British police foil major aircraft bomb plot
Updated Thu. Aug. 10 2006 7:55 AM ET
British police say they've foiled a terrorist plot to simultaneously blow up several aircraft in mid-flight between the United Kingdom and the United States.
The plan was to smuggle explosives in hand luggage onto as many as 10 flights, officials said Thursday.
It's believed three U.S. airlines -- United, American and Continental -- were to be targeted.
British Home Secretary John Reid said had the bomb plot been carried out, "the loss of life to civilians would have been on an unprecedented scale."
Police arrested 21 people in London, High Wycombe and Birmingham and searches were continuing in a number of homes.
Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Paul Stephenson said the alleged plotters had intended "mass murder on an unimaginable scale".
"We are confident that we have disrupted a plan by terrorists to cause untold death and destruction and to commit, quite frankly, mass murder," he told reporters.
London's Heathrow Airport was closed on Thursday to most incoming flights not already in the air, while security was increased at all British airports.
Security was raised to its highest level in Britain and carry-on luggage on all trans-Atlantic flights was banned.
Passengers were only permitted to take aboard essential items, such as passports and wallets, and only then in a transparent plastic bag.
Meanwhile, massive crowds formed at security barriers at London's Heathrow Airport as officials searching for explosives barred just about every type of liquid except baby formula.
CTV's Bill Kearney said it was "pretty crazy" at Heathrow Airport.
"It's very congested but they are moving passengers through," he told Newsnet Thursday. "Heavily armed police are walking around and people are panicking because they don't know what to do with their hand luggage."
The counter-terrorism investigation has been ongoing for several months, Metropolitan Police anti-terrorist branch chief Peter Clarke said.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Clarke said the investigation had had "global dimensions" and had seen an "unprecedented level" of surveillance.
"We've been looking at meetings, movements, travel, spending and the aspirations of a large group of people," Clarke told reporters.
The decision to take action had been taken on Wednesday night, when the plot reached "a critical level," he added.
Police haven't released any information yet as to whether the suspects have ties to any particular group, although it's believed the suspects were "homegrown."
Britain's MI5 has raised the country's security threat level to "critical," meaning a terrorist attack "is expected imminently and indicates an extremely high level of threat," MI5's website says.
The threat level had been described as "severe" prior to Thursday's announcement.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has increased the threat level applied to U.S.-bound commercial flights originating in Britain to "red."
A Downing Street spokesman said British Prime Minister Tony Blair had briefed U.S. President George Bush on the situation overnight.
Air Canada said there were no scheduled disruptions of its flights leaving Britain for Canada on Thursday.
However, a Greater Toronto Airports Authority recording advised passengers not to carry liquids of any kind on board, including shampoo and toothpaste, and not to bring drinks through security checks or on board aircraft.
Staff Sgt. Greg Ellis, of Peel Regional Police airport division, told Newsnet that "people should expect delays and allow sufficient time for check-in."
With files from The Associated Press
Homeland Security just announced, that they will be sending air marshals to the UK for U.S. flights from Britain to the U.S. You would think that in light of activities that went on last summer in London, and the general climate in the world at this time, that they would have been doing this all along. Just seems to me that the government is once again having a knee-jerk reaction, to something they should have been on top of already. At any rate, I'm glad to hear that the British authorities are apparently so competent.
Btw, it sounds as though you can no longer bring liquids on a flight, due to the nature of what this plot entailed.
Foiled plot brings new security, delays By DANICA KIRKA, Associated Press Writer
29 minutes ago
LONDON - British authorities said Thursday they thwarted a terrorist plot to simultaneously blow up several aircraft heading to the U.S. using explosives smuggled in carry-on luggage. Security was raised to its highest level in Britain, and carry-on luggage was banned on all flights. Huge crowds backed up at London's Heathrow airport as officials searching for explosives barred nearly every form of liquid outside of baby formula.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the terrorists planned to use liquid explosives disguised as beverages and other common products and set them off with detonators disguised as electronic devices.
The extreme measures at a major international aviation hub sent ripples throughout the world. Heathrow was closed to most flights from Europe, and British Airways canceled all its flights between the airport and points in Britain, Europe and Libya. Numerous flights from U.S. cities to Britain were canceled.
Washington raised its threat alert to its highest level for commercial flights from Britain to the United States amid fears the plot had not been completely crushed. The alert for all flights coming or going from the United States was also raised slightly.
Two U.S. counterterrorism officials said the terrorists had targeted United, American and Continental airlines. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.
Police arrested 21 people, saying they were confident they captured the main suspects in what U.S. officials said was a plot in its final phases that had all the earmarks of an al-Qaida operation.
