happened by chance to be taking the same journey," Wright said.
Following his arrest, Abdulla Ahmed Ali, 27, was found to have a computer memory stick that stored vast amounts of detail on the times, aircraft types, departure terminals and flight paths for daily services from London to North America, the prosecutors said.
The seven specific flights were highlighted within the files, but Ali had also logged details of other flights to Boston, Denver and Miami, Wright said. "They did not confine their ambitions to the seven flights."
Wright said the men had not checked details of return journeys. "They didn't appear interested in flying back to the United Kingdom on a return flight," he said.
All eight men, each of whom has family ties to Pakistan, are accused of conspiracy to murder and a charge of planning an act of violence likely to endanger the safety of an aircraft. Both charges carry maximum sentences of life in prison.
The defendants are: Ali, 27; Assad Sarwar, 27; Tanvir Hussain, 27; Mohammed Gulzar, 26; Ibrahim Savant, 27; Arafat Waheed Khan, 26; Waheed Zaman, 23 and Umar Islam, 29.