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Britain Names 19 Of 24 Suspects In Air Terror Plot
Scene of Crime Officers outside a cordoned house in High Wycombe, England after a massive security operation resulted in a number of arrests across the United Kingdom, Friday Aug. 11, 2006. The Bank of England froze the assets of 19 people early Friday, naming them as people arrested Thursday in connection with an alleged terror plot to bomb British passenger jets. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
LONDON, August 11, 2006 -- British officials Friday identified 19 of the suspects accused of planning to blow up U.S.-bound aircraft in the biggest terrorist plot to be uncovered since 9/11. In Pakistan, officials reported signs of an al-Qaida connection and said they had detained a "key person" in the case.
Travelers saw shorter lines at airports as flight schedules slowly returned to normal, one day after the disclosure of the alleged conspiracy severely disrupted British air traffic.
British police have arrested 24 people suspected of involvement in the plot. At least one was reportedly a woman with a small child; two others were converts to Islam. One of the suspects reportedly worked at Heathrow Airport.
The identities of 19 were disclosed by the Bank of England as it announced it had frozen their accounts. They ranged in age from 17 to 35 and had Muslim names, many of them common in Pakistan. Pakistani officials said they were British-born.
Pakistani officials said they had arrested five Pakistanis and two Britons in the case, including British national Rashid Rauf, arrested about a week ago and described as a "key person" with ties to al-Qaida.
"We arrested him from the (Afghanistan-Pakistan) border area and on his disclosure we shared the information with British authorities, which led to further arrests in Britain," Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao The Associated Press. The five Pakistanis were described as suspected "facilitators" of the plot.
Later, a Pakistani intelligence official said 10 Pakistanis had been arrested Friday in the eastern district of Bhawalpur, 300 miles southwest of Islamabad, in connection with the alleged plot. A second intelligence official confirmed there had been arrests but didn't know how many. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because of their sensitive positions.
Police in Italy arrested 40 people in a security crackdown after the thwarting of airline plot, the Interior Ministry said, but it did not link them directly to the London case. The arrests were made at "Islamic gathering places" in several cities on charges of violating residency rules or committing property crimes, it said.
British and U.S. investigators, describing a plot on the scale of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, said the planners sought to use common electronic devices to detonate liquid explosives to bring down as many as 10 planes.
The bombs were to be assembled aboard the aircraft, apparently with peroxide-based solution and everyday carry-on items such as a disposable camera or a music player, two American law enforcement officials told The Associated Press. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Britain asked that no information be released.
A federal law enforcement official in Washington said at least one martyrdom tape was found during raids across England on Thursday. Such a tape, as well as the scheme to strike a range of targets at roughly the same time, is a hallmark of al-Qaida.
British Home Secretary John Reid said Britain was grateful for Pakistan's cooperation and that officials believed the main suspects were in custody. However, the threat level in the U.K. remained at "critical," the highest level.
Agents in Pakistan arrested at least seven people, including two British nationals of Pakistani origin who provided information on the terror plot, a senior government official said Friday. The arrests were made in the eastern city of Lahore and in Karachi, the official said on condition of anonymity because he did not have the authority to speak formally on the issue.
Two were Britons arrested about a week ago, he said. The five Pakistanis were arrested on suspicion they served as local "facilitators" for the two Britons, the official said. It wasn't clear when they were detained.
The Guardian newspaper, citing unidentified British government sources, said after the first two arrests were made in Pakistan, a message was sent to Britain telling the plotters: "Do your attacks now." That message was intercepted and decoded earlier this week, The Guardian said.
A U.S. congressman briefed by intelligence officials, who did not want to be identified because of the sensitivity of the investigation, said U.S. intelligence had intercepted terrorist chatter.
Authorities pressed ahead Friday with efforts to smash the purported terror ring. Two U.S. officials said British, U.S. and Pakistani investigators were trying to trace the steps of the suspects in Pakistan and determine whether some of them attended terrorist training camps there.
Police would not say where the suspects were being held - which is not unusual in highly sensitive cases - but terrorist suspects are usually brought to the high-security Paddington Green police station, in central London.
British law permits terrorist suspects to be interrogated for up to 28 days without being charged, although after the first 48 hours court permission is required for further detention.
Airline passengers faced a second day of disruptions and disappointment as airports struggled to restore flight schedules.
"It is going to be another difficult day today, both for airports and for passengers, but there is cause for optimism that we will get more flights off today," said Stephen Nelson, chief executive of British Airports Authority, which runs Britain's major airports.
At Heathrow, Europe's busiest airport, around 70 percent of flights were running, and most inbound flights arrived on time, although flights from the United States - which increased security measures in the wake of the threat - were heavily delayed.
The raids in Britain on Thursday followed a months-long investigation, but U.S. intelligence officials said authorities moved quickly after learning the plotters hoped to stage a practice run within two days, with the actual attack expected just days after that.
The test run was designed to see whether the plotters would be able to smuggle the needed materials aboard the planes, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Targeted were United, American and Continental flights from Britain to major U.S. destinations, which counterterrorism officials said probably included New York, Los Angeles and Washington. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the individuals plotted to detonate liquid explosive devices on as many as 10 aircraft.
A British police official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation, said the suspects were "homegrown," though it was not immediately clear if all were British citizens.
Tariq Azim Khan, the Pakistani minister of state for information, said "these people were born and brought up in the United Kingdom. Some of them may have parents who were immigrants from Pakistan."
The raids were carried out at homes in London, the nearby town of High Wycombe and in Birmingham, in central England. Police still guarded homes in High Wycombe, where the Muslim community expressed outrage that their community and children have been thrust into the international spotlight.
"They are considered ordinary British Muslims and they haven't caused any harm to anyone," accountant Mohammed Naeem said of the suspects. "They come from decent families."
Naeem said the Muslim community supports efforts to promote security, but that the police have acted on faulty intelligence in the past. He cited a recent raid in London in which police were forced to apologize for shooting an innocent Muslim man.
Many of the suspects arrested in Britain were said to be British Muslims, and neighbors said at least two were converts to Islam.
Imtiaz Qadir, of the Waltham Forest Islamic Association, said one of the suspects was a woman in her 20s who had a 6-month-old child. "They have taken the child too, because it needs to be with its mother."
Neighbors identified another suspect as Don Stewart-Whyte, 21, from High Wycombe, a convert who changed his name to Abdul Waheed.
"He converted to Islam about six months ago and grew a full beard," said a neighbor, who refused to be identified. "He used to smoke weed and drink a lot, but he is completely different now."
Ibrahim Savant of Walthamstow, one of the names on the Bank of England list, was a convert formerly known as Oliver, neighbors said.
New security measures banning liquids and gels on flights remained in place Friday.
"I quite understand all the checks. I know why they have got to do it," said Elaine Loman, who was hoping to catch a flight from Heathrow to Barcelona, Spain.
The threat of liquid explosives led to a ban on carrying nearly any kind of fluid aboard an aircraft. Mothers tasted baby bottles in front of airport security guards to prove it contained milk or formula - not a component of an explosive.
Source: The Associated Press