A U.S. intelligence official said the plotters had hoped to target flights to major airports in New York, Washington and California.
British Home Secretary John Reid said the 21 people were arrested in London, its suburbs and Birmingham following a lengthy investigation, including the alleged "main players" in the plot. Searches continued in a number of locations.
The British Broadcasting Corp. said police were evacuating homes in High Wycombe, a town 30 miles northwest of London, near one of the houses being searched. Police refused to confirm the report or to discuss any details of the searches.
President Bush said during a visit to Green Bay, Wis., that the foiled plot was a "stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists." Despite increased security since Sept. 11, he warned, "It is a mistake to believe there is no threat to the United States of America."
While British officials declined to publicly identify the 21 suspects, French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said in Paris that they "appear to be of Pakistani origin." He did not give a source for his description, but said French officials had been in close contact with British authorities.
The suspects were "homegrown," though it was not immediately clear if they were all British citizens, said a British police official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case. Police were working closely with the South Asian community, the official said.
The suicide bombing assault on London subway trains and a bus on July 7, 2005, was carried out by Muslim extremists who grew up in Britain.
The police official said the plotters intended to simultaneously target multiple planes bound for the United States.
"We think this was an extraordinarily serious plot and we are confident that we've prevented an attempt to commit mass murder on an unimaginable scale," Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson said.
Prime Minister Tony Blair, vacationing in the Caribbean, briefed Bush on the situation overnight. Blair issued a statement praising the cooperation between the two countries, saying it "underlines the threat we face and our determination to counter it."
White House spokesman Tony Snow said Bush also had been briefed by his aides while at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, where he has been on vacation.
"We do believe the plot involved flights from the U.K. to the U.S. and was a direct threat to the United States," Snow said.
While Snow called the plot a serious threat, he assured Americans that "it is safe to travel."
Chertoff, the homeland security chief, said the plot had the hallmarks of an operation planned by al-Qaida, the terrorist group behind the Sept. 11 attack on the United States.
"It was sophisticated, it had a lot of members and it was international in scope. It was in some respects suggestive of an al-Qaida plot," Chertoff said, but he cautioned it was too early in the investigation to reach any conclusions.
It is the first time the red alert level in the Homeland Security warning system has been invoked, although there have been brief periods in the past when the orange level was applied. Homeland Security defines the red alert as designating a "severe risk of terrorist attacks."
"We believe that these arrests (in London) have significantly disrupted the threat, but we cannot be sure that the threat has been entirely eliminated or the plot completely thwarted," Chertoff said.
He added, however, there was no indication of current plots within the United States.
Chertoff said the plotters were in the final stages of planning. "We were really getting quite close to the execution phase," he said, adding that it was unclear if the plot was linked to the upcoming fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
A senior U.S. counterterrorism official said authorities believe dozens of people "” possibly as many as 50 "” were involved in the plot. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
The plan involved airline passengers hiding masked explosives in carry-on luggage, the official said. "They were not yet sitting on an airplane," but were very close to traveling, the official said, calling the plot "the real deal."
Passengers in Britain faced delays as tighter security was hastily enforced at the country's airports and additional measures were put in place for all flights. Laptop computers, mobile phones, iPods, and remote controls were among the items banned from being carried on board.
Liquids, such as hair care products, were also barred on flights in both Britain and the U.S.
In the mid-1990s, officials foiled a plan by terrorist mastermind Ramzi Youssef to blow up 12 Western jetliners simultaneously over the Pacific. The alleged plot involved improvised bombs using liquid hidden in contact lens solution containers.
Huge lines formed at ticket counters and behind security barriers at Heathrow and other airports in Britain.
Ed Lappen, 55, a businessman from Boston, who was traveling with his wife and daughter to Russia, found himself unable to travel further. "We're safe, we're OK," he said at Heathrow. "Now my daughter is going to get a shopping trip in London."
Hannah Pillinger, 24, seemed less concerned by the announcement. "Eight hours without an iPod, that's the most inconvenient thing," she said, waiting at the Manchester airport.
Most European carriers canceled flights to Heathrow because of the massive delays created after authorities enforced strict new regulations banning most hand baggage.
Tony Douglas, Heathrow's managing director, said the airport hoped to resume normal operations Friday, but passengers would still face delays and a ban on cabin baggage "for the foreseeable future."
Security also was stepped up at train stations serving airports across Britain, said British Transport Police spokeswoman Jan O'Neill. At London's Victoria Station, police patrolled platforms with bomb-sniffing dogs as passengers boarded trains carrying clear plastic bags.
