British authorities arrested 24 suspects in a suspected plot to blow up as many as 10 passenger jets leaving Britain for New York City, Washington D.C. and California. The plot involved Continental Airlines, United Airlines, and American Airlines, according to an administration official who noted that the list was not exclusive. While the investigation continues, the government officials say the primary players are in custody. The men detained had not bought plane tickets, the officials said, but they had been perusing the Internet to find flights to various cities that had similar departure times. The British suspects planned to mix a "British version of Gatorade" with a gel-like substance to create an explosive that could then be triggered with an iPod or cell phone, a senior congressional source told. All of those items could have been carried on board without raising suspicions. The original information about the plan came from the Muslim community in Britain, according to a British intelligence official.
Paul Stephenson said 21 people had been arrested by London, Birmingham and Thames Valley police overnight in an ongoing operation. "This is about people who are desperate ... who want to do things that no right-minded citizen of this country or any other country would want to tolerate," Stephenson said.
Britain's Home Secretary John Reid said police were confident the main players involved in the plot had been accounted for, adding the operation was ongoing and further arrests might be made. Asked if Britain's Muslim community was involved in the investigation, Reid would not comment. "We are involved in a long wide and deep struggle against very evil people," Reid said. "This is not a case of one civilization against another, one religion against another."
The Metropolitan Police confirmed they evacuated an undisclosed number of houses in High Wycombe, north of London, in connection with the raids. Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, Head of the Metropolitan Police Service Anti-Terrorist Branch, said the arrests followed an "unprecedented level of surveillance" over several months involving meetings, movements, travel, spending and the aspirations of a large group of people.
Among those arrested were a Muslim charity worker and a Heathrow Airport employee with an all-area access pass, according to Britain's Channel 4. The suspected terrorists had been under surveillance in Britain since December 2005, the channel reported. Information gathered after the arrests in Pakistan convinced British investigators to act urgently, sources said. Two of the suspects left "martyrdom tapes," according to sources familiar with the details of the British investigation.
Two of the suspects held in connection with the alleged plot to blow up jetliners had contact with a Pakistani suspected of being an al Qaeda operative, U.S. and British officials said. The officials allege that Matiur Rehman, described as an explosives expert in Pakistan who is now at large, met two of the British suspects in Pakistan. Officials said they do not know whether Rehman was involved. However, the officials said the suspected plot displays signs of al Qaeda participation, and investigations into that angle continue.
Speaking on the tarmac of an airport in Green Bay, George W. Bush thanked British Prime Minister Tony Blair -- a close ally—and his government for "busting this plot." Bush and Blair had conversations concerning the terror plot investigation 12 and 13 August and the leaders have spoken several times since, including overnight when the arrests were made, officials say. In a statement, Blair said: "I would like to pay tribute to the immense effort made by the police and security services who for a long period of time have tracked this situation and been involved in an extraordinary amount of hard work. I thank them for the great job they are doing in protecting our country. "There have been an enormous amount of co-operation with the U.S. authorities which has been of great value and underlines the threat we face and our determination to counter it."
The alleged terror plot comes nearly five years after Briton Richard Reid attempted to detonate explosives hidden in his trainers on an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami in December 2001. Passengers thwarted his plan, and the plane landed safely in Boston. Reid pleaded guilty to terrorism charges in October 2002 and is serving a life sentence at the nation's super-maximum security prison in Florence, Colorado.
The Financial Sanctions Unit of the Bank of England froze the accounts of 19 suspects who were arrested in connection with the plot, a British treasury spokesman said. While police have not identified any of those arrested, 19 of them were identified by the Bank.
Mudassar Irani, the lawyer for two of the suspects, was only able to meet with her clients for five minutes. The men—who are 22 and 23 years old—told her they are being held in cold cells, and requests for blankets were refused.
One of those arrested in the overnight raids 10 August was released "with no further action by police," according to the Metropolitan Police Service. The police said it is common to release someone who has been arrested and keep others in custody, especially "in large and complex criminal enquiries where a number of arrests have taken place."
In Britain, airline passengers were not allowed to take hand luggage onto planes, said British Airports Authority Chief Executive Stephen Nelson.
Air passengers across Europe faced a second day of delays. However, the situation had eased from the previous day, when London's Heathrow Airport was closed to many incoming flights.
The United Kingdom remained at its highest threat level.
Home Secretary John Reid said the government wanted to "err on the side of caution," according to Britain's Home Office. Reid, the home secretary, said Britons faced a "common threat" and appealed for tolerance and resilience.
Reid acknowledged the Pakistani role in breaking the case. "We are very grateful for all the help and cooperation we have received from our international partners, including Pakistan, and I would like to thank them for the assistance they have given us," he said.
The lawyer for two of the suspects criticized their treatment at the hands of British police. In an exclusive interview, Mudassar Irani listed a series of complaints, including the allegation that one of her clients had not received food and water for 26 hours.
Matiur Rehman, who remains at large, has not been linked to the plot, the Government officials said. He was not one of the seven individuals arrested on 10 August in Pakistan.
U.S. and British sources said one of the men in custody in Pakistan, Rashid Rauf, had a key operational role in the alleged plot. Rauf, a British citizen, appeared before magistrate, according to Pakistan's Interior Ministry. Rauf is believed to have left the UK after his uncle was killed in 2002. He was not charged over the murder, which has never been solved.
In the U.S., a Department of Homeland Security memo said that a message from was intercepted in the days before police made their arrests which advised the alleged plotters to "do your attacks now."
