LONDON — Three men accused of plotting to bring down trans-Atlantic passenger jets with liquid explosives pleaded guilty to planning to set off bombs but maintain they did not seek to destroy airliners, prosecutors said Monday.

Abdulla Ahmed Ali, 27, Assad Sarwar, 28, Tanvir Hussain, 27, and five co-defendants are charged with a plot to kill hundreds of passengers at the height of the summer vacation season by detonating explosives concealed in soft-drink bottles on flights over the Atlantic Ocean or U.S. cities.

The unraveling of the alleged plot led to tough new restrictions on the amount of liquids and gels passengers can take in their carry-on bags.

Prosecutors said Ali, Sarwar and Hussain had admitted to a charge of conspiring to set off explosions but say that they are innocent of the more serious charge of conspiracy to murder.

The eight men are still being tried on the murder conspiracy charge, which carries a maximum life sentence.

Ali and Sarwar have told the court they wanted to set off explosions as a publicity stunt to promote an anti-Western documentary. Ali said he hoped a small, nonfatal, bombing — at Britain's Houses of Parliament, at an oil refinery, or at an airport — would jolt Londoners and draw attention to his movie, which would be released online.

Ali, Sarwar, Hussain and co-defendants Ibrahim Savant, 27, and Umar Islam, 30, have also admitted to "conspiring to cause a public nuisance" by publishing alleged martyrdom videos, the prosecution said.

The Crown Prosecution Service did not say when the guilty pleas were entered or what sentences the lesser charges carry. Defense attorneys did not address the jury Monday.

The eight men are accused of stockpiling enough hydrogen peroxide to create 20 liquid bombs, although they did not create any viable explosives.

"We did not want to kill or injure anyone," Ali testified last month.

Prosecutor Peter Wright scoffed at that idea Monday, calling the defendants' accounts "inherently improbable." He said that the attacks were imminent when the men were arrested in August 2006 in raids in and around London. The defendants had even prepared the martyrdom videos to be shown after the airline bombings.

The men were "almost ready to go," Wright told Woolwich Crown Court in London.

"This was no propaganda video, no documentary, no exercise or stunt — this was for real," he said. "Human beings ready, able and willing to commit carnage for the sake of Islam."

He accused the defendants of wanting "to murder as many civilian passengers as possible upon as many civilian aircraft as possible.

"Each was prepared to kill and to do so on a wholly indiscriminate basis, irrespective of age, belief, sex and to do so without the slightest blink of an eye," Wright said.

The attack "was intended to be an act of terrorism to not only alter aviation history but also to strike a blow on behalf of radicalized Islamists the world over," he said.

In his opening statement in April, Wright said officers found a computer memory stick in Ali's pocket with details of flights from London's Heathrow Airport to Chicago, New York, Boston, Denver, Miami and Montreal.

He said that there did not appear to be any interest in return flights.