Margaret Gavin, 67, waiting to board a train, said she wasn't scared. "Why should I change my life because some idiots want to blow something up?" she said.
By ROBERT BARR, Associated Press Writer
46 minutes ago
LONDON - British officials identified 19 of the suspects accused of plotting to blow up U.S.-bound aircraft, making public a list of names that fueled suspicions of a Pakistan connection. Travelers saw shorter lines at airports as flight schedules slowly returned to normal Friday.
Five Pakistanis have been arrested in Pakistan as suspected "facilitators" of the plot, a government official said, in addition to two Britons arrested there about a week ago.
The Bank of England said it had frozen the accounts of 19 people arrested Thursday. The men, ranging in age from 17 to 35, had names of Muslim origin, many of which are common in Pakistan.
British police have arrested 24 people suspected of involvement in the plot. Investigators, describing a plan on the scale of the Sept. 11 attacks, said the attackers planned to use common electronic devices to detonate liquid explosives to bring down as many as 10 planes.
The bombs were to be assembled on 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 that 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 an earmark 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 that they served as local "facilitators" for the two Britons, the official said. It wasn't clear when they'd been detained.
The Guardian newspaper, citing unidentified British government sources, said that after the arrests 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.
Many of the 24 suspects arrested in Britain were said to be British Muslims, and neighbors said at least two of those arrested were converts to Islam.
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, though flights from the United States "” which increased security measures in the wake of the threat "” were heavily delayed.
New security measures banning liquids and gels on flights remained in place.
"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.
The raids in Britain on Thursday followed a monthslong 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 Airlines flights from Britain to major U.S. destinations, which counterterrorism officials said probably included New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. 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."
Raids were carried out at homes in London, the nearby town of High Wycombe and in Birmingham, in central England. Searches continued throughout the day, and police cordoned off streets in several locations. Police also combed a wooded area in High Wycombe.
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 one of the suspects 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.
Associated Press Writers Pat Milton and Tom Hays in New York, Lara Jakes Jordan in Washington, Jay Lindsay in Boston and Sadaqat Jan in Islamabad contributed to this report.
How on earth do you deal with crazy people like this? Whatever we are doing now, sure isn't working. This is insane.
The world's most important airport has failed a crucial test
While the police investigation into the alleged terror plot directed against flights from Britain continues, so does the extreme inconvenience being experienced by hundreds of thousands of aspiring passengers. There is a widespread appreciation that enhanced security measures are necessary, but immense and legitimate frustration at cancellations and delays. These are occurring at a rate that seems excessive, not least to passengers being held, sometimes for hours, outside terminal buildings. One apparent way of reducing congestion inside terminals is to lock passengers out. This has driven the leading airlines, notably BA, to issue unusual public criticism of the British Airports Authority (BAA).
It is not unreasonable to ask for patience. The nature of the threat, and that arrests had to be made earlier than anticipated, mean that strict measures at airports are required. These may well be relaxed in the next few days. Questions must then be asked about about how airports are to be equipped to meet the inevitable challenges of the future.
The present difficulties have, however, been made worse by inadequate communications. It has not been made sufficiently clear to passengers precisely what they are allowed to carry on board and where they are permitted to bring those items from. Books, for example, are, somewhat curiously, banned on flights to the US but allowed for other trips from Heathrow, provided that they are purchased after passing through security. At smaller, typically short-haul, airports, reading matter brought from home is not deemed a danger. BAA should by now have clarified the position.
What may, and may not, be carried in a clear plastic bag is only part of the problem. The principal cause of delays is the understandable demand that passengers are subjected to a full body search rather than waved through if they do not set off a metal detector. On this matter, BA and Ryanair, among others, have a wholly valid point when they ask that army reservists, community support officers, private firms or retired airport security workers should be asked to assist existing staff. It is extraordinary that BAA has no adequate staff contingency plans for emergency periods that have become a part of modern life.
Staff policing Heathrow doors yesterday were hopelessly ill-informed and were seemingly unable to communicate what little information they did have to the huddled masses. The Department for Transport should satisfy itself that BAA has learnt from these mistakes "” the company moved quickly to safeguard duty-free sales, but has been far too slow to ease the burden on passengers.
Ministers should also be as frank as they can be about their longer-term thinking. It would not be viewed as an outrage if items that could be converted into detonators "” laptop computers, mobile telephones, iPods and cameras "” were banished from hand luggage. But the public must be treated like adults, and the new rules must be clearly explained. That process needs to start now at Heathrow.
Not to make light of this whole nightmare, but pretty soon they will make you travel nude.
