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August 15, 2006
Blair Calls Musharraf: Appreciates Pakistan's Role in Foiling Terror Plot
LONDON (UK): Prime Minister Tony Blair called by phone President General Pervez Musharraf to appreciate Pakistan's role in thwarting a plot to blow up aircraft midair, Pakistan's Foreign Office said in Islamabad on Saturday.
The British Prime Minister thanked the President, the Government of Pakistan and all others for the valuable help they provided in busting the international terrorist network.
And, British Home Secretary John Reid has also thanked Pakistan for helping Britain foil a plot by alleged terrorists to blow up transatlantic air-liners during flight from UK to the United States.
He was addressing a press conference at the Home Office to give details about the 24 people arrested on Thursday for allegedly planning to blow up planes in mid air by using liquid chemicals.
"I am grateful for the help and co-operation from Pakistan and have had conversations with several European colleagues. I hope to be able to meet with EU colleagues to discuss matters of mutual interest very soon," said Reid.
He said the international nature of plots such as these requires intensive collaboration. "They have been conducted largely in the UK but with an international dimension," he added.
Reid said that all the arrested people were British Muslims and added that British police were investigating them in London.
He said the Bank of England has frozen the assets of 19 of the 24 individuals.
"Their assets must be frozen, and that no funds should be made available, directly or indirectly to any person, except under the authority of a licence," said a press release of Bank of England.
"Financial institutions and other persons are requested to check whether they maintain any accounts or otherwise hold any funds, other financial assets, economic benefits and economic resources of these individuals," it said.
Their names are : Ali Abdula Ahmed, Ali Cossor, Ali Shazad Khuram, Hussain Nabeel,Hussain Tanvir, Hussain Umair, Islam Umar, Kayani Waseem, Khan Assan Abdullah, Khan Waheed Arafat, Khalid Osman Adam, Patel Abdul Muneem, Raud Tayib, Saddique Muhammed Usman, Sarwar Assad, Savant Ibrahim, Tariq Amin Asmin, Uddin Shamin Mohammed, and Zaman Waheed.
BA's share price had closed down 5.0 percent on Thursday as the airline cancelled most shorthaul flights departing from London's Heathrow airport after news of a plot to blow up US-bound planes.
BA climbed 1.01 percent to 373.99 pence in Friday morning trade on London's FTSE 100. The capital's index of leading shares gained 0.27 percent to 5,839.30 points.
"The vast majority of British Airways flights are due to operate today," BA said in a statement released Friday.
BA said it expected that about 70 percent of shorthaul and domestic services to and from London Heathrow airport were expected to operate on Friday.
The airline, meanwhile, has cancelled all nine domestic flights due to depart before noon from London Gatwick, but added that all shorthaul flights set to leave the airport were expected to operate as normal.
BA added that it expected to operate all longhaul flights due Friday from London Heathrow, with the exception of six services to the United States.
While chaos for air travellers eased somewhat at London's busy Heathrow airport and other facilities, Pakistani officials took credit for helping to thwart what could have been the worst-ever case of terror in the skies.
Seven people were arrested in Pakistan last week, it emerged Friday, including two Britons of Pakistani heritage. One of the latter, Rashid Rauf, was described by the foreign ministry in Islamabad as a "key suspect."
"There are indications of (an) Afghanistan-based Al-Qaeda connection," a French news agency reported the foreign ministry as declaring. It added that the case -- the subject of a vast ongoing investigation in Britain -- had "wider international dimensions".
In London, the Metropolitan Police released without charge one of the 24 people they arrested in raids that began overnight Wednesday. But it also secured warrants to detain virtually all the others until next Wednesday.
Major airports struggled Friday to get travellers to their destinations, following a dramatic freeze on all incoming and outgoing flights the day before, while maintaining an unprecedented draconian ban on carry-on baggage.
"The threat level is critical, so people should remain vigilant," Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said Friday. "The alleged situation we are dealing with would have been an attack on all of us."
In Italy, 50 people were arrested in raids Thursday and Friday on various locations "frequented by Islamists," the interior ministry in Rome said.
