Threat continues, officials say

August 13, 2006|By KIM MURPHY AND JOSH MEYER | KIM MURPHY AND JOSH MEYER,LOS ANGELES TIMES

LONDON -- British and U.S. officials warned yesterday against complacency after the arrest of suspects in the plot to blow up passenger jets bound for the United States and said the search continues for more people who might have been involved.

"No one should be under any illusion that the threat ended with the recent arrests. It didn't. The threat, as well as our efforts, is ongoing," British Home Secretary John Reid said.

One U.S. intelligence official said that in addition to looking for more suspects, authorities were investigating whether a similar, parallel plot might have been in the works.

"Are there concerns that there are more conspirators out there who wish to do us harm? Yes. That has been and continues to be the case; either people connected with this plot or who may have been trying to do something in parallel," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation.

The U.S. official also confirmed that an alleged plotter in Pakistan sent word to conspirators in Britain, urging them to launch their attacks as soon as possible, apparently after one person was detained in Pakistan.

Law enforcement authorities continued their search for links among 23 detainees now in custody, many of them British natives of Pakistani origin, and at least 11 others, including the brother of one of the suspects, being held in Pakistan.

All are suspected of participating in a plot, allegedly nearing its final days, to smuggle liquid explosives onboard U.S.-bound airliners operating out of Heathrow. The Times of London reported yesterday that police were looking at possible links between the detainees and the perpetrators of a series of coordinated bombings on the London transport system in July 2005 that killed 52.

Some of those in custody appear to have visited Pakistan last year at the same time as two of the London bombers, The Times reported.

The U.S. official discounted published reports that the alleged plotters had selected a date for the attacks, saying that intelligence suggested that the date, specific flights and other details were in flux when the plot was disrupted.

With no new arrests and few revelations about the plot, criticism in Britain began focusing yesterday on Prime Minister Tony Blair's Middle East policy. Muslim leaders singled out the British government's occupation of Iraq and Blair's not calling for an immediate end to the deaths in Lebanon.

In an open letter to several newspapers, the leaders of much of Britain's establishment Muslim community, including six Muslim lawmakers, said British foreign policy is "putting civilians at increased risk, both in the U.K. and abroad," and said the government should focus less on domestic anti-terrorism laws and more on reorienting its policy in the Middle East.

While emphasizing that "attacking civilians is never justified," the letter said that "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."

Blair is on vacation in the Caribbean, but his office issued a statement saying that "nobody could have worked harder" to bring about a cessation of hostilities in the region.

His allies went on the attack, with Transport Minister Douglas Alexander calling such arguments "dangerous and foolish."

"Frankly, no government worth its salt would allow its foreign policy to be dictated to under the threat of terrorism," Alexander told the British Broadcasting Corp.

"I have no doubt that there are many issues which incite people to loathe government policies but not to strap explosives to themselves and go out and murder innocent people," added Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells.

Shahid Malik, a Labor Party member of Parliament, said, "Obviously, I think everybody would condemn Hezbollah and their actions," he said, "But it's critically important that we say the actions of Israel, and the relative inaction of us in the West, is contributing to increasing anger and frustration among Muslims in the U.K., in America and across the world," he said. "And invariably, if you're angry and frustrated, then you're more likely to be susceptible to voices that are sinister."

Kim Murphy and Josh Meyer write for the Los Angeles Times.

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