No books? I'd be more concerned about the entertainment systems these airlines provide. Those can kill as we've sadly found out.
For information regarding rules about carry-on items, etc.:
And here's more from the TSA:
Medicine in, aerosol out on U.S. flights By JOHN HEILPRIN, Associated Press Writer
1 hour, 29 minutes ago
WASHINGTON - Air travelers were handed new rules Sunday, given permission to carry small amounts of liquid nonprescription medicine onto a plane and instructed to remove their shoes during security checks.
The shoes have to be placed on an X-ray belt for screening before passengers can put them back on.
The eased restrictions on medicine and the mandatory shoe removal were among several measures the Transportation Security Administration ordered Sunday in response to the thwarted terror plot in Britain involving U.S.-bound airplanes.
TSA had previously banned all liquid medications; now it will allow up to 4 ounces of liquid nonprescription medicine.
The alleged conspirators had planned to blow up as many as 10 planes flying from Britain to the U.S. using liquid explosives, which TSA's security equipment can't detect in carryon luggage.
In other measures, TSA said it would let flyers carry on low blood sugar treatments including glucose gel for diabetics; solid lipstick; and baby food. But it said all aerosols are prohibited.
On Saturday, the TSA added mascara to the list of banned items, which includes baby teethers with gel or liquid inside, children's toys with gel inside and gel candles.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff reassured people things would only go so far.
"I don't see us moving to a total ban on hand baggage at this point," he told ABC's "This Week" on Sunday.
Chertoff said the government was putting "less emphasis on the nail clippers and the nail scissors" and more on training additional screeners "specifically to look for modern-type detonation equipment that might be concealed in baggage."
TSA said it wanted to remove any ambiguity from its procedures, particularly over the handling of shoes.
Until now, the agency has strongly suggested removing shoes for the screening belt, but hasn't required that.
Now, travelers must take them off before walking onto airplanes. Flyers can continue to wear shoes containing gel heels, but they must remove any sort of gel sole insert and put those into checked baggage.
Airport travelers also should expect to see broader use of police-trained sniffing dogs, TSA said, along with random gate inspections and bag searches. But the TSA is limited by law to 45,000 screeners at the 450 commercial airports.
TSA chief Kip Hawley said the latest changes were based on feedback from security officers and the public.
"We are maintaining the same level of security while clarifying interpretations in the field," he said Sunday. "These tweaks are aimed at making a smoother process at the checkpoint."
The changes offer the same level of security that has been in place since last Thursday, but is intended to minimize the impact on travelers, officials said.
Screeners have begun searching more carryon luggage by hand. They also are randomly checking passengers at airport gates to make sure that they haven't bought toothpaste or drinks at airport shops after going through a security checkpoint.
Passengers are asked to arrive at least two hours early to allow for the additional screening. Those traveling to the United Kingdom should find out from their about any extra security measures or precautions that might be required. Laptop computers, mobile phones and iPods were among items banned on British flights.
The nation's threat level remains the highest possible, "severe," or "red," for U.S.-bound commercial flights originating in Britain. All other flights operating in or destined for the United States remain at "high," or "orange."
By ALAN COWELL
Published: August 14, 2006
LONDON, Aug. 14 "” One day after Britain said it faced a continuing threat of terrorist attack following last week's alleged bomb plot, the authorities today lowered their assessment of the level of hazard by one notch from "critical" to "severe."
Heathrow passengers waited out long lines in the rain. A terror alert was lowered Sunday to severe, from critical, and law enforcement officials hinted that the security clampdown was "time-limited."
The move meant that airport authorities were able to allow limited hand baggage back on planes. All but the most essential items had been barred since the government arrested 24 people five days ago, accusing them of plotting to detonate explosives on up to 10 America-bound airliners.
The easing of the hand baggage ban may not come into force immediately on all airlines, company officials said. Britain's Department for Transport said today that passengers would now be allowed one item of hand luggage of a limited size, with any other bags such as handbags carried inside it. Laptops are again permitted onboard.
But a ban on liquids "” imposed because authorities feared the alleged bombers would use liquid explosives "” would remain, within the exception of essential prescription drugs and baby formula.
Britain raised its threat assessment level to "severe" last Thursday. The designation means that an attack is imminent.
In a statement, John Reid, the Home Secretary, said security services now believed that a terrorist attack, while still "highly likely," was no longer "imminent."
"The change in threat level does not mean the threat has gone away," Mr. Reid said.
In an earlier statement he said: "There has now been time to assess the intelligence picture following the police operation. The police believe that the main suspects in the alleged plot were arrested last week. There is still a very serious threat of an attack. 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."