In London, the Bank of England froze the accounts of 19 of those arrested in Britain and -- in line with UN rules -- published their names.
US officials say the plot -- which they consider the most serious since the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington in 2001 -- would have seen the perpetrators smuggle seemingly innocuous liquids in drinks bottles or other containers onto US-bound planes from Britain.
Once on board, suicide bombers would put detonators to the liquid explosives, causing a blast that might destroy a cruising airliner and kill all on board.
US Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff suggested that explosives were found inside homes raided in Britain, while London's Evening Standard newspaper said tickets for flights next Wednesday had been seized.
US officials have estimated that up to 10 planes were targeted in an operation they said bore the imprint of Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network. British media put the range between five and 12 planes.
News of the alleged plot stirred memories of the world-changing September 11 attacks, claimed by the shadowy Al-Qaeda network led by Osama bin Laden, and the July 7 bombings on London's transit system last year.
"This was an operation conducted largely in the United Kingdom and driven from here," Home Secretary John Reid said, "but, of course, like many other such operations, it has an international dimension."
In an open letter Saturday to Prime Minister Tony Blair, 38 Muslim groups and politicians blamed his foreign policy of putting the public at greater risk both at home and abroad -- and fanning extremism at the same time.
"The debacle of Iraq and now the failure to do more to secure an immediate end to the attacks on civilians in the Middle East not only increases the risk to ordinary people in that region, it is also ammunition to extremists who threaten us all," they said.
One arrested there, a Briton named Rashid Rauf, is believed to have been the operational planner and to have connections with al-Qaida in Afghanistan, Pakistani and U.S. officials said.
British and Pakistani authorities have arrested as many as 41 people in the two countries in connection with the alleged suicidal plan, broken up by British police this week, to detonate disguised liquid explosives aboard as many as 10 planes bound from Britain to the United States.
"The terrorists intended a second Sept. 11," said Frances Fragos Townsend, White House homeland security adviser.
New information underlined how close they were to mounting attacks.
John Reid told reporters officials were confident the main suspects in the plot were in custody. But authorities "would go where any further evidence takes us," he said.
"I think it's pretty clear that in this case, we don't have everybody," Townsend told The Associated Press in Washington.
The British government released the names of 19 of the 24 arrested in Britain — many apparently British Muslims of Pakistani ancestry — and froze their assets. One of the 24 detainees later was freed.
The record of financial transactions, along with telephone and computer records, may help investigators trace more people in the alleged plot.
"Think of it as a river — you look upstream to find the source, and downstream to find out where the money is going," said Cliff Knuckey, former chief money laundering investigator for Scotland Yard.
Britain kept its threat assessment level at "critical," indicative of an imminent attack. Extraordinary security measures continued at British airports, although the backlog of passengers eased from Thursday's chaotic conditions, when hundreds of flights were canceled.
At Heathrow, Europe's busiest airport, around 70 percent of flights operated Friday, but many people turned around and headed home after an announcement that a raft of flights had been canceled, including British Airways services to San Francisco and Los Angeles.
At U.S. airports, airlines were recruiting more baggage handlers as U.S. travelers — facing new rules banning almost all liquids from carry-on luggage — adapted by checking bags they normally would have carried aboard. American passengers faced a second level of security checks starting Friday, with random bag searches at boarding gates.
The alleged terrorists were planning to assemble their bombs aboard the aircraft, apparently with a peroxide-based solution disguised as beverages or other harmless-seeming items, and using such electronic equipment as a disposable camera or a music player as a detonator, two U.S. law enforcement officials, a US news agency report said.
London's Evening Standard reported the plotters apparently chose next Wednesday as a target date, since they had tickets for a United Airlines flight that day, as well as ones for this Friday, apparently a test-run to see whether they could smuggle chemicals aboard in soft-drink containers.
The paper didn't report the flight's destination, but United has flights from Heathrow to New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle.
The British say their inquiry began months ago — prompted by a tip from within the British Muslim community after the bloody July 7, 2005, terror bombings of the London transit system, The Washington Post reported.
