London, Sept.9 : Up to five potential suicide bombers may still be at large in Britain.
The Telegraph quoted security services as admitting to this alarming development after the convictions of three British Muslims accused of plotting the world's biggest terrorist atrocity. Police admit that up to five would-be bombers may still be on the loose, as a bugged conversation between the plotters in their east London bomb factory revealed they had recruited up to 18 people. To date, only 13 people have been arrested in connection with the plot.
Senior officers believe the "key players" have been rounded up, but admit they would be "unwise" to suggest there were no more terrorists connected with the gang.
British police and prosecutors were locked in crisis meetings last night after what they believed to be the strongest terrorism case ever presented to a court was rejected by a jury, which will prove to a severe blow to Britain's anti-terrorist effort.
At the end of a 10 million pound investigation and trial lasting more than two years, jurors were unable to decide whether or not a group of British Muslims were part of a plot to blow transatlantic airliners out of the sky, The Times reported.
The outcome of the case - which featured al-Qaeda-style martyrdom videos made by six defendants - will be seen as a severe blow to Britain's anti-terrorist effort.
Three men were convicted of conspiracy to murder, but the jury was deadlocked on the central allegation, that terrorists planned to use liquid bombs to destroy aircraft en route from Heathrow to cities in the United States and Canada.
The jury's indecision in the face of a detailed Crown case raises questions about the public perception of the terror threat that could undermine government attempts to introduce further security legislation.
The Crown Prosecution Service indicated that it was likely to seek the retrial of seven men in an attempt to prove that there was a plan to attack aircraft and kill thousands of people.
The discovery of the plot, in August 2006, led to a global security clampdown at airports that paralyzed international travel. The alert resulted in restrictions on carrying liquids in cabin baggage that remain in force and are unlikely to be relaxed.
Retrials are being sought even though the jury at Woolwich Crown Court convicted three of the eight defendants of conspiracy to murder.
Andy Hayman, former assistant commissioner for special operations, said: "This was one of our strongest cases - there will have to be an intensive debrief. But now is not the time for that, now is the time to prepare for retrials."
The men convicted of conspiracy to murder were Ahmed Abdulla Ali and Tanvir Hussain, both 27 and from Walthamstow, northeast London, and Assad Sarwar, 28, of High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. The four men on whom the jury failed to reach verdicts were Ibrahim Savant, 27, Arafat Waheed Khan, 27, Waheed Zaman, 24, and Umar Islam, 30.
Mohammed Gulzar, 27, from Birmingham, was acquitted on charges of conspiracy to murder and conspiring to murder by blowing up aircraft.
He had vigorously denied any involvement. The Crown had alleged that Gulzar, who arrived in Britain using a false name during July 2006, was a key figure in the alleged airline plot but the jury rejected that case.
Home Office sources said that Gulzar would be the subject of a control order and it is expected that police in connection with a serious criminal offence committed in Birmingham in 2002 will question him. Another key figure in the plot, Rashid Rauf, is on the run in Pakistan after escaping from custody.