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Plotters still at largeCommentary, 11 August 2006
As of the evening of Friday 11 August, we can ascertain the following facts:<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
- A total of 24 people, from <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />London, the Thames Valley and the West Midlands, have been arrested as a result of this investigation. All but one is under 30 years of age and they are all being held in London.
- The Bank of England has frozen the assets of 19 of the 24 suspects, whose names have been made publicly available.
- Two men who were allegedly involved in the plot were arrested by Pakistani authorities in Lahore and Karachi last week.
- The suspects were said to be plotting to use some kind of liquid explosives to destroy aircraft.
- The UK threat level remains at ‘critical’, indicating that the security services still believe that a threat is imminent.
- Passengers attempting to leave British airports continue to face considerable disruption due to enhanced security measures.
The announcement, on the morning of Thursday 10 August, that terrorists had planned to blow up a number of airliners, resulted in shockwaves reverberating across the world. The alleged plot was intended to ‘commit mass murder on an unimaginable scale’, claimed Deputy Commissioner Paul Stephenson of the Metropolitan Police.
A series of police raids had resulted in 24 arrests and it was announced that passengers wishing to make flights out of the UK would not be allowed to carry any hand-luggage onto aircraft and that bottles of liquid, in particular, were deemed a threat. This soon gave rise to allegations that the suspected terrorists were plotting to use some kind of liquid explosives to achieve their aims.
As of Friday afternoon, some media outlets are claiming that airline tickets found during raids point to the idea that the attack was due to take place on Wednesday 16 August.
While this case is obviously new to the public, the security services have announced that the arrested individuals have been under surveillance for a number of months, though to what extent this surveillance had been is as of yet unclear. Peter Clarke, the head of Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist branch, said the surveillance involved in disrupting the plot had been “unprecedented” and had involved police forces in the UK and internationally.
With the arrest of two British individuals in Pakistan, along with another five of, yet undetermined origin, it is suspected that the plot has an international dimension, drawing parallels with the events of 7 July 2005. Pakistani Foreign ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam told the BBC: “Pakistan played a very important role in uncovering and breaking this international terrorist network.”
The Times claims that the Pakistani intelligence service warned MI6 of the involvement of officials of Lashkar-i-Taiba - a militant group with close links to Al-Qa’ida, blamed for a number of terrorist acts in Kashmir and, more recently, for the Bombay train bombings which killed 180 commuters last month
There has been some fears that a number of individuals may have escaped the police raids and this was noted in the American press, which claims that five terrorists are still at large. The response of the authorities who are issuing public statements and are enforcing stringent security arrangements at airports give credence to this theory.
In previous anti-terror raids, suspects are not always named or their crimes are not described until they are formally charged. The fact that a number of the plotters have had their assets frozen under Article 4 of the Terrorism (United Nations Measures) Order 2001 (S.I.2001/3365) and under Article 8 of the Al-Qa’ida and Taliban (United Nations Measures) Order 2002 (S.I. 2002/111, as amended) provoked suspicion that other plotters could still be on the run and are attempting to gain access to funding. British authorities are yet to comment on these allegations.
In the US, Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff said the plot showed hallmarks of Al-Qa’ida planning and that: “They had accumulated and assembled the capabilities that they needed and they were in the final stages of planning for execution.”
Chris Pope, Head of Intelligence & Editor RUSI/Jane's Monitor