The U.S. security memo also shed light on the backgrounds of the 23 suspects being held by British police: All were born in Britain, and most were of Pakistani descent. They had good reputations in their neighborhood and did not express radical sentiments. Among those arrested were a biochemistry student, a worker at Heathrow Airport and a 17-year-old who recently converted to Islam. While the teen had grown a beard and started wearing traditional Muslim clothes, he did not appear to be radicalized. British police believe the key players are in custody but cannot be sure that "unknown or unexpected elements do not exist." A tip from a member of the British Muslim community about suspicious behavior by an acquaintance alerted authorities to the alleged conspiracy, and a neighbor of the alleged plotters helped confirm those suspicions, the memo said. Counterterrorism officials used telephone records, e-mails and bank records to connect the suspects and build a detailed picture of the conspiracy, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said. Their spending habits and bank accounts also were traced by a unit that monitors the flow of money to provide evidence of association, the memo said. Intelligence received within the past five days by MI-5, the British security agency, led officials to conclude that the plan was in its execution phase, the memo said. The fact that U.S.-bound aircraft were to be targeted was learned only about two weeks ago, U.S. homeland security said. The alleged plotters planned to bring "some type of liquid or power explosive" on board the aircraft in drink or toothpaste containers, then explode it with detonators hidden in cell phones or MP3 players, the memo said.
In a new development, it was claimed that plot suspects "apparently" had contacts with Germany. "Apparently there were some contacts by the suspected attackers with Germany -- we are checking these contacts," August Hanning, a deputy interior minister, told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper in a preview of an article to be printed Sunday.
Raid of Internet cafes
British police confirmed that they had raided a series of Internet cafes in their investigation into an alleged plot to blow up as many as 10 trans-Atlantic aircraft. There was no confirmation of any arrests in the raids in London, Birmingham and the Thames Valley region, west of the capital. The raids came as links to suspected terror operatives in Pakistan—possibly connected to al Qaeda—were emerging as key elements of the investigation. Suspects in the UK received a coded message from Pakistan to "attack now" as authorities there closed in on terror suspects, security sources have told.
Anger in Britain's Muslim community
The arrests have led to increased pressure on Britain's Muslim community, prompting leaders to publish an open letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair, blaming his foreign policy for inciting extremist anger. "It is our view that current British government policy risks putting civilians at increased risk both in the UK and abroad," the letter said.
Budget carrier Ryanair, which has its British base at Stansted Airport, northeast of London, said it had complied with BAA orders to cancel more than 60 of its Stansted flights.
British Airways was forced to cancel 25 percent of its short-distance flights because of the airport's failure to cope with the situation, told British Airways CEO Willie Walsh.
After the arrests were made in Pakistan, one of the alleged terrorist operatives there gave the "go" signal for the plot to go forward, a British official said.
Britain has foiled four major terrorist plots since deadly 7 July bombings last year, British Home Secretary John Reid said. In comments made in a television interview and confirmed by the UK Home Office, Reid said there could be others still at large linked to alleged air terror plot. Asked about an Observer newspaper report that "up to two dozen" terror investigations were operating across the country, he said: "I'm not going to confirm an exact number, but I wouldn't deny that that would indicate the number of major conspiracies that we are trying to look at."
Police, meanwhile, were still probing the homes and backgrounds of 23 men arrested on 10 August. Most of the men held in custody in Britain and Pakistan are Pakistanis in their 20s.
Meanwhile, a lawyer for two of 23 suspects in custody accused police of denying her full access to her clients. The attorney, Mudassar Arani, said British suspects' families had been moved to hotels.
According to a British intelligence official, the planned near-simultaneous attacks—which one top U.S. official said were intended to be "a second September 11th" -- were foiled when a member of the country's Muslim community contacted authorities after noticing an acquaintance acting suspiciously. An undercover British agent then infiltrated the group to gather information, U.S. government officials told.
UK airports entered a fourth day of chaos as the fallout from the plot continued to cause cancellations, major delays and anger from flight operators. At Heathrow, one of the world's busiest airports, almost one third of flights were cancelled as tough new screening for passengers and luggage caused problems. after the discovery of an apparent plan to smuggle liquid explosives onto planes in hand luggage.
But with airlines struggling to get passengers to their destinations days after the new measures were introduced, several have hit out at airport operator British Airports Authority for failing to provide adequate facilities. "BAA is unable to provide a robust security search process and baggage operation at London Heathrow and as a result we are being forced to cancel flights and operate some others from Heathrow without all the passengers on board," British Airways Chief Executive Willie Walsh said. At least one major airline complained about the way the British Airport Authority, which oversees Heathrow airport, was handling the intense security. "BAA has failed to allow us to operate 100 percent of our schedule," said British Airways CEO Willie Walsh. "British Airways, along with other airlines, is ready and able to operate a full schedule. The weakness in the system today is getting the passengers processed and through the airport.
Budget carrier Ryanair, which has its British base at Stansted Airport, northeast of London, said it had complied with BAA orders to cancel more than 60 of its Stansted flights. It demanded that the overloaded security situation be fixed by 14 August "Ryanair and other major UK airlines cannot keep canceling flights and disrupting the travel plans of tens of thousands of British passengers and visitors solely because the BAA cannot cope with the new body-search requirements," chief executive Michael O'Leary said, according to The Associated Press.
BAA's chief executive for Heathrow, Tony Douglas, defended the airports' efforts. I think the aviation community has actually come together remarkably well. We will continue to work closely with the government because public safety and security is important to us."
British and American passengers underwent a third day of trip delays and stricter security measures because of heightened travel fears. Some flights were delayed up to four hours, and passengers carried plastic bags with necessities. Liquids and gels are prohibited unless it can be shown they are necessary, and on British-originated flights, all carry-on luggage is banned. Airlines warned the British government that air travel was threatening "to grind to a halt" because of the restrictions in place at airports.
A temporary ban on mobile phones resulted in a British Airways flight from London to New York being returned to Heathrow "as a precautionary measure" late in the day after a phone was found aboard the plane, the airline said. None of the passengers on the flight claimed the phone, BA said. "We apologize to customers for the inconvenience, but their safety is our No. 1 priority, and we will always err on the side of caution," the airline reported.
Raid of Internet cafes
As police widened their investigation into the bomb plot suspects, detectives raided a series of Internet cafes, including one near Heathrow, where the plotters were believed to be planning to start their operations.
Pakistan authorities said that the arrests of two British citizens and five Pakistanis last week directly contributed to terror arrests made 10 August in Britain. Most of the men held in custody in Britain and Pakistan are Pakistanis in their 20s.
The terror threat level in Britain remained "critical" -- its highest designation.
