By Glenda Cooper
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
LONDON, Aug. 21 -- Britain charged 11 people on Monday in the alleged plot to blow up transatlantic airliners, and police said they had uncovered bomb-making equipment and "martyrdom" videos in the course of their investigation.
Authorities said that eight of the suspects -- all men, ages 19 to 28 -- face charges of conspiracy to commit murder and preparing acts of terrorism. A 17-year-old boy is accused of possessing items useful for terrorists, and two other suspects, including a young mother, have been charged with failing to disclose information that could have helped prevent a terrorist attack.
Eleven people being held in the investigation are still being questioned, and one woman has been released without charge, said Susan Hemming, the lead prosecutor in the case. The suspects who have been charged are due to appear in court Tuesday morning.
Peter Clarke, the head of Scotland Yard's anti-terrorism branch, said at a televised news conference that because of the sheer scope of the alleged plot, the inquiry was far from complete and would eventually "span the globe."
Clarke went into significant detail about the evidence uncovered so far -- an unusual step for British prosecutors and police, who are strictly limited in what they can disclose publicly before a criminal trial. In particular, he said there had been important video and audio surveillance carried out before the alleged plot was revealed on Aug. 10, and that bomb-making materials including hydrogen peroxide, electrical components and documents had been found.
"This has all given us a clearer picture of the alleged plot," he said.
So far, he said, 69 houses, businesses, vehicles and open spaces had been searched. The searches yielded more than 400 computers, 200 cellphones and 8,000 computer media items such as memory sticks, CDs and DVDs. Police have removed 6,000 gigabytes of data from the seized computers alone.
Clarke added that it would take many months for all of the data to be analyzed.
"Fingerprints, DNA, electronic data, handwriting comparisons, chemical analysis, and indeed the full range of forensic disciplines will be used" in the investigation, he said.
Among the finds were "martyrdom videos," an apparent reference to videos in which would-be suicide bombers issued their final testaments. Clarke did not release details.
Police disclosed the alleged conspiracy to blow up transatlantic airliners after indications that the plotters were nearly ready to strike. Both the United States and Britain were put on high states of alert and hundreds of flights were delayed or canceled.
At the same time, raids took place in London, Birmingham and High Wycombe, a suburb 30 miles west of the capital. It was in woods there that the bomb-making equipment was found in a suitcase, the BBC reported earlier.
The eight men named on murder conspiracy charges were identified as Ahmed Abdullah Ali, Tanvir Hussain, Arafat Waheed Khan, Assad Ali Sarwar, Adam Khatib, Ibrahim Savant, Waheed Zaman and Umar Islam, who is also known as Brian Young.
They intended "to smuggle the component parts of improvised explosive devices onto aircraft and assemble and detonate them on board," according to the charges.
The 17-year-old is not being named, but authorities said he possessed items useful for the alleged conspirators, including their suicide notes and wills, as well as a book on bombs.
The suspects charged with failing to pass on information to authorities were identified as Mehran Hussain and Cossar Ali. Ali, 23, is married to Ahmed Abdullah Ali, and is the mother of an 8-month-old.
Most of the suspects are from London. But the investigation has also involved inquiries in Pakistan. Rashid Rauf, a Briton detained two weeks ago in Bahawalpur, Pakistan, is still being questioned there.
Under British law, police can hold the remaining suspects until Wednesday before charging them or seeking an extension to keep them in custody.
Clarke said that while he wanted to reassure the British public that the police were doing everything to keep them safe, he had to be realistic.
"The threat from terrorism is real. It is here, it is deadly and it is enduring," he said.