The heightened security at British airports brought pandemonium to flight schedules with thousands of passengers clustered in marquees set up as makeshift waiting rooms as driving rain pounded down. Attendants handed out free plastic rain covers.
Despite the tight security, the Press Association news agency reported, one passenger succeeded in smuggling a cell phone onto a flight to New York in contravention of the tightened security regulations. The plane turned back to London.
The easing of security arrangements followed a bitter dispute between the airlines and airport operator BAA, which ordered carriers to cancel almost a third of their flights.
A spokeswoman for one low-cost carrier, easyJet, said the airline would implement the new baggage arrangements immediately.
But a BAA spokesman at Heathrow was more cautious, telling the Press Association: "This is the beginning of the steps back to normal and we are looking at the best way to implement the changes across our airports. As of today passengers should not show up with hand luggage. They should continue to operate as they are now operating."
On Sunday, Mr. Reid, the Home Secretary, said that around 24 other major terrorist conspiracies were still under surveillance.
"There are still people out there who would carry out such attacks," he said. "The threat of a terrorist attack in the U.K. is still very substantial."
In early morning raids last Thursday the police rounded up 24 suspects and later freed one of them, leaving 23 in custody under counter-terrorism laws permitting 28-day detention without charge. Of those, 22 were being questioned on Sunday while the status of the 23rd awaited a court ruling on Monday. They have been implicated in an alleged plot to use liquid explosives to detonate aboard airliners.
In a BBC interview, Mr. Reid did not give details of any of the other conspiracies he mentioned, but echoed earlier police assessments that British authorities had foiled four other plots since the July 7 London bombings last year.
The bombings brought Britons up short against the bloody reality of Islamic terrorism, made all the more chilling by the fact that the attacks then "” like the suspects now "” were mainly British-born Muslims. But the figure of 24 continuing investigations into other plots "” far higher than had been made known "” seemed bound to alarm many people whose lives have already been reshaped by new security regimes and what Prime Minister Tony Blair has called an "elemental" battle with radical Islam.
At Heathrow airport, Europe's busiest, airlines canceled almost one-third of their flights on Sunday after a chaotic day on Saturday when many flights were canceled and some left half-empty because passengers were stuck in security lines awaiting body searches. About 500 people spent the night camped out at the airport.
"It's good they found the people," said Verena Trommen, a 26-year-old German traveler, referring to the arrested suspects. "But this is just so hard." Sobbing as she spoke to a reporter, she said she had arrived from Vancouver and was trying to get home to Munich but her flight had been canceled and she would spend the night at Heathrow. "It's a very bad end to a holiday," she said. "It feels just like the war. It's like a really bad movie."
Some travelers said the heightened security was no more than window-dressing. "It's just cosmetic," said Anne Arnemann, 54, a school-teacher from Berlin. "If a suicide bomber wanted to get through, he would." But some Americans saw the security arrangements from a different perspective. "We all lived through 9/11 and know it takes a while for systems to adapt," said Paul Bell, a 46-year-old American manager living in London.
One airline boss, Michael O'Leary, the chief executive of low-cost carrier Ryanair, said the government "by insisting on these heavy-handed security measures is allowing the extremists to achieve many of their objectives."
The threat of new attacks, as depicted by Mr. Reid, has sharpened an increasingly divisive debate over the links between home-grown Islamic terror attacks and Britain's actions in the Muslim world. In a remarkable open letter on Saturday, 38 Islamic groups along with Muslim legislators and peers said British policies as an ally of the United States in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere had provided "ammunition to extremists that threaten us all."
The letter drew a tart response by a phalanx of government ministers, including Mr. Reid, who called it on Sunday a "dreadful misjudgment."
"We make decisions in this country by democracy, not under threat of terrorism," Mr. Reid said.
David Davis, the home affairs spokesman of the opposition Conservatives, was more nuanced, acknowledging that Britain's foreign policy might be "part of the catalyst" for terrorism.
"But to explain this is not to excuse it," he said. "There are plenty of people with legitimate arguments with the government's foreign policy in Iraq and Afghanistan, in Lebanon and the Middle East. But none of them take the stance of attempting to murder many thousands of their fellow citizens."
Indeed, while the government has struggled to refute the suggestion that its foreign policy has fueled extremism, Muslim groups say they are not alone in opposing Mr. Blair's policies in the Muslim world, where he has spoken of an "arc of extremism" challenging democratic values.