Britain has lowered its terrorist threat level from "critical" to "severe". Home Secretary John Reid said the change in the alert level—which indicates a terrorist attack is no longer imminent -- "does not mean that the threat has gone away." "There is still a very serious threat of an attack," Reid said in a statement accompanying the announcement. "The threat level is at severe, indicating the high likelihood of an attempted terrorist attack at some stage, and I urge the public to remain vigilant." Security sources said it is unlikely that the level will soon drop further. They said there is great concern about "copycats" attempting similar attacks.
London's Heathrow Airport, the world's busiest international airport, struggled to restore normal service after delays and cancellations caused by heightened security measures. "Flights that do operate remain subject to delays," British Airways said in a statement.
Authorities in Britain and the United States imposed tight security on trans-Atlantic flights, sharply restricting what passengers could carry onto aircraft. Under the reduced threat level, passengers boarding aircraft in Britain are still banned from bringing most liquids, gels or pastes aboard aircraft, Britain's Transport Department said. The only exceptions are for prescription medicines that have been verified as authentic and baby milk or formula, provided the accompanying passenger tastes the substance. But there is some good news for passengers in the UK, who can now bring one mid-sized bag aboard an aircraft. The government is also allowing laptop computers and items such as hair dryers to be brought on board, provided they are visible at security checkpoints.
Air traffic at Heathrow remained snarled, with airlines canceling as many one in five short-haul flights. British Airways said it planned to cancel five of its scheduled 76 long-haul flights from Heathrow and 39 of a planned 202 short-haul flights, Reuters reported.
At Gatwick, London's second largest airport, BA canceled all domestic flights from for the second consecutive day. However, all BA flights to Europe and beyond were expected to operate.
Airport operators said 68 flights were canceled from Heathrow, according to The Associated Press.
There was new concern about security after a 12-year-old boy managed to board a plane at Gatwick Airport on Monday without a passport, ticket or boarding pass.
Ryanair temporarily waived its 2.50 euro ($3.20, £2.95) fee for each carryon bag that unexpectedly had to be checked, but has since reintroduced it. O'Leary said that the airline had no plans to end the policy.
Detectives are known to be investigating the links between the detainees and suspected terror suspects apprehended in Pakistan.
A security source close to investigations told that some of the 23 suspects were expected to be released without charge due to lack of evidence. One person has already been released. He also poured doubt on the links to Rauf in Pakistan, Rivers said. A court ruled that police could hold one of the 23 suspects for questioning until 16 August.
Early, British anti-terror investigators were given another day—until 16 August—to hold 22 of the suspects; an extension for the 23rd person was granted 15 August, a statement from New Scotland Yard said. The extensions are procedural; police can hold terror suspects up to 28 days without filing formal charges. "In all operations, some people may be released early without charge while others may remain in custody for further investigation," according to the statement.
British investigators have searched for evidence of explosive tests in woods in High Wycombe, west of London, near where they arrested the 24 suspects 10 August. The British security sources told they are confident evidence of explosives will be found, even as police conducted a detailed forensic examination of one suspect's residence. Photographs taken by a neighbor showed police removing plastic containers from the flat.
The security sources said the alleged plotters intended to use an electrical charge to detonate liquid explosives in planes as they flew at maximum cruising altitude over the Atlantic Ocean, thereby ensuring that investigators would have a tough time retrieving evidence. In a separate development in the case, another man was arrested in connection with the alleged plot to blow up commercial jetliners over the Atlantic, bringing the number in custody to 24, according to London's Metropolitan Police. The Metropolitan Police said the new suspect was detained about 1 p.m. (8 a.m. ET) 15 August in the Thames Valley area near London. He was taken into custody under the Terrorism Act 2000, which allows arrests of anyone suspected of being involved in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.
The British security sources said the foiled plot was one of about a dozen that investigators were following, and that it got their undivided attention six weeks ago, when they determined that the attack plans were advanced. MI5 officers who were following the movements of the suspects have already been redeployed to monitor dozens of other suspected terror cells around Britain, sources said. The security sources estimate there are more than 1,200 individuals of concern across Britain.
British investigators believe some of the money raised to help victims of the Pakistan- earthquake of 2005 may have been used to fund the alleged airliner terror plot. The funds are believed to have come from a front group for the Pakistani charity Jamaat al-Dawat network in Britain, and was not sent from Pakistan, British and U.S. investigators said. A U.S. official also said it was his understanding that the charity being investigated by the British is a front for Jamaat al-Dawat, previously known as Lashkar-e-Toiba. Jamaat al-Dawat provided aid and relief camps for victims of the 8 October earthquake that killed more than 73,000 in northwest Pakistan and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. Lord Nasir Ahmed, a leader among British Pakistanis and a member of Britain's Parliament, told that at least four of the alleged plotters traveled to Pakistan, telling their families they were going to help the quake victims. When questioned, the relatives denied that any members of their families had links to any extremist group, Ahmed said.
The source described Rashid Rauf, who is being held without charge in Pakistan, as a leader of the group, and said that others being held in Pakistan played lesser roles. It said it may extradite Rauf to Britain, although no request had been received, according to The Associated Press.
Airport delay problems stretched into their fifth day in Britain, prompting further frustration among airlines which accused the British government and airport authorities of mishandling the new security measures.
As cancellations and delays gripped Britain's major airports for a sixth day, the head of British Airways threatened to sue BAA, the country's largest airport operator, for financial compensation. Meanwhile, air service nudged closer to normal at major London airports, but British Airways said it canceled 35 flights from Heathrow and another 11 at Gatwick.
Britain's Home Secretary John Reid is to host a meeting with a number of European Union interior ministers in London to talk about how the foiled plot on 10 August will affect airline security and anti-terror policies across the continent. Reid is also expected to urge closer cooperation between nations to deal with the increasing danger.
