By Joshua Partlow and Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
LONDON, Aug. 15 -- British police on Tuesday arrested a new suspect in the alleged terrorist plot to explode as many as 10 transatlantic airplanes, bringing to 24 the number of detainees held without charge in British custody.
The suspect was arrested and held in the Thames Valley area west of London, near High Wycombe, the suburb where at least four of the suspects had been detained last week, according to Scotland Yard. Two dozen people -- most of them young Muslim men from the London area -- were arrested in connection with the plot; one has been released so far. Police did not provide any information about the new suspect.
Also Tuesday, police in Thames Valley said they had executed warrants last Thursday to search two Internet cafes, though no one had been arrested. A Thames Valley police spokesman said searches in the wooded areas around High Wycombe continued on Tuesday.
German officials, meanwhile, said they were investigating contacts between at least one of the suspects and the wife of an alleged member of the Hamburg cell that carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackings in the United States.
German counterterrorism officials said one or more of the London suspects was in e-mail contact with Nese Bahaji, 25, the wife of Hamburg cell fugitive Said Bahaji. The officials did not give details or identify which suspect had contacted Nese Bahaji, who lives in Hamburg and has been under surveillance by German officials for several years.
Her husband was a friend and roommate of some of the lead Sept. 11 hijackers. He disappeared from Germany shortly before the 2001 terrorist attacks.
German authorities said they were pursuing the leads but don't believe the London plot was organized or received any support from people in Germany.
"There have been some contacts, but we don't know for certain how concrete they have been," Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told the German television network ZDF.
At British airports, the chaos generated by stricter security measures instituted last week, which banned carry-on luggage and required that every passenger be hand-searched, was curtailed. Less restrictive security rules went into effect by which selected passengers were searched and travelers were allowed to carry on one small bag. But dozens of flights were canceled at Heathrow Airport in London, passengers still were missing thousands of bags, and lengthy delays infuriated travelers.
Responding to criticism, the British Airports Authority said that Heathrow, Europe's busiest international airport, "is at the best of times significantly over-stretched because of the difficulties over many years of securing permission to grow capacity at the airport."
The statement by the authority said the airport, designed for no more than 55 million passengers a year, currently serves 68 million people a year.
"The lack of space at Heathrow makes it more difficult to accommodate congestion during a crisis," the authority said.
As a way to ease the congestion, the Transport Department reportedly discussed plans to search people based on suspicious behavior or because they belong to a certain religious or ethnic group, according to reports in the British press. The prospect of profiling passengers set off a heated debate in Britain, and some suggested such a policy would discriminate against Muslims.
"What you are suggesting is that we should have a new offense in this country called 'traveling whilst Asian,' " Chief Superintendent Ali Desai of the Metropolitan Police said in an interview on BBC television.
"There's absolutely nothing wrong with passenger profiling, as long as it's based on real intelligence -- for example, travel history and how the ticket was purchased," he said. "It becomes hugely problematic when it's based on ethnicity, religion and country of origin."
Whitlock reported from Washington.