There were signs preparations stepped up recently. One of the houses raided by British police this week had been bought last month by two men in an all-cash deal, in a neighborhood of $300,000 houses, neighbors reported.
Pakistani officials said British information led to the first arrests in Pakistan about a week ago, of two British nationals, including Rauf, called a "key person" by the Pakistani Foreign Ministry.
On an unspecified date, Pakistani authorities also arrested five Pakistanis as alleged `facilitators" for the Britons in the major cities of Lahore and Karachi. An official in Islamabad said 10 other Pakistanis had been arrested Friday in the district of Bhawalpur, about 300 miles south of Islamabad, near the Indian border.
Pakistan is both a key U.S.-British ally in the antiterror campaign. "I am 120 percent convinced there's a link" with al-Qaida, Louis Caprioli, a former top French counterintelligence official, said of the trans-Atlantic bombing plot. "Was it al-Qaida who contacted them, or vice versa? Only the investigation will be able to tell."
Scotland Yard didn't identify the lone detainee released Friday from among 24 arrested in London, the town of High Wycombe 35 miles west of London, and the central city of Birmingham.
The 19 identified ranged in age from 17 to 35, had Muslim names and appeared to be of Pakistani descent, although many were born and all reared in Britain.
One not on the list of 19 names was believed to be a young woman in her 20s with a 6-month-old baby. At least three people among the suspects were converts to Islam.
It was unclear how the alleged plotters met, or who the ringleader was, although suspicion fell on the only one identified who is over 30 — Shamin Mohammed Uddin, 35, of east London.
A teenage neighbor of suspect Assad Sarwar, 26, who lived with his parents in High Wycombe, said Sarwar had become increasingly strident after the London transit bombings, in which four suicide bombers killed 52 other people. "He started talking about terrorism and acting like it's OK to blow up people," said Nawaz Chaudhry, 17.
Under Britain's toughened antiterrorism laws, suspects can be held for up to 28 days without charge. On Friday, detention orders for 22 suspects were extended through Wednesday. The 23rd suspect, still in custody, will have a detention extension hearing Monday.
Another report says that the British Police were investigating whether an arson attack on a mosque was linked to an alleged plot to blow up US-bound flights that saw 24 men arrested.
Youths attacked the mosque in Blacon, northwest England, overnight. It is understood that people were inside the building when the attack occurred.
A Cheshire Police spokeswoman said Friday an accelerant was poured through the mosque door and set alight.
The fire was put out quickly. Nobody was injured, though the blaze caused minor damage.
Police said they were investigating the incident as a "faith hate" crime, but said it was too early to say whether it was linked to the alleged bomb plot.
Authorities in Britain and Pakistan quizzed more than 30 terror suspects Friday over the alleged plot to blow up as many as a dozen US-bound aircraft, possibly within days.
Meanwhile, the American mainstream media and citizens have commended Pakistan's important cooperation in thwarting an alleged terror plot targeting several US-bound planes from the United Kingdom.
Pakistan played a big role in foiling the plot, America's global channel Cable News Network reported.
The CNN anchorperson was speaking after reporting comments from Foreign Office Spokesperson Tasnim Aslam, who said arrests of terror suspects in the UK followed active intelligence cooperation between Pakistan, Britain and the United States.
"A big thank you to Pakistani authorities, British authorities and US authorities, well done!" was the final comment in popular Fox News channel programme by Bill O' Reilly.
In their reports, the other American TV channels and wire services also mentioned Pakistan's vital efforts and intelligence cooperation in foiling the plot.Some American channels reported that disaster over the Atlantic could have taken place within days.
The New York Times had a London-datelined story saying Pakistan thanked for cooperation and Washington Times wrote an editorial in which it said the foiling of plot took place through good intelligence work of US, UK and Pakistan.
Meanwhile, a number of American citizens called Pakistani embassy in Washington, thanking the country for its help in breaking up the plan through cooperation with the US and UK authorities, a spokesman of the embassy said Friday.
[21 People Caged: Plot to blow up UK to US Airliners Foiled]