The removal of two young British Asians from a holiday flight because fellow passengers were suspicious of them has been condemned by British parliamentarians. The men, thought to be in their 20s, were on a Monarch Airlines flight from Málaga, Spain to Manchester. Some passengers refused to board the plane unless the two were removed, according to the UK Press Association. Birmingham MP Khalid Mahmood said he thought what happened "is hugely irrational and people need to get their senses back into order." A Monarch Airlines spokesman told Britain's Guardian newspaper the two men attracted attention because they apparently were acting suspiciously. He declined to say what they had done. "The flight attendants were sufficiently concerned to alert the crew, who in turn informed the security authorities at Málaga airport," the spokesman said. The flight was delayed for three hours after Spanish police removed the two men and searched the aircraft and luggage for explosives. The pair flew to Manchester on a later flight. The incident coincided with a warning from Metropolitan Police Chief Superintendent Ali Dizaei that Britain was in danger of creating a new offence of "traveling whilst Asian," the PA reported. Dizaei, one of the UK's most senior Muslim police officers, said intelligence based on ethnicity, religion and country of origin was "hugely problematic." But the UK's Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file police officers, said profiling had already been used to stop football hooligans traveling to Germany for the World Cup in June, the PA reported.
British judge has allowed police to continue holding 23 of the 24 suspects through next week, Metropolitan Police said late in the day. The ruling gives police the authority to hold two of the suspects until 21 August, and the rest until 23 August. Afterwards, Scotland Yard said that a person arrested on 15 August as part of its investigation was released without charge, The Associated Press reports. Today's ruling was largely a procedural move. Under British anti-terrorism laws, police can hold suspects for up to 28 days without filing charges, but they must put the detention before a judge periodically. The hearing was held behind closed doors and attended only by the suspects' lawyers, investigators and government officials, The Associated Press reports. Experts say the primary reason police could use nearly a month to complete a probe is because of the complexity of investigations into the alleged plot to smuggle liquid explosives hidden in hand luggage aboard flights. "You've got laptops. You have to bring in translators to translate all the documents in there. And sometimes it's inopportune to release all your suspects -- particularly terrorism suspects -- while all that is being downloaded and translated," Cliff Knuckey, a retired police detective who has worked on terrorism investigations, told the Associated Press. "Terrorism investigations are different, simply because you're dealing with people who will do their best not to compromise their plans and who will do anything not to be compromised."
Previously, police were able to detain people suspected of terrorism offences for 14 days only. But the new legislation, which became law earlier in 2006, also created new offences, including preparing a terrorist act, giving or receiving terrorist training, and selling or spreading terrorist publications.
Prime Minister Tony Blair failed to receive parliamentary approval for his own plan to interrogate terrorist suspects for up to 90 days.
Authorities said the suspects plotted to use liquid explosives to blow up as many as 10 trans-Atlantic flights, using commercial electronic devices as detonators.
Home Secretary John Reid, Britain's top law-and-order official, acknowledged that some suspects would likely not be charged with major criminal offences but said there was mounting evidence of a "substantial nature" to back the allegations. His comments came after meeting with the French, German and Finnish interior ministers, Nicolas Sarkozy, Wolfgang Schäuble and Kari Rajamaki, respectively, and EU Commission Vice President Franco Frattini. They later announced the allocation of $235,000 (€220,000 or £200,000) to research the best ways to detect liquid-based explosives.
Two top Pakistani intelligence agents said that the would-be bombers wanted to carry out an al Qaeda-style attack to mark the fifth anniversary of the 11 September strikes but were too "inexperienced" to carry out the plot, AP reports. The agents, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that if the terror cell members arrested in Pakistan and Britain had appropriate weapons and explosives training, they could have emulated attacks like the ones on 11 September 2001. The detainees in Britain and Pakistan had not attended terror-training camps in Pakistan or Afghanistan and had relied on information gleaned from text books on how to make bombs, the officials said, according to AP.
Aviation related terror alerts
A 59-year-old woman caused a security scare when she allegedly passed notes to crew members, urinated on the floor and made comments the crew believed were references to al Qaeda and the 11 September attacks on the London-to-Washington flight. United 923, with 182 passengers and 12 crew members, was diverted to Boston and landed safely—with two fighter jets escorting it—after the pilot declared an emergency on board.
The alleged UK airport terror plot was sanctioned by al Qaeda's No2, Ayman al Zawahri, according to Pakistani intelligence. The latest investigations by Pakistan also indicate that a British national arrested in Pakistan, Rashid Rauf, was the planner of the alleged attacks. "We have reason to believe that it was al Qaeda sanctioned and was probably cleared by al Zawahri", said a Pakistani official. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation.
Police said they were searching 14 homes and businesses and had searched 49 locations since the 10 August raids in London, High Wycombe and Birmingham, central England, The Associated Press reports.
British police reported to have found a suitcase containing items which could be used to construct a bomb, according to the British Broadcasting Corporation. The suitcase is reported to have been found in woodlands in High Wycombe, about 50 kilometers (31 mi) north-west of London. BBC quotes an anonymous police source as saying a suitcase holding "everything you would need to make an improvised device," had been found. The wood is near the home of one of two dozen suspects arrested on 10 August. The Metropolitan Police have refused to comment on the BBC report, saying it could not discuss anything found during the searches.
Service returned almost to normal at British airports. British Airways, the worst-affected airline, said it had almost cleared a backlog of 5,000 pieces of luggage separated from their owners amid hundreds of delayed and canceled flights. The airline canceled 19 short-haul services from Heathrow Airport.
Aviation related terror alerts
West Virginia airport terminal was evacuated after two bottles of liquid found in a woman's carryon luggage twice tested positive for explosives residue. Chemical tests later turned up no explosives in the bottles, and the airport was reopened after nearly 10 hours.
A British passenger plane to Egypt diverted to a southern Italian airport after the pilot reported that a bomb was suspected to be on board, Italian aviation officials said. Authorities searching the plane found a handwritten note in English that said there was a bomb on the plane, Salvatore De Paolis, a spokesman for border police at the airport, told SKY TG 24 television news. All 280 passengers were safe and had exited the plane, state police at the airport said. The Excel Airways Boeing 767 requested an emergency landing in Brindisi because of what was described as a suspected bomb, the Italian air traffic agency ENAV said. The plane was flying from London's Gatwick airport to Hurghada, Egypt, ENAV said. Italy's Air Force said it had sent an F-16 to intercept the plane before it landed. Excel spokeswoman Jane Sebuliba said the landing was "a precautionary diversion" and declined further comment, saying Excel planned to say more soon.