Hizb ut-Tahrir, a radical group that says it eschews violence in its quest for the revival of the Islamic caliphate, said in a statement Sunday that the foreign policy concerns were "shared by Muslims and non-Muslims alike." And it recalled an official assessment by the British security services in June 2005 that "events in Iraq are continuing to act as motivation and a focus of a range of terrorist-related activity in the U.K."
Apparently seeking to bolster official denials of a link between terrorism and Britain's alliance with the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq, Mr. Reid said it was now known that Al Qaeda first tried to attack a British target in 2000. "So this has been a long-going threat but it is a chronic one and it is a severe one," he said.
"We now think in retrospect that the first Al Qaeda plot, for instance against this country, preceded by quite a while our intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan and actually preceded 9/11," he said.
The remark seemed to be an indirect confirmation, for the first time, that the government saw the hand of Al Qaeda in the latest conspiracy, echoing stronger assertions by Pakistani officials.
Mr. Reid did not give details about the purported conspiracy in 2000 beyond saying it was uncovered in Birmingham, a city that figured in the latest wave of arrests. One man seized there, Tayib Rauf, was said to be the brother of Rashid Rauf, a man captured by police in Pakistan whose arrest reportedly triggered last week's round-up of suspects.
Asked about a report in The Observer newspaper that police were hunting "two dozen" terror cells in Britain, Mr. Reid 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. There would be more which are not at the center of our considerations and there may be more that we don't know about at all."
He also appeared to suggest that some conspirators associated with last week's alleged plot to use liquid explosives in waves of attacks may still be at large. "We believe it was a major, major plot," he said, describing the police investigation as "ongoing."
"We believe we have the main targets," he said, but did not rule out the idea that other people at large might still be planning an attack or "prepared to use this opportunity to carry out a terrorist attack."
Two weeks after last year's July 7 bombings, when four suicide bombers killed 52 commuters on the London transport system, another group attempted what seemed a copy-cat attack that failed only when their explosives failed to detonate on subway trains and a bus.
WASHINGTON, August 14 "” As British citizens, the 24 terror suspects arrested in England last week could have boarded planes bound for the United States without undergoing an American government background check or obtaining a visa, part of what federal officials say is a broader security gap that they are now trying to close.
Britain is among 27 countries whose citizens are not required to obtain visas before traveling to the United States, meaning that the American authorities do not have an opportunity to screen them in advance. Given this gap, the Department of Homeland Security has tried but failed to win broad approval for rules that would require airlines to share passenger information before flights depart for the United States.
Instead, under current rules, passenger data is sent in the first 15 minutes after a flight takes off. That system lets American authorities turn a flight away if a suspected terrorist is determined to be on board, but does not provide any margin of safety in the case of attempts to blow up a plane while in flight, as was alleged to have been the suspects' plan in the trans-Atlantic plot.
Since Thursday, the day the plot was disclosed, Homeland Security officials have required that passenger data be provided before planes leave Britain for the United States, part of a widening of temporary security measures.
But because of airline concerns about flight delays and the difficulties of squaring the access to information with European privacy laws, the department's efforts to permanently require advance information on all passengers of international flights are unresolved, industry and government officials said.
"It's absolutely essential for aviation security for the U.S. government to have that information and match it against our watch lists in advance of departure," said Jay Ahern, chief of field operations at Customs and Border Protection. Mr. Ahern said the department hoped new rules could take effect late this year or early next year. He said the rules proposed by the department would require information to be turned over an hour before takeoff, though information on anyone checking in late could be provided as little as 15 minutes before the flight.
About 87 million visitors to the United States each year arrive by air, according to government statistics. Travelers from most of the world must obtain visas before trying to enter the United States, requiring that they complete an application, provide a photograph and fingerprints, and submit to an interview.
But since 1988, the visa waiver program that now applies to citizens of Britain and 26 other countries, most of them in Europe, has left open what some members of Congress and counterterrorism experts now describe as an important vulnerability in American defenses, because so many suspected terrorists in recent years have been European Muslims.
In the plot last week, officials said, most of those arrested were British-born citizens of Pakistani descent and most, though not all, had obtained passports for foreign travel. They would have been prevented from traveling only because they were already under surveillance by British authorities.
Proposals after the Sept. 11 attacks to require visas for all foreign visitors were abandoned out of concerns that the demand would create an overwhelming bureaucratic workload, interfere with trade and tourism, and prompt Britain and other countries to impose the same requirement on Americans. Proposals pending in Congress would add Poland, South Korea and other countries to the waiver list.
Despite more than two years of negotiations, the department has been unable to reach an agreement with airlines to assure the delivery of passenger data before takeoff for all flights to the United States.
