'Real Deal' Foiled

Bid to blow up U.S.-bound planes halted, British say

War On Terrorism


Plans to blow airplanes out of the skies between Britain and the United States were described yesterday as more advanced than any plots officials have made public so far, and within days could have become the most deadly attacks on Americans since Sept. 11, 2001.

At least 24 people were arrested by authorities in England yesterday in raids thwarting the alleged plot, as part of an investigation that reached around the world and carried at least three particularly chilling warnings -- that planning of the attacks on up to 10 flights was well advanced if not complete; that the plotters had the means to carry out the attacks; and that if the plot had succeeded, hundreds and perhaps thousands of passengers would have been lost to explosions over the Atlantic, including many Americans returning from summer vacations.

As sketched by officials, the plot would have targeted flights leaving Britain on their way to the U.S.

The Bank of England froze the assets of 19 people early today, calling them suspects arrested yesterday in connection with the plot, the Associated Press reported.

Most of those named in the list were London residents, and many bore Muslim names. Scotland Yard had no immediate comment.

The bank released the following names: Abdula Ahmed Ali, Cossor Ali, Shazad Khuram Ali, Nabeel Hussain, Tanvir Hussain, Umair Hussain, Umar Islam, Waseem Kayani, Assan Abdullah Khan, Waheed Arafat Khan, Osman Adam Khatib, Abdul Muneem Patel, Tayib Rauf, Muhammed Usman Saddique, Assad Sarwar, Ibrahim Savant, Amin Asmin Tariq, Shamin Mohammed Uddin and Waheed Zaman.

The oldest person on the list, Shamin Mohammed Uddin, is 35. The youngest, Abdul Muneem Patel, is 17.

ABC News quoted unidentified U.S. officials who had been briefed on the plot as saying five suspects were at large and being urgently hunted.

"We cannot assume that the threat has been completely thwarted," Michael Chertoff, the U.S. secretary of homeland security, said yesterday.

The arrests and unveiling of the plot caused delays and cancellations of flights involving tens of thousands of passengers around the world, put the British and U.S. governments on their highest alerts, and tightened aviation security to levels not seen since all commercial flights in the United States were grounded after the 2001 attacks.

"This was obviously the real deal," said Robert Ayers, vacationing in Annapolis from his job as an intelligence and security expert at Chatham House, a think tank in London. "Every sign points to that, including the fact that the Metropolitan Police and British security services wouldn't otherwise have brought the transportation industry to its knees during the height of tourist season."

Georgetown University terrorism expert William Daddio said, "This is obviously more real for a number of reasons. The main reason is this is a British operation, and they don't tend to make announcements like this unless they're sure of what they're dealing with."

The arrests came after a long-running investigation reached a "critical point," according to the head of the counterterrorism branch of the London police, Peter Clarke.

U.S. officials offered no hard evidence implicating al-Qaida but stressed that the global scope of the plot was consistent with that group, still thought to be led by Osama bin Laden.

A member of the House of Lords who is of Pakistani origin said he had been informed that all of those arrested were British Muslims with ties to Pakistan -- like the four men who bombed London's transportation system in July 2005, killing themselves and 51 other people. An American counterintelligence official told the Associated Press that the suspects range in age from 17 to their mid-30s.

The AP reported that the plot's unraveling began with a tip from Pakistani authorities, who have arrested "two or three" suspects in that country, Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Tasnim Aslam said.

"Cooperation in this particular case was spread over a period of time. There were some arrests in Pakistan which were coordinated with arrests in the U.K.," she said.

The AP quoted a senior Pakistani government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to comment on the matter, as saying that "two or three local people" suspected in the plot were arrested a few days ago in Lahore and Karachi.

In London, Clarke told reporters that the investigation had "already lasted for several months and will undoubtedly last long into the future." The investigation was wider in scope than any before it in British history, he indicated, involving "an unprecedented level of surveillance."

"We have been looking at meetings, movement, travel, spending and the aspirations of a large group of people," the counterterrorism chief said.

A U.S. intelligence official said the plotters had hoped to target flights to major airports in New York, Washington and California.

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