Budget airline Ryanair threatened to take legal action against the British government unless it meets three demands for relaxing airport security and improving staffing at overstretched airports within the next seven days. The airline, which canceled scores of flights and suffered a 10 percent drop in weekly bookings because of the terror alert that raised security levels on 10 August, wants the government to return passenger search requirements to pre-alert levels. It also wants the government to restore the hand luggage allowance for passengers leaving British airports and an assurance that military and police personnel would be released to help with airport security checks next time there is a major security alert. Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary said the carrier has sent a letter to Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander informing him of its demands.
The Transport Department said that the current security regime was necessary because of the level of the security threat, which remains at high, and is kept under constant review. "We have no intention of compromising security levels nor do we anticipate changing our requirements in the next seven days," it said. The department added that the action taken last week was under the Aviation Security Act 1982, so Ryanair wouldn't be entitled to any compensation. Ryanair says that wasn't made clear and it intends to use the Transport Act 2000 for legal action if it goes ahead. O'Leary declined to say how much compensation the airline would seek from the government, but said the alert had so far cost the carrier "a couple of million" euros in canceled flights and lost bookings. He rejected analyst forecasts that Ryanair faced a €10 million($12.8 million, £9.5 million) hit, saying the short-term cost was likely to be "a couple of million euros" and the long-term impact would be immaterial. "If the security procedures are returned to normal within another seven days, then Ryanair will not make any claim against the government," he added.
In another blow, the GMB Union said Swissportbaggage handlers and check-in staff plan to strike during the end of August holiday weekend at Stansted airport. Swissport provides services to Ryanair and easyJet and some charter airlines operating at Stansted—representing about 80 percent of the passenger traffic at Britain's third-busiest airport.
O'Leary was particularly critical of the fact that passengers may now carry a large briefcase, but not a small wheeled case, which he claimed was just 20 percent larger than the allowed briefcase. The issue is a problem for Ryanair because the carrier began charging customers in January for each bag they checked as part of a plan to get passengers to take only what they could carry. The airline temporarily waived its €2.50 ($3.20, £2.95) fee for each carryon bag that unexpectedly had to be checked, but has since reintroduced it.
Virgin Atlantic, which is jointly owned by Richard Branson's Virgin Group and Singapore Airlines, said it was asking the British government to pay for airport security in Britain, although it is not considering suing the government. Paul Charles, a spokesman for the airline, said the government already pays for transport police to patrol Britain's railways and therefore it should also pay for airport security. Currently, the bill for security is taken by the airport operators and airlines, and some of the cost is likely passed on to passengers.
Rashid Rauf, whose detention in Pakistan was the trigger for the arrest of 23 suspects in Britain, has been accused of taking orders from Al Qaeda’s ‘No3’ in Afghanistan and sending money back to the UK to allow the alleged bombers to buy plane tickets. But after two weeks of interrogation, an inch-by-inch search of his house and analysis of his home computer, officials are now saying that his extradition is ‘a way down the track’ if it happens at all. It comes amid wider suspicions that the plot may not have been as serious, or as far advanced, as the authorities initially claimed. Analysts suspect Pakistani authorities exaggerated Rauf’s role to appear ‘tough on terrorism’ and impress Britain and America. A spokesman for Pakistan’s Interior Ministry last night admitted that ‘extradition at this time is not under consideration’.
Airport security restrictions are to be made more "manageable" within days, according to ministers. The Trade and Industry Secretary Alistair Darling said the Government would ensure restrictions were "proportionate" to the threat level. He added that the Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander would meet the airports operator BAA to resolve outstanding security issues within "the next week or so". "Unfortunately it was necessary because of the intelligence we received to step up security. "But I hope that in the next few days we can make sure that the system is manageable, is proportionate," he told the BBC. Mr Darling, a former transport secretary, said it was important to strike a balance between security needs and allowing people to go about their business. "Yes, there has been a lot of disruption over the last week but I'm pretty sure we can sort out these problems," he said. "But I am bound to say that the problem we have got is that we do have these threats and we've got to act proportionately, we've got to deal with them." Mr Darling also dismissed a report that air passengers could face a new surcharge on tickets to pay for upgraded security. "The cost of security is met by the industry," he said. "It always has been and that will continue."
Rauf’s arrest followed a protracted surveillance operation on him and his family which, The Mail has established, dates back to the 7/7 bomb attacks on London. The possible link between 7/7 and the alleged plot emerged when the Daily Mail spoke to Rauf’s uncle, Miam Mumtaz, in Kashmir. Mumtaz was approached by two members of ISI, the feared Pakistani security service, as he nervously denied any knowledge of his nephew’s alleged activities. One ISI man said it had been monitoring all movement by Mumtaz and the rest of Rauf’s relatives since the 7/7 attacks. It is the first official acknowledgement of any suspected link between the London bombings and the plot to blow up planes flying from Britain to America. But it comes against a welter of claims made by Pakistani security sources about Rauf, who is being interrogated by British and Pakistani agents in Rawalpindi.
The sources believe Rauf went to Afghanistan twice, where he made contact with senior Al Qaeda commanders. They also say he visited the border city of Quettain, where Taliban and Al Qaeda have a heavy presence. They believe that at least seven of the suspects in custody in Britain travelled to Pakistan while planning the bombings. Rauf left for Pakistan 2002 after another uncle was stabbed to death in Birmingham following an alleged dispute over an arranged marriage. Meanwhile, Rauf’s 54-year-old father Abdul was held at Islamabad airport as he tried to leave the country 18 August. He was involved in setting up Ilford-based Crescent Relief, which is being investigated by the Charity Commission over claims that money donated for victims of the Kashmir earthquake October 2005 could have been diverted to extremist groups.
Eleven of the 23 people arrested over an alleged plot to bomb trans-Atlantic airliners have been charged in the UK with terrorism offenses as police revealed they have found bomb-making equipment and martyrdom videos. Eight of the suspects were charged with two offenses of conspiracy to murder and a new offense of preparing acts of terrorism contrary to section five of the Terrorism Act 2006. The three others were charged with other offenses under the Terrorism Act 2000. Eleven others remain in custody and a woman has been released, the Crown Prosecution Service announced at a news conference in London.