In an interview on Sunday, Michael Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security, said the vulnerabilities had existed too long. He said he hoped the British plot might persuade the airlines and European authorities to drop objections to his department's proposal.
"I sure hope this is a great wake-up call," Mr. Chertoff said.
Robert S. Leikin, who studies the security issues at the Nixon Center in Washington, said many suspected terrorists arrested in recent years were the children of Muslim immigrants to Europe. Their citizenship in nations with visa waivers makes improving the checks on air travelers critical, he said.
Government officials he has consulted on the threat "are pretty relaxed now about people coming from the Middle East because of the visa screening process," Mr. Leikin said. "What they're really concerned about is Europe."
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, federal officials proposed that airlines turn over data for passengers taking international flights to the United States an hour before takeoff, so they could compare the names, dates of birth and passport numbers to a "no fly" watch list.
Airlines are required to check the list on their own as passengers arrive at the airport. But the data they have is less complete and current than what is available to the federal government.
The airlines objected to the one-hour rule, saying it would force delays because passengers are often added to the manifest within minutes of departure, particularly if they are transferring from another flight. The requirement, the airlines complained, could force them to leave planes sitting on the ground for an hour, or to turn away passengers with tight connections. So final action on the rule was delayed.
Separately, United States officials asked for access to a much more comprehensive collection of passenger data than the airlines maintain. This database includes credit-card numbers, itineraries, who paid for a ticket and names of parties who are traveling together. Authorities using this data, for example, could demand that someone traveling with a person on the no-fly list also be removed from the flight.
But European officials, citing privacy laws, have objected to sharing the data with American authorities, placing restrictions on how it can be used, such as prohibiting reviews of who else has used the same credit card to buy a ticket. After the European Union's highest court ruled in May that sharing that data was illegal, it ordered such sharing entirely cut off by October unless European and American authorities reach a new accord on its use.
I'm far more worried about mechanical failure than I am terrorist bombing, but they're both items of concern. I'd thought about the possibility of seperate component liquid bombs years ago, even before Bojinka.
(to any CIA/FBI/RCMP agents out there when I say "thought about" I meant thought about the possibility of it happening, not about doing it.)
In fact I had thought about planes crashing in to buildings long before 9/11. I honestly never thought I'd see it, sadly I was wrong. When I thought about it it wasn't commercial hijacked planes it was planes the terrorists had bought.
But you're 100% on the money on the knee-jerk thing. It seems to be prevelant in our society, nothing ever gets done until something happens and sometimes not even then.
I won't fly anymore (unless I'm the one doing the flying a la here)
I've heard too many horror stories and know how the old math equation of Money > Lives.
It does suck cuz I'd like to go places and flying is the only way, but I'm not prepared to risk myself.
"Those Who Don't Learn From The Past Are Doomed To Repeat It."
Hi Murray! Is that your airplane? I'm assuming that you fly? Thanks for sharing the photo. I can't blame you for not wanting to fly commercially.
I've really grown to detest flying since Tara was killed. 9/11 made it even worse. Unfortunately, if I want to see any of my family, they are far enough away that I have to resort to flying commercially. The worst thing is, is that my daughter flies all the time and everytime she does, though I hide it inside, I feel like I'm going to have a nervous break-down. Up until the time Mark left me, with the exception of one flight that my daughter took and she didn't tell me that she was doing until I discovered it accidentally half-way into her flight, I flew with her everytime.
Once Mark left, I couldn't do that anymore, because he actually took her on a trip without telling me and she's at college so I didn't realize it until later. So lately, I've been letting her fly alone because I really have to now, fiancially and I think it's probably the right thing to do. Besides I pay for all her flights and can't afford to pay her's (they've really gone up) and mine, now that I'm on my own.
I knew our marriage was in trouble when he said to me right before he left, 'I just realized if you and D died in a plane crash, I wouldn't be able to keep the house'.
The day he left me at the airport, I was flying with her back to school. I just don't trust the airlines with my kid after what happened with Tara.
I am more afraid of mechanical problems myself, and worry that with all the focus being on security these days, that these issues are being ignored. Flying is just such a nightmare.
Well, when I think mechanical issues I think how the airlines aren't running proper maintenance to save money.
And no, I wish it was my plane we're not rich! I've only flown once, that one time, at the Truro Flying Club September 11th, 2003 (which I thought was kinda spooky too.)
I did everything except Land and take off cuz if I did those I probably wouldn't be here. And I didn't get to work the rudders because they hadn't ordered a seat belt extender they were supposed to so because of my weight I couldn't move the seat forward enough to reach the rudder pedals, cuz I had to move it back all the way to make the seatbelt fit. I was just happy I was able to get the belt on, I was afraid I drove all that way, got myself all psyched up for nothing.
