Police Keeping Most Plot Suspects in Custody, Without Charges, Under Terror Law

By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 13, 2006

LONDON, Aug. 12 -- British police have prolonged the detention of all but one of two dozen suspects accused of plotting to explode multiple airplanes destined for the United States, authorities said Saturday.

A British court Friday evening approved a request to keep 22 of the suspects in custody until Wednesday even though they have not been charged, and one suspect's hearing was adjourned until Monday. Another was released without charge, according to Scotland Yard officials.

A police spokeswoman said the Terrorism Act of 2000 allowed authorities to detain the suspects for 28 days without charging them.

The names and ages of 19 of the suspects have been released. All have Muslim names, and most are in their twenties and live in London. Intelligence officials have said that more than half of the suspects have family ties to Pakistan.

Meanwhile, a group of leading British Muslim politicians and 38 Muslim groups sent a letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair in which they said the country's policies concerning the Middle East had contributed to a lack of security in Britain and abroad.

"To combat terror, the government has focused extensively on domestic legislation. While some of this will have an impact, the government must not ignore the role of its foreign policy," the letter said. "The debacle of Iraq and 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."

Kim Howells, the British Foreign Office minister, said in an interview with Sky News that "no government worth its salt would change its policy in response to terrorism."

Stricter security measures at airports in Britain remained in place Saturday, and travel disruptions continued, though to a lesser degree than in the previous days.

The British Airport Authority has asked all carriers to cancel as many as a third of their flights out of London's Heathrow Airport on Sunday in an effort to minimize the backlog of passenger luggage. British Airways canceled 10 flights into the United States and 58 flights to other European destinations. American Airlines canceled five flights from Heathrow, including three to New York's JFK International Airport.

Staff writer Kim Hart in Washington contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company