The eight men charged with conspiracy to murder and intent to commit acts of terrorism are: Ahmed Abdullah Ali, also known as "Abdullah Ali Ahmed Khan"; Tanvir Hussain; Umar Islam, aka "Brian Young"; Arafat Waheed Khan; Assad Sarwar; Adam Khatib; Ibrahim Savant; Waheed Zaman. The two suspects charged with failing to disclose material assistance in preventing an act of terrorism are: Cossor Ali (female), specifically charged with failing to disclose information about Ahmed Abdullah Ali, between January 2005 and August 2006; Mehran Hussain, specifically charged with failing to disclose information about Nabeel Hussain, one of those originally arrested, between September 2005 and August 2006. An unnamed 17-year-old male was also charged with possessing "a book on improvised explosives devices, some suicide notes and wills with the identities of persons prepared to commit acts of terrorism and a map of Afghanistan containing information likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism."
Susan Hemming, head of the Crown Prosecution Service Counter Terrorism Division, told reporters: "We have been carefully examining and assessing the evidence against each individual with the assistance of anti-terrorist officers in order to come to charging decisions at the earliest practicable opportunity." Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke added that bomb-making equipment, including chemicals and electrical components had been found during police searches. Clarke said: "First there is evidence from surveillance carried out before 10 August. "This includes important, indeed highly significant, video and audio recordings. "Since 10 August we have found bomb-making equipment. There are chemicals, including hydrogen peroxide, electrical components, documents and other items. "We have also found a number of video recordings. These are sometimes referred to as martyrdom videos."
British authorities have carried out a total of 69 searches of residences, businesses, vehicles and open spaces, which have netted bomb-making equipment and chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke said. "As well as the bomb-making equipment, we have found more than 400 computers, 200 mobile telephones and 8,000 items of removable storage media such as memory sticks, CDs and DVDs," he said. "So far, from the computers alone, we have removed some 6,000 gigabytes of data."It will take "many months" for investigators to analyze all of the data, he said.
CNN's Robin Oakley said the sheer amount of material seized by police indicated that it would be some time before a trial starts. Oakley said he believed police had revealed so much information partly to assure the public that the terror threat remained high more than a year after the London bombings that killed 52 people and the four bombers. He added that Scotland Yard was probably also keen to show it was avoiding mistakes it had made in previous terror investigations.
Court hearings for 11 suspects charged in the alleged plot to bomb trans-Atlantic airliners have been taking place in London. Today's hearings at City of Westminster Magistrates' Court in central London marked the first time the suspects, all of whom were charged 21 August, have been seen in public since they were arrested on 10 August. Amid heavy security, vans carried the suspects to the court, where eight people charged with conspiracy to commit murder and preparing acts of terrorism were the first to appear before Chief Magistrate Timothy Workman. Before the court adjourned for lunch, Tanvir Hussain, 25, Ahmed Ali, 25, Umar Islam, 28, and Arafat Waheed Khan, 25, were ordered to be remanded in custody until a second court appearance at the Old Bailey on 4 September. A person is charged with possessing articles that could be used to prepare a terrorist act, and two others are charged with failing to disclose information that could help prevent a terrorist act. 11 persons are still being held without charge.
In Pakistan, law enforcement authorities continued to interrogate Rashid Rauf, a Briton of Pakistani descent, over his alleged key role in the plot, officials told The Associated Press. Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Ahmad Sherpao said British police were conducting inquiries in Pakistan but were not involved in questioning Rauf.
Dutch police said that 12 passengers were in custody after a Northwest Airlines flight bound for Mumbai, India, returned to Amsterdam with a fighter jet escort, Dutch police said, when several people on board aroused concern. They have not been formally charged, police said. But an airport policeman said authorities have enough information to hold the 12 for at until 26 August. The passengers who were arrested were looking into plastic bags and were busy with their cell phones, an airline source in Amsterdam said. The spokesman said the 12—whose identities have not been made public—face preliminary charges, but did not elaborate. Flight 42 returned to Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport after "a couple of passengers displayed behavior of concern," according to Northwest Airlines. Some of the passengers pulled out cell phones during the flight and appeared to be trying to pass the cell phones to other passengers, a U.S. government official said. In addition, some passengers unfastened their seatbelts while the light requiring they be fastened was still illuminated, the official said. That was enough for U.S. air marshals aboard the DC-10 to break their cover. Flight attendants ordered the passengers to heed the orders of the marshals, the official added. There was no intelligence indicating the flight was at risk, and authorities are still evaluating how much of a threat the passengers posed, officials said. In a recording of communications between the pilot and air traffic controllers circulated among Dutch media, the pilot is asked if he wants fire trucks on the runway when he lands, The Associated Press reported. "No, sir," he replied, according to the AP. "Northwest is cooperating with the appropriate government officials," the company's statement said. The flight, which originated in Northwest's main hub of Minneapolis-St. Paul 22 August, landed at Schiphol around noon (6 a.m. ET), about half an hour after it had left, TSA said. "The flight returned to Amsterdam and landed normally. Northwest is cooperating with the appropriate government officials," the Northwest statement said. There were 149 passengers on board, Northwest said.
A spokeswoman for Schiphol Airport said the pilot had made the request to return to Amsterdam. A team of U.S. federal air marshals was on board and, along with the crew members, observed suspicious activity shortly after take-off, according to an unnamed U.S. government official. The official would not elaborate on the nature of the activity. According to the official, the crew told passengers to follow the instructions of the air marshals after at least one member of the team identified himself as a marshal. At that point, the pilot diverted the plane. As a matter of security, the Federal Air Marshal Service does not confirm which flights are patrolled by air marshals. In general, federal air marshals do not identify themselves to passengers if they believe the crew can handle a situation without assistance.
The same flight departed for Mumbai, India's financial hub, in the morning after the rest of the passengers spent the night in hotels.