I'd love to go up again, but with the house and business burning down we've got no cash flow except my pop's pension. Hard enough to live off that, let alone engage in luxeries like flying.
As for Mark making the comment about the house, I'm sure if you died in a plane crash he'd milk as much money out of the company as he could get. (BTW don't get me wrong, compensation and punative damages is one thing, but getting rich off a death is another I wasn't trying to say airlines shouldn't pay for negligence.)
"Those Who Don't Learn From The Past Are Doomed To Repeat It."
Murray, Thanks for explaining about your flying. I am very sorry to hear about your home and business. That's terrible. I certainly hope things turn around for you and your family. Did that happen recently?
That's what I told him, Murray. And btw, he said if our DAUGHTER & I died in a plane crash. Nice, huh? He would make double from a lawsuit if that happened. This message has been edited. Last edited by: BF,
Sorry, I misunderstood.
Yeah it happened on March 14th. The funny thing is standing there watching the home I'd lived in my entire life burn wasn't really that bad. The part that's driving me nuts is the waiting to go home. It's been over 5 months now and we're still waiting.
Thinking about it later, especially when they demolished our house got to me though. It was a good home, it embraced me for over 26 years, it didn't deserve to be torn down without care and hauled off to some landfill to rot. It still chokes me up inside when I think about it. I still don't believe it's gone. When I first returned home after they tore it down I stood at the edge of the hole where it used to be and I just stared into it. Anyone walking by my on the road would have thought I was nuts, just staring in to a hole. But my whole life was in there. It's still hard to believe it no longer exists except in my memory.
"Those Who Don't Learn From The Past Are Doomed To Repeat It."
Murray, I'm so sorry for you and your family.
11 charged in British airline bomb plot By KATIE FRETLAND, Associated Press Writer
1 hour, 38 minutes ago
LONDON - Eleven people were charged Monday in the alleged plot to blow up trans-Atlantic jetliners, and investigators found bomb-making equipment and martyrdom videos, authorities said.
One person, a woman, was released without charge. Eleven other suspects remained in custody but were not charged, said Susan Hemming, the head of the Crown Prosecution Service's Counter Terrorism Division.
"Since the 10th of August, we have found bomb-making equipment. There are chemicals, including hydrogen peroxide, electrical components, documents and other items," said Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, the head of the Metropolitan Police's anti-terrorism unit. "We have also found a number of video recordings "” these are sometimes referred to as martyrdom videos."
Eight people were charged with two offenses each of conspiracy to commit murder and the intention of committing terrorist acts.
The Crown Prosecution Service identified them as Ahmed Abdullah Ali, also known as Abdullah Ali Ahmen Khan, 25; Tanvir Hussain, 25; Umar Islam aka Brian Young, 28; Arafat Waheed Khan, 25; Assad Ali Sarwar, 26; Adam Khatib, 19; Ibrahim Savant, 25 and Waheed Zaman, 22.
One person, a 17-year-old, was charged with possession of articles that could be used to prepare a terrorist act. He was not identified because of his age. Two others, Cossor Ali, 23, and Mehran Hussain, whose age wasn't released, were charged with failing to disclose information that could help prevent a terrorist act.
Cossor Ali, the mother of an 8-month-old infant, was charged with failing to disclose information about the alleged plot.
Of the 11 charged, nine are from London, according to a Bank of England list of suspects whose assets were frozen following the arrests. Two are from suburban High Wycombe, 30 miles northwest of London.
The 11 still in custody but not charged are being assessed "on a regular basis with a view to considering the need to keep them in detention," Hemming said.
"We cannot yet make a decision about whether further charges will follow or if a further application for detention will be made on Wednesday as the evidential picture is continuously developing," she said.
"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," she said.
Tighter security regulations on passengers carrying hand luggage and liquids aboard planes were imposed at British and U.S. airports after police announced they had foiled the alleged plot to blow up as many as 10 trans-Atlantic flights. U.S. officials said authorities believed the suspects planned to detonate liquid explosives aboard commercial jets.
Police investigating the alleged plot have gathered "substantial material" as evidence, Home Secretary John Reid said.
In Pakistan, law enforcement authorities are continuing to interrogate Rashid Rauf, a Briton of Pakistani descent, over his alleged key role in the plot, officials said. Rauf's brother, Tayib, was not among those charged, but remained in custody.
Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said British police were conducting inquiries in Pakistan but were not involved in questioning Rauf.
Since the investigation began Aug. 10, police had arrested a total of 25 people in the alleged plot; three have been released without charges.
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