Profiles: Operation Overt


Operation Overt was a massive security operation to smash what prosecutors said was a plot to murder people using liquid bombs on planes. Who were the key men convicted over three trials at Woolwich Crown Court?


Abdulla Ahmed Ali, the leader of the plot, was born in Newham, London.

He told the court he had become more politically and religiously active as a teenager, but said he was not an extremist.

An engineering graduate, he chose not to work after leaving City University in 2002, instead pursuing business opportunities in Pakistan.

In 2003 he travelled to Pakistan, in association with a British charity, and helped in refugee camps for people fleeing fighting in Afghanistan.

Married with a two-year-old son, he was shocked by "appalling" conditions in the camps, where he witnessed many people dying.

Later, he came to believe aid work was an ineffective way of helping, and decided to tackle what he believed was the root cause, Western foreign policy.

His defence said the plot had been an audacious stunt intended to direct public attention to a documentary intended to change opinion on foreign policy.

The "suicide videos" he and his fellow conspirators had made were to be combined with graphic footage for a documentary that they would post on Youtube, he said.

He admitted he had researched on the internet how to make an explosive device using a drinks bottle, hydrogen peroxide and batteries, but said he had had no intention of blowing up a plane, or hurting anyone.

Ali, 27, is thought to have learned his bomb-making skills in Pakistan - he was there at the same time as the leaders of the two 2005 London suicide bomb plots.


Described as the gang's quartermaster, Sarwar was responsible for buying and hiding the bomb-making equipment, some of which he hid in woods in High Wycombe. The security services codenamed him "Rich Food" during their surveillance.

In court he denied he was part of a plot to blow up aircraft, saying suicide bombers ended up "in hell fire." He did not record a video denouncing western foreign policy.

Born and raised in High Wycombe and describing himself as "shy", Sarwar, 24, turned down a place at university in Chichester because he was homesick.

His second attempt at Brunel University, first with a sports science course, then earth sciences, also failed because he found the work too hard.

Sarwar said he suffered low self-esteem and thought he was "useless," following these failures.

He had a number of jobs including for Royal Mail, and BT, which he left as he said he could not cope with the work. Sarwar's journey can be traced from when he met Ali in Pakistan while helping at a refugee camp in early 2003 alongside fellow defendant Umar Islam.

Sarwar described Ali as having "leading characteristics," while he was of "weak character."

They met again after at lectures at an east London school and discussed the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq and were both frustrated by the numbers of refugees.

Sarwar was placed under surveillance and was seen buying household items that could be used to make bombs.

Following arrests, police recovered a tape containing martyrdom videos of six of the other men which he had hidden in his garage. During the trial he admitted learning how to make bombs while in Pakistan.


Hussain , 27, was described as a fashion-conscious person who stayed out with friends and said his life was "just having fun."

He said he agreed to appear in an al Qaeda-style militant video, but denied it was part of a set of martyrdom films. But prosecutors say that he was a key member of the team, helping Ali at key moments of the conspiracy.

The security services watched him and Ali making devices in the bomb factory and buying tools for bomb-making. Hussain also sent coded messages to Ali in Pakistan as he researched chemical recipes for the devices.

The mystery surrounding Hussain is that he took part in the plot even though he knew that MI5 were interested in him - both he and his brother were stopped and questioned at different times.

In his defence, Hussain said that Ali, whom he knew from college, told him of his plan to make a documentary protesting against foreign policy, accompanied by a "harmless" explosive device.

He said he was "taken aback" by the plans - but said Ali told him: "It ain't going to be nothing big, just a loud bang to cause panic and alarm."

In court his defence queried whether he had asked Mr Ali if he intended to kill anyone.

Mr Hussain replied: "I didn't ask him. I know Ahmed wouldn't do nothing like that."

The following men all pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to commit a public nuisance by recording what appeared to be martyrdom videos.

The jury was unable to reach verdicts on the main charges of conspiracy to murder.


Islam, 30, formerly Brian Young, was found not guilty of knowing about the plan to bomb planes - but was comvicted at retrial of being part of a plot to murder people.

He became a Muslim in 2001 and later changed his name by deed poll so he could enter Saudi Arabia to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca, known as the Hajj.

Islam was close to Ali and in his defence he said he was actually planning an overland trip to Pakistan with him and Tanvir Hussain. His wife was also pregnant at the time of his arrest.

Umar Islam was one of the seven defendants to work for a now defunct medical charity in East London, and he travelled to Pakistan with Sarwar to help with refugee relief efforts.


Khan was found not guilty of being part of the plan to bomb planes - but was convicted at his third trial of being part of a plot to murder people.

The court heard he allegedly bought equipment for the bombs and made a martyrdom video.

Born in Pakistan in 1981, he lived in Walthamstow, and went to school with Ali. He failed to complete a business course at Middlesex University.

He worked at a mobile phone shop, but resigned in 2006 after his branch came under investigation.

His defence said he would never have agreed to be a suicide bomber as he was engaged and planning to get married in April 2007.

Khan described his lifestyle of going out clubbing, visiting snooker halls, smoking dope and doing hard drugs such as heroin.

In February 2005 he was approached by MI5 agents who asked him to spy for them by keeping an eye on people at his local mosque.

Khan never agreed - but some time later the security services stopped and interviewed him when he was returning from Pakistan. One of the officers he had met before appeared and asked him if recognised a number of people.

Khan had visited the bomb factory twice before his arrest - but he said he was persuaded to record a video by Ali. He said his script was prepared for him to read.

Surveillance at the house captured Ali and Tanvir Hussain complaining in strong language about Khan's performance on camera: "Absolutely shit bruv. He didn't even read it properly... he didn't know what was going on... just did a quick rush job."


Zaman was found not guilty of being part of the plan to bomb planes - but was convicted at his third trial of being part of a plot to murder people.

The Walthamstow man also recorded a video threatening violence against the West.

Ali asked Zaman to record the video after they met at an east London mosque.

Zaman said he had strong political feelings and he was chosen by Ali because he was a confident public speaker. He was a former head of a student Islamic Society at London Metropolitan University.

In court when asked what the purpose of his martyrdom video was, he said it would raise public awareness of the oppression of Muslims.

He added: "It was for the government to change its foreign policy and to make the public aware that the problems happening in the UK are directly because of foreign policy.

"Not because people hate democracy, freedom and nightclubs and stuff like that."

His defence said he did not know what Ali was planning and he said the video was a "silly mistake." His main motivation had been anger over the war in Lebanon.


Savant was found not guilty of being part of the plan to bomb planes - but was convicted at his third trial of being part of a plot to murder people.

Previously known as Oliver Savant, he changed his name when he converted to Islam in 1998 - and prosecutors claimed he was a radical obsessed with martyrdom.

The court heard the East London man had a collection of horrific DVDs, including beheadings marked "ha ha ha".

He recorded his personal video at the same time as Ali and Tanvir Hussain.

Prosecutors told the court he wrote a farewell letter to his wife - but the defence said it was written soon after his marriage and had nothing to do with suicide.

In his defence Savant said he had been enlisted to make a video by Ali, who he claimed manipulated him.

Savant said he was also persuaded to make his video after he heard his friend, Waheed Zaman, would "star" in it. Ali wrote the script.

He denied he was radicalised and said he did not believe what he was saying in the video.