Dutch authorities will release all 12 passengers arrested on a U.S. Northwest Airlines plane bound for India later, prosecutors said. "From the statement of suspects and witnesses, no evidence could be brought forward that these men were about to commit an act of violence," a prosecution statement said, adding police had searched for explosives on the plane, but found none. Indian junior foreign minister Anand Sharma told reporters all 12 were born in Mumbai. Mumbai has also been on high alert after commuter train bombings on 11 July that killed 186 people.
"It does not appear to be terror related," Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner told journalists in The Hague. A spokeswoman for the Dutch counter-terrorism office added: "There is no indication of a terrorist threat on the plane that returned to Schiphol." An Indian Foreign Ministry official said all 12 were men of Indian origin, although some apparently held other passports. Dutch authorities had granted consular access to those who are Indian nationals.
The return of the Northwest plane to Amsterdam did not lead to heightened security and did not affect other flights at Schiphol, Europe's third largest cargo airport and fourth biggest passenger hub, an airport spokeswoman said. There have been several scares since the British plot was uncovered, including at the Tri-State Airport in Huntington, West Virginia 17 August; on a Pacific Blue flight from Fiji to Sydney; and on a British plane from London to Egypt diverted to Italy 18 August.
A British judge has remanded in custody another of the 24 suspects arrested. Umair Hussain, 24, is charged with his brother Mehran with failing to disclose information that could help prevent an act of terrorism. District Court Judge Daphne Wickham denied Hussain bail and ordered him to appear in court on 1 September. A date for a committal hearing was set for 19 September. Hussain spoke only to confirm his name and age during a brief appearance in court. Hussain's lawyer, Timur Rustem, told reporters outside City of Westminster Magistrates Court in central London he was surprised by the charge, which relates to disclosing information about Hussain's younger brother Nabeel. He said he also believed there were questions about its legality. British media say Nabeel is one of eight people still in custody who have not been charged with any offense. Rustem said he had lodged a complaint with the Independent Police Complaints Commission about the conditions in which Hussain was held while being questioned at Paddington Green Police Station in north London. "He's a cheerful soul, he's taking it quite philosophically," Rustem said. "He knows it is a serious investigation."
Ryanair Holdings made good on its threat to sue the British government, asking for damages from cancellations and lost bookings after security moves taken in wake of a failed plot to blow up planes flying out of the UK to the U.S. Ryanair's (RYAAY) move, however, didn't appear intended to bolster the coffers—it's asking for £3 million ($5.7 million, €4.95 million), which it would donate entirely to a charity that works to prevent blindness. Ryanair, Europe's largest low-cost airline, said it's seeking the amount of damages incurred from 10 to 16 August The British government, in turn, said Ryanair doesn't have the right to seek compensation, according to a government spokesman quoted by BBC News. "The purpose of this claim is to encourage the Department for Transport to restore UK airport security to the effective International Air Transport Association norm, and to prevent similar breakdowns at UK airports during future security scares by putting in the necessary police and army personnel to carry out the extra security checks whenever the government decides to double or quadruple them again, without notice," the company said. Dublin-based Ryanair has been the most outspoken of the airlines operating from the UK to criticize the UK government rules, though British Airways (BAB) executives also have criticized the government's response. Ryanair charges that the new procedures adopted after the plot had been foiled are "nonsensical and ineffective." It cited as examples: Reduced carry-on luggage limits only apply to flights departing the UK, and not inbound flights. The reduction of luggage limits to a large briefcase when the internationally accepted carry-on bag is only 20% greater doesn't improve security. The body searching of every second passenger coming through X-ray machines instead of one in four means that families, elderly couples and young children are searched as potential terrorists. Bottles, cosmetics and toiletries are being confiscated, even though passengers can buy them in duty-free and bring them aboard outbound flights. "It is a pity that the UK government has so far failed to adopt the same rock-solid approach it took when it successfully restored the London Underground to normal within two days of the 7 July attacks," said CEO Michael O'Leary. Ryanair also has used the new security risks as a marketing ploy, offering seats at a discount "to defeat terrorism." Ryanair shares were little moved, rising 0.2% in European trading.
Interior minister Aftab Ahmad Sherpao said Rashid Rauf had “wider international links” and was in touch with an Afghanistan-based al Qaida leader. He did not offer any evidence to back up his claim. Pakistan has withheld information about at least seven suspects, whom security officials say were arrested on Rauf’s information. Pakistan has no extradition treaty with Britain, but Mr Sherpao said they would consider deporting Rauf to London if any such request was made to them. Rauf, in his mid-20s, is believed to be being interrogated by Pakistan agents near the capital, Islamabad. He had ties by marriage to Masood Azhar, leader of an al Qaida-linked Pakistani militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammed. Azhar has lived in Bhawalpur, a city in eastern Pakistan where Rauf had also settled. However, Pakistan has said the group had no links to the plot.
Sources said that Britain had approached the foreign affairs ministry in Islamabad seeking the deportation of Rashid Rauf, the main suspect. “The request is pending with the foreign office,” the sources said, adding that it would be processed when it was passed on to the interior ministry. All that Interior Minister Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao could say was that his ministry had not received any such request. Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam said she was unaware of any request for Mr Rauf’s deportation, but said that arrangements between Pakistan and Britain provided for such a possibility. “There is mutual legal assistance arrangement through the joint judicial cooperation working group which provides for such a possibility and cooperation. Yes, the possibility (for Rauf’s deportation) exists. It can not be ruled out”, she told. The sources, requesting anonymity, said the 26-year-old suspect, who had been picked up from Bahawalpur, had been charged with forging documents. He has not been charged with any terrorism-related offences. An FIR was registered against him at the Islamabad Airport police station in Rawalpindi. He was produced before a magistrate in Rawalpindi again 25 August after his 14-day remand had ended. He was remanded for another 14 days. The sources said it might take four to five weeks to process the case for Mr Rauf’s deportation back to England. They said Mr Rauf had been charged with another offence. Though they did not specify the charge, they made it clear that the new charge was also not related to terrorism. “He was needed for further investigation and hence the request for further remand,” the sources said. The sources said that Mr Rauf had been under surveillance for over a month but his movements were closely watched and monitored a week before his arrest. They said that Mr Rauf had made several calls to plotters in England hastening his arrest. A computer and some computer disks were recovered from his possession. The sources did not say what those phone calls were all about but said that the British investigators, despite having initial differences with the US and Pakistan on when to proceed against the plotters, concurred to arrest them once the main suspect was in custody. The sources claimed that Mr Rauf was not only a key suspect, who had met the Al Qaeda mastermind, but was also instrumental in directing finances to the plotters through South Africa.
