Britain names suspects in bomb plot
By Katherine Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain named 19 people on Friday
suspected of an Islamist plot to blow up transatlantic
airliners and ordered their assets frozen, as governments
scrambled to respond to a threat officials said could have
matched September 11.
British police were believed to be questioning 24 people
they arrested early on Thursday in raids U.S. officials said
had foiled by a matter of days simultaneous attacks on up to 10
aircraft flying from Britain to the United States.
Tough air travel security measures imposed immediately
after the arrests continued in force on Friday although the
chaos that struck airports on Thursday, when hundreds of
flights were canceled, diminished somewhat.
There were still long queues at British and U.S. airports,
and security analysts predicted restrictions, particularly on
hand baggage, could stay in place for months or years.
“I think we are both going to kiss the ground when we touch
it in Los Angeles,” said Mandy Macdonald, a U.S. resident
waiting to catch a plane from London’s Heathrow airport.
Police said the plan was to blow up planes with chemical
bombs smuggled on board disguised as drinks. The U.S. Homeland
Security Department said the 24 people arrested in raids
between Wednesday night and Thursday were British Muslims.
The Bank of England, acting on instructions from the
government, published the names and home towns of 19 suspects,
saying it would be illegal to release their funds. It was not
immediately clear why it had not named the five others
Those being held are aged from 17 to 35 and live in east
London, the town of High Wycombe, west of the capital, and
Britain’s second city of Birmingham.
Pakistan, which says it played an important role in
thwarting the suspected plot, said it saw “indications of (an)
Afghanistan-based al Qaeda connection.” British police have
played down a direct al Qaeda role.
A senior Pakistan government official said it had arrested
two Britons of Pakistani descent last week, calling them “key
catches,” along with five others. Pakistan later identified one
man it had arrested, Rashid Rauf, as a key suspect.
Finland, the European Union president, said it would call a
meeting of EU experts on aviation security in Brussels next
week. The world’s top money-laundering watchdog said the plot
was a “wake-up call” for countries to step up efforts to combat
The arrests could widen a gulf between authorities and
Britain’s 1.7 million Muslims, who fear their community is
coming “under siege,” Islamic leaders said.
“There is a siege mentality,” said Abu Mumin, manager of an
east London youth organization. “We have to continually justify
things that come on the news. We just want to get on with our
lives and live peacefully.”
The suspected plot came to light 13 months after four
British Islamist suicide bombers killed 52 people and injured
about 700 on London’s transport network. At least two of the
militants had visited Pakistan months before the attack.
Last month al Qaeda urged Muslims to fight those backing
Israel’s strikes on Lebanon and warned of attacks unless U.S.
and British forces left Iraq and Afghanistan.
British Home Secretary (interior minister) John Reid said
police were confident all the main figures had been caught, but
that the country’s security threat level would be kept at its
highest level, “critical,” for the time being.
U.S. TV network ABC quoted unidentified U.S. officials on
Thursday as saying five suspects were still on the loose. But a
British police spokeswoman said on Friday police had arrested
everybody they wanted to.
British airport operator BAA said on Friday a ban on
short-haul flights to London’s Heathrow had been lifted, while
British Airways said it expected about 70 percent of its
short-haul flights to operate on Friday.
In Britain, all hand luggage was banned on flights. On both
sides of the Atlantic, authorities banned liquids and gels from
bags being carried on to aircraft, and travelers with babies
were forced to taste their baby food before boarding.
“It’s probably safer to fly now than it was sort of two
days ago so that makes it a little bit better, definitely,”
said passenger Toni Robinson, waiting to fly from Heathrow
Some British Muslims said they doubted whether there was a
plot, given past blunders by British anti-terrorism police due
to faulty intelligence.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if it was another case of a
high-profile operation whipping the general public into this
frenzy with very scant evidence,” said Anjem Choudary, a former
leader of the radical Al Muhajiroun group which praised the
September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
(Additional reporting by Julia Glover, Peter Graff, Peter
Griffiths, Amil Khan, Adrian Croft, Michael Holden and Michael
Smith in London, Zeeshan Haider in Islamabad)