11 charged in Britain in terror plot against jets

Suicide notes, videos, bomb materials cited

August 22, 2006|By KIM MURPHY | KIM MURPHY,LOS ANGELES TIMES

LONDON -- Citing evidence that includes "martyrdom videos," suicide notes and bomb-making equipment, authorities filed criminal charges yesterday accusing 11 suspects of involvement in a plot to smuggle explosive devices onto airliners bound for the United States.

The first public disclosure of the results of a months-long investigation offered only a brief overview of evidence but hinted at a trove of material and leads yet to be examined.

"The scale is immense. Inquiries will span the globe. The enormity of the alleged plot will be matched only by our determination to follow every lead and every line of inquiry," said Peter Clarke, chief of counterterrorism for the London police.

Authorities said they expect to spend months examining the results of at least 69 searches of houses, business, cars and woods, which have yielded more than 400 computers, 200 mobile telephones and 8,000 computer data storage devices.

"I would like to reassure the public that we are doing everything we can to keep you safe, for you to live your lives without constant fear. However, we must be realistic," Clarke said at a news conference announcing the criminal charges.

Skepticism has increased among the public, particularly among Britain's estimated 1.5 million Muslims, after two previous cases in which terror suspects were shot during police actions that did not produce prosecutable evidence of terrorism plots.

Eleven suspects remain in custody and have not been charged. One suspect, a woman, was released yesterday.

Eight suspects were charged with conspiracy to commit murder and preparing acts of terrorism. Two others, including a young mother whose husband was charged in the plot, were accused of failing to disclose information that could have prevented a terrorist attack.

A 17-year-old boy, who was not identified because of his age, was charged with possessing a book on bombs, suicide notes and the wills of people who were prepared to commit acts of terror. He also had in his possession a map of Afghanistan containing information "likely to be useful" to a person preparing an act of terrorism, authorities said.

All of those charged are British nationals of Pakistani descent except for two non-Asians who are converts to Islam.

Two brothers who have been identified in British news reports as the purported ringleaders of the plot - Rashid Rauf, whose arrest in Pakistan is thought to have triggered the other arrests, and his brother, Tayib, who was arrested in Birmingham - are among the 11 suspects who have not been charged. Rashid Rauf remains in custody in Pakistan.

Susan Hemming, head of the Crown Prosecutors Service's counterterrorism division, who approved the charges, said the remaining suspects are being investigated.

"We cannot yet make a decision about whether further charges will follow" or about whether authorities will seek to extend their detention when the current warrant runs out tomorrow, she said.

Legal analysts said the government is under public pressure to disclose the nature of the evidence because of the earlier investigations that went awry.

In the first case, a 27-year-old Brazilian man was shot to death in the London subway by police officers who said he had emerged from a house that was being watched, and had acted suspiciously.

The man was killed July 22, 2005, a day after police foiled a bomb plot aimed at London's transit system and two weeks after the July 7, 2005, explosions that killed 52 people on that system.

In June, police looking for a purported chemical device raided a house in London's Forest Gate neighborhood and shot 23-year-old Mohammed Abdul Kahar, who lived there, in what police said was an "accidental discharge" of an officer's weapon. Kahar survived. No chemical device was found.

Skepticism about the current case has grown since authorities announced the arrests and a plot that police said at the beginning was "intended to be mass murder on an unimaginable scale."

Muslim leaders have warned that a third case of unfounded or exaggerated allegations would probably exacerbate tensions and resentment among Britain's Muslims.

Some Muslim leaders said yesterday that said the new evidence - presented only in its barest outlines and not connected to specific suspects - leaves room for skepticism. Much of what the authorities claim is physical evidence of bomb-making materials, for example, including hydrogen peroxide and electrical components, also could have innocent explanations, they suggested.

"Hydrogen peroxide you can easily buy anywhere; you can buy it across the counter without any documentation," said Mohammed Khaliel, a spokesman for the mosque and Islamic center in the town of High Wycombe, which several of the suspects attended.

"And if you were going to actually make something that could damage things, you would need a huge quantity," he said.

Khaliel said some of the evidence attributed to the suspected bomb plot might have included material that suspects allegedly downloaded from the Internet.

British law affords far less leeway than U.S. courts do in discussing evidence before trial. Analysts said it was unusual for authorities to release even as much as they did about the evidence they have collected. Doing so, said Roger O'Keefe, deputy director of the Lauterpacht Center for International Law at Cambridge University, could jeopardize the trial and the investigation.

Kim Murphy writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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