Peter Bennink, reader of the Asian Age has written the following sentences:Sir, In their news report on the NWA flight that returned to Amsterdam instead of flying to Mumbai, your reporters suggest that the Dutch authorities had racist motives in detaining the 12 Indians (‘Dutch were racist,’ 26 August). For some reason people assume the Dutch are to blame for this whole regrettable course of events. I disagree. Firstly, the Indian "victims" should have simply cooperated with the aircrew. Apparently, the Mumbai businessmen behaved in a rather obnoxious manner. As frequent flyers, they should know how tight security measures are these days and that everyone on board is expected to stick strictly to the procedures. To me it seems that they simply paid the price of their ignorance. Secondly, it was the American staff of an American airline that decided to return to Amsterdam. If ever there was any racism involved in this whole episode, it would be in judging whether the 12 men should have been seen as a threat. This decision was made by the American crew and air marshals. On the return of the aircraft, the 12 were handed over to the Dutch authorities as suspects. Of course they were detained and interrogated. The authorities of any responsible country would do just that. And yes, they were handcuffed. As the investigation had not even started yet what else was the police to do? For all they knew they were dealing with potential terrorists. It is not every day that an airplane returns because of a potential threat from passengers. Would not the Mumbai police use handcuffs when they take suspected people from an airplane? As a frequent reader of your newspaper and a Dutch citizen I was surprised to read this rather unbalanced news report.
Another three men were charged with conspiracy to murder and preparing an act of terrorism: Mohammed Yasar Gulzar, Nabeel Hussain, and Mohammed Shamin Uddin. They are to appear in the Old Bailey on 18 September.
Eight British Muslims were remanded in custody for a further two weeks after appearing in court in connection with a suspected plot to blow up transatlantic airliners at the Old Bailey. The men, aged between 19 and 28, are accused of conspiracy to murder and preparing an act of terrorism. They are: Tanvir Hussain, 25, of no fixed abode; Umar Islam, 28, of east London; Arafat Waheed Khan, 25, from Walthamstow, east London; Ahmed Abdullah Ali, 25 from Walthamstow; Ibrahim Savant, 25, from north London; Waheed Zaman, 22, from Walthamstow; Assad Sarwar, 26, from High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, and Adam Khatib, 19, from Walthamstow. They are each charged with one offence of conspiracy to murder. They are also charged with a new offence contrary to the Terrorism Act 2006, alleging that they were preparing to smuggle the component parts of improvised explosive devices on to aircraft and assemble and detonate them on board. The will appear at the Old Bailey for a preliminary hearing via video link from Belmarsh high security jail.
Prosecutor Colin Gibbs told a packed courtroom that due to the mountain of evidence, including forensic material, he expected the men to face "a very long trial of (between) five and eight months." The trial, he said, would not realistically start until at least January 2008.
Aviation experts agreed on EU-wide rules on scanning laptop computers taken into aircraft cabins, but they delayed a decision on restricting liquids in hand luggage. A decision to follow Britain and the United States in banning carry-on liquids will only be taken after more technical discussions 11 September 2006 in London and Montreal, the European Union said in a statement. "A common European response to address this threat is urgent," said the EU's committee on civil aviation security. The EU statement said the two-day meeting had made "considerable progress" toward drawing up new rules. However officials said more technical talks would be needed before they agree on whether to ban all liquids in carryon luggage or restrict the amount of liquid that could be carried on planes. Officials said they needed more information to decide how much liquid could be carried without constituting a possible risk. European technical specialists will meet in London on 11 September 2006, and a five-day meeting of international experts will open on the same day in Montreal. Pending those talks, the EU nations also held off on any decision on new limits to the size of permitted hand luggage.
Many European airports already ask passengers to remove laptop computers to be scanned separately, but until now there has been no EU-wide regulation. The EU statement said the decision to make separate scanning mandatory would "increase the ability of screeners to detect capability of concealed dangerous items." The experts also agreed on the need to phase in higher performance scanners. A spokeswoman for an organization representing several of Europe's biggest airlines welcomed the decisions. "It's a very good idea, we're glad its been implemented swiftly," said Francoise Humbert, communications manager of the Association of European Airlines. She was also pleased the EU was seeking more international consultation before introducing restrictions on liquids. The AEA, which represents 31 European carriers, said it would support strict restrictions on carrying liquids and gels onto passenger planes, but oppose a complete prohibition. "We don't want a total ban, that would be unrealistic," Humbert said in a telephone interview. "It will cause huge operational problems and hassle for passengers." She said the association would accept a size limit of around 150 milliliters - around the size of a toothpaste tube or small deodorant.
The M40 motorway was closed near High Wycombe by the Metropolitan Police as explosives officers investigated several bags and bottles found in the nearby woods. The police refused to confirm whether it was related to the 2006 transatlantic aircraft plot.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer refers to his department's part in the foiling (via the Financial Sanctions Unit) of the alleged plot in a major speech to delivered at Chatham House, calling it "the most expeditious and most comprehensive asset freeze the Treasury has undertaken." He added that in relation to the case, "nearly 70 homes, business and open spaces have been searched... [A]s well as bomb making equipment, 200 mobile phones, 400 computers, and a total of 8,000 CDs, DVDs and computer disks, containing 6,000 gigabytes of data have been seized." He also explained that, given that the police had to intervene early before the terrorist act, they may need an investigation regime that allows for more 28 days of pre-charge detention than was brought in by the Terrorism Act 2006.
The City of Westminster Magistrates' Court released two suspects, Mehran Hussain and Umair Hussain, due to insufficient evidence
The Department for Transport announces that the restrictions on the carriage of liquids onto the planes are to be relaxed slightly on 6 November, and that passengers will be allowed to carry containers up to 100 ml into the plane in a resealable bag