By John Ward Anderson, Dan Eggen and Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, August 11, 2006 5:56 PM
LONDON, Aug. 11 --Britain's central bank on Friday named 19 people arrested in connection with the alleged plot to blow up passenger jets over the Atlantic Ocean as fresh details about the international counter-terrorism investigation emerged in reports from London, Washington and Pakistan. One person arrested in Britain was reportedly released without being charged.
The Bank of England identified the 19 with an announcement that it had frozen their assets--a routine measure, the bank said, designed to ferret out and halt any transactions that might aid acts of terrorism or shed light on any conspiracies. The named suspects ranged in age from 17 to 35, most of them with London addresses and the rest from High Wycombe and Birmingham. All were seized at addresses raided by British authorities Thursday, along with five others whose names remain withheld.
Late Friday, wire services reported that British authorities released one of the 24 people who had been arrested, without identifying the person. Reuters also reported that British police said on Friday they had obtained court warrants extending the detention of 22 of the suspects in the alleged plot until Wednesday. A court will consider the duration of the detention of the 24th suspect on Monday.
Meantime, airports and travelers on both sides of the Atlantic appeared to be acclimating to flight delays and cancellations amid heightened security restrictions meant to prevent terrorists from carrying the components of liquid bombs on board airplanes.
In Islamabad, wire services reported that Pakistani authorities have arrested at least seven people, including two British nationals of Pakistani origin, in connection with the alleged plot. The Associated Press reported that one of the two British suspects in custody, named Rashid Rauf, was described as a "key person" with ties to al-Qaeda.
"We arrested him from the (Afghanistan-Pakistan) border area, and on his disclosure we shared the information with British authorities, which led to further arrests in Britain," Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao told AP. The five Pakistanis were described as suspected "facilitators" of the plot.
Rauf is the brother of a suspect arrested in Birmingham named Tayib Rauf, a U.S. law enforcement official said.
There were reports of further arrests Friday in the eastern district of Bhawalpur, 300 miles southwest of Islamabad.
In Washington, officials said the FBI probe into the London plot involved more than 200 agents from across the country. The probe was so large that it resulted in a notable surge in warrants for searches and surveillance from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the secret panel that oversees most clandestine surveillance, officials said.
The warrants included monitoring telephone calls that some of the London suspects made into the United States, two sources said.
One official estimated that scores of secret U.S. warrants were dedicated solely to the London plot. The government usually averages of a few dozen a week for all counterintelligence investigations, according to federal statistics.
But Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Friday that investigators continued to turn up no links to the alleged plot inside the United States. "We do not have evidence that there was, as part of this plot, any plan to initiate activity inside the United States or that the plotting was done in the United States," Chertoff said at a Reagan National Airport news conference.
At the Justice Department, prosecutors have debated and identified possible criminal charges that could be filed against the suspects because they were targeting U.S.-bound flights. One official said they would defer to British prosecutors in the case but wanted backup options for the United States in case their London counterparts encountered problems.
U.S. officials said
In London Friday morning, British Home Secretary John Reid praised the help investigators had received from Pakistani security officials in their investigation, which started with a vague tip after the last summer's bombings on London's transit system.
Reid reiterated that British police believe they have all the main suspects in custody. Nonetheless, he said, the country's alert level would remain at "critical" because officials wanted to "err on the side of caution." He added: "There's never 100 percent certainty with these things."
Reid also stressed that officials were not casting blanket blame on Britain's Muslim community, saying that all people were victims in terror attacks that do not differentiate between people based on their religion or ethnic background.
The distinction was not between people of different religions and nationalities, he said, but between "the evil or terrorism and all civilized behavior."
U.S. intelligence officials have said there are strong indications of an al-Qaeda link to the plot.
In Italy, police rounded up about 40 people in a security crackdown, but the arrests appeared to be unrelated to the alleged plot in Britain.
Travelers continued to adjust to the new conditions at airports in the Washington region and in the United Kingdom.
For the most part, travelers seemed to have come prepared for a new travel experience, and were checking bags they might have otherwise carried and packing gels, liquids and toothpaste into checked baggage as required by restrictions imposed Thursday .
At Reagan National , Chertoff said officials were preparing "refinements" to the restrictions in an attempt to move travelers more quickly through checkpoints. "We're going to move to try to make this as simple and as easy as possible as quickly as possible," he said.
But Chertoff said a tour of the airport Friday indicated that "things are moving well."
Earlier at the airport, John Jackson, 50, of Accokeek, sat at a table near a Starbucks cart and settled in for a very long wait. He arrived at 5:15 a.m. at the Delta counter, only to learn that his 7:59 a.m. flight was delayed till 1:15 p.m. The same flight had been cancelled the night before. So with hours to spare, he ordered a large cup of coffee and reached for a paperback novel.
"I was expecting it to be much worse, but I got through the lines very quickly," he said. "It's pretty much normal around here."
At Dulles International Airport, tour operator Jean Smith helped one of her groups prepare for a flight out. "It's not as congested and people seem more organized and calm today," she said.
Smith said she called every passenger in her group last night to remind them not to pack any gels or liquids in carry-on bags, and all of them complied.
Julie Ashey, of Fairfax, also at Dulles for a family trip to Cancun, Mexico, to celebrate two family birthdays and an anniversary, said that while they were "a little nervous" about traveling, "we're going on the theory that it's a great thing they caught them, and it's probably a little safer today than it was last week or will be next week."
"Americans seem to be determined not to be affected by terrorism," said Ashey.
At Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, three young tourists from Ireland tried in vain to reschedule a flight to New York that had been interrupted yesterday and forced to land in Maryland. A mix-up this morning caused them to miss flights at 7 a.m. and 10 a.m.
"Fingers crossed. Fingers crossed" said Ruth Casey, 21. After working at bars in Myrtle Beach, S.C., this summer, she and her friends were hoping to catch a final weekend in the Big Apple before returning to the U.K. through clogged Heathrow.
The most disrupted airport was still London's Heathrow, where some 96 flights, outbound and inbound, mostly long haul, were cancelled, a relatively small proportion of the average of 1200 daily departures and arrivals at Heathrow's terminals.
At Heathrow's ticket counters Friday morning, mothers and fathers pulled dolls, stuffed bears, juice and snacks out of the hands of their wailing children, complying with tight new security limits on carry-on items.
Travelers could carry wallets, keys, medicine and a few other essential items, with parents able to carry only a few infant supplies, such as a small amount of baby milk or food, diapers, and baby wipes -- nothing more.
The line at security stretched across the length of the departure hall. Hundreds upon hundreds of passengers waited, single file.
"No! No way!'' traveler Gultane Boyraz said, her jaw dropping open, when she finally found her way to the end of the line, amazed at its length. "Oh, my goodness!"
British transportation and airline officials said that air traffic was much improved over Thursday but that significant delays were still expected. Airports in Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool, for instance, reported near-normal service.
"Heathrow is slowly but surely returning to normal," said British Airports Authority managing director Tony Douglas. He advised passengers to arrive early at their terminals without any carry-on luggage, with carry-on items inside clear plastic bags.
Nick Anderson and Eggen reported from Washington. Staff writers Fred Barbash, Fredrick Kunkle, Spenser Hsu , Jamie Stockwell and Shearon Roberts in Washington, and Ellen Knickmeyer in London , contributed to this report.