Airline plot mastermind and 2 brothers arrested all UK born - link found to fugitive 9/11 plot accomplice in Hamburg
August 13, 2006
Global investigation focuses on family ties in terror plot
August 13, 2006
The investigation into a plot to blow up jetliners over the Atlantic focused Saturday on brothers arrested in Pakistan and Britain, one named as a key Al Qaeda suspect who left the family's home in England years ago.
British authorities, meanwhile, warned against complacency, saying the detention of several dozen suspects has not eliminated the danger. The terror threat level in Britain remained "critical"--its highest designation--and delays, flight cancellations and intense security continued at London airports.
"No one should be under any illusion that the threat ended with the recent arrests. It didn't," Home Secretary John Reid told police chiefs at a breakfast meeting.
In the investigation, British police officers searched homes raided in the arrests. The police also acknowledged that they have broadened their quest for evidence, confiscating computer equipment from Internet cafes in Reading and Slough, west of London.
British police had arrested 24 people in East London, High Wycombe and Birmingham. But by Saturday morning, one person was released, leaving 23 held under British counterterrorism laws that permit 28 days of detention without charge.
Band of brothers
A swirl of attention has focused on the role that the brothers Rashid and Tayib Rauf may have played in the airliner plot. Their father, Abdul Rauf, immigrated to Britain from the Mirpur district of Pakistan several decades ago, and his five children were all born in Britain, the family said.
Rashid Rauf was arrested recently in Pakistan, and Pakistani officials have characterized him as a "key person" in the airline plot. They said evidence linked him to an "Afghanistan-based Al Qaeda connection" but gave no details.
His brother, Tayib, 22, was taken into custody in Britain during the sweeps, and unconfirmed reports said a third brother might have been detained.
Pakistan authorities would not say when they started monitoring Rashid Rauf, only that British intelligence officials recently tipped them to Rauf and several other suspects, some of whom have not yet been caught. Rauf used several mobile phone cards, allowing him to switch back and forth between phone numbers, and intelligence officials were tracking all the numbers, several sources said.
Investigators in Britain and Germany are puzzling over the discovery that one of the Rauf brothers had the address of Nese Bahaji, the 25-year-old wife of fugitive Said Bahaji, who is charged by a Hamburg court as an accessory to murder in connection with the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackings in the U.S.
A videotape of the Bahajis' October 1999 Hamburg wedding, recovered by police shortly after Sept. 11, shows it was attended by three of the four future hijacking pilots and at least two other known Al Qaeda operatives, Mohammed Zammar and Mamoun Darkazanli.
Eight days before Sept. 11, Said Bahaji fled Germany for Afghanistan, and he is believed to be hiding in Pakistan. Nese Bahaji and the couple's 5-year-old son have remained in Germany. Investigators say Said Bahaji, 30, has stayed in touch with his wife via e-mail sent from Internet cafes in Pakistan.
A senior German counterintelligence official said Saturday that there was no evidence of a "physical or operational contact" between the Raufs and the Bahajis, although it was too early in the investigation to rule either of those possibilities out, or to assess the significance of the address.
Pakistan officials have rounded up 21 people in connection with the investigation, including at least six Britons of Pakistani descent, officials said Saturday.
Throughout Saturday, as passenger lines lengthened at London's Heathrow Airport because of heightened security precautions, airlines such as British Airways and Ryanair, a low-cost operator, said airport authorities were failing to cope with the crisis.
Willie Walsh, the chief executive of British Airways, said the airline had canceled a quarter of its short-distance flights, and some planes had been taking off half-empty because passengers were being held up in lines for security searches. All passengers have undergone body searches since Thursday.
Michael O'Leary, the chief executive of Ryanair, urged the use of police and army reservists to search passengers "immediately to prevent London's main airports from grinding to a halt over the coming days."
`Ammunition to extremists'
As he vacations in the Caribbean during one of his country's biggest terrorism alerts, British Prime Minister Tony Blair came under renewed attack Saturday from Muslim leaders who said his policies in Iraq and the Middle East provide "ammunition to extremists who threaten us all."
In a letter published Saturday, 38 Islamic organizations, three of the four Muslim legislators from the House of Commons and three of the four Muslim members of the House of Lords accused Blair of adopting policies that exposed the nation to terrorist attacks.
The argument is that by joining the U.S. war on terror, Britain has joined what some Muslims call a war on Islam, stirring anger across the Islamic world.
"It is our view that current British government policy risks putting civilians at increased risk both in the U.K. and abroad," the letter said.
It continued, "Attacking civilians is never justified. This message is a global one. We urge the prime minister to redouble his efforts to tackle terror and extremism and change our foreign policy to show the world that we value the lives of civilians wherever they live and whatever their religion."
Secretary Chertoff's Briefing: Highlights
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff speaks during a news conference in Washington on Thursday. Getty Images
Thursday morning, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff briefed the media about a suspected British terror plot, in which 21 suspects have been arrested in Great Britain. Some of the main points in Secretary Chertoff's remarks:
• The plot's operatives planned to bring liquid explosives and detonators, disguised as beverages, electronic devices or other common objects, on board flights to the United States.
• There is currently no indication of any plotting within the United States.
• The threat level for commercial flights from Britain to the United States is at red, or severe, the highest level of alert.
• The threat level for all other domestic and international flights in the United States is raised to orange, or high alert.
• Any liquids or gels have to be checked as part of baggage to go into the hold. There will be exceptions for baby formula and medicines
• Travelers are asked to pack as lightly as possible and minimize clutter to help speed the security screening process.
• Federal air marshals are being sent to the United Kingdom to provide expanded mission coverage for flights to the United States.
• In international arrival areas, U.S. customs officials will increase the use of advanced targeting tools, as well as baggage and aircraft search teams using K-9 units and detection technology.
• Travelers should expect delays, but they do not need to change their travel plans.
• Homeland Security asks Americans to be aware and vigilant, and to report any activity they think is suspicious to law-enforcement authorities.
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