British Court Gives Police More Leeway To Probe Plot

By Matt Moore
Associated Press
Thursday, August 17, 2006

LONDON, Aug. 16 -- A district judge ruled Wednesday that British investigators have until next week to investigate the suspects arrested in an alleged plot to blow up as many as 10 transatlantic jetliners, saying they could be kept in custody without charge.

Scotland Yard later said a person arrested Tuesday as part of its investigation into the plot was released without charge. Another detainee was released without charge Friday.

The judicial order was the first major test of a new terrorism law that lets suspects be held for as long as 28 days without charge so investigators can solidify their cases.

The hearing, which addressed the cases of 23 suspects arrested in Britain's initial sweep last week, was held behind closed doors and attended only by the suspects' lawyers, investigators and government officials.

Scotland Yard said 21 of the suspects could be detained for questioning through Aug. 23, while two others could be detained until Aug. 21. No reason was given for the difference in the length of time.

Experts say the primary reason police could use nearly a month to complete a probe is because of the complexity of investigations into the alleged plot to smuggle liquid explosives, hidden in hand luggage, aboard flights.

Previously, police were able to detain people suspected of terrorism offenses for only 14 days. The new legislation, which became law earlier this year, also created new offenses, including preparing a terrorist act, giving or receiving terrorist training, and selling or spreading terrorist publications.

Home Secretary John Reid, Britain's chief law enforcement official, acknowledged that some of the suspects would likely not be charged with major crimes, but said there was mounting and "substantial" evidence to support the allegations.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company