Terror investigation mutli-facted


LONDON (AP) – Who bankrolled and masterminded the plot to blow as many as 10 airplanes out of the skies? Is the threat over? The search for answers spawns an inquiry stretching from the United States to Europe to Pakistan.

The British government on Friday released the names of 19 of the 24 suspects in custody – many of them apparently British Muslims of Pakistani ancestry – and froze their assets. In Pakistan, officials revealed that they were holding two British citizens connected to the plot, along with five Pakistanis believed to have been their "facilitators."

The role of Pakistan promises to be a central theme as the investigation takes shape.

The country is a key ally of Britain and the United States, but also a hotbed of Islamic radicalism and a likely hiding place for al–Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and his right–hand man, Ayman al–Zawahri. Most of the top al–Qaida arrests since Sept. 11, 2001, have taken place on Pakistani soil, and more of bin Laden’s henchmen are believed to be hiding there.

That connection, and the breathtaking scope of the alleged jetliner plot, have many convinced that al–Qaida must have had a direct hand in the planning of the latest scheme.

"I am 120 percent convinced there’s a link" with al–Qaida, said Louis Caprioli, a former assistant director of the DST, France’s main counterintelligence agency. He added that it remains to be seen how the contacts were made: "Was it al–Qaida who contacted them, or vice versa? Only the investigation will be able to tell."

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry, as well, said there were "indications of an Afghanistan–based al–Qaida connection" in the case, but did not elaborate. U.S. officials have said the plot bears the hallmark of al–Qaida, but that it is too early to say for sure whether the group was involved.

Regardless of whether such a link is established to bin Laden’s men, the arrests are raising troubling questions about the deeply conservative South Asian country whose name always seems to be in the mix when terror plots come to light.

Three of the four suicide attackers in the July 7, 2005, London transit bombings that killed 52 people were British Muslims of Pakistani origin, and two visited Pakistan before the attacks. Officials believe they may even have recorded their taped suicide messages while overseas.

And back in 2004, the capture of an alleged al–Qaida computer engineer and other suspects in Pakistan led to the arrests of eight men in Britain accused of plotting to commit murder with radioactive materials, toxic gases, chemicals or explosives. That plot prompted a U.S. terror alert surrounding the New York Stock Exchange and other financial centers.

Analysts say investigators will be seeking to make sense of the Pakistan connection as they pore over the suspects’ phone, Internet and banking records.

"Show me the money," said Russell Howard, a retired U.S. brigadier general who now runs the Jebsen Center for Counterterrorism Studies at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. "There’s probably a link back to Pakistan. Follow the money and follow the communications – get into their cell phones and (computer) hard drives."

But while investigators try to crack the case, security officials face an even more pressing task: making sure the skies are safe for travel, and the plot has been totally crushed.

British Home Secretary John Reid said Friday they believe they have apprehended the main players in the plot, but said that if further investigation revealed new leads, agents "would go where any further evidence takes us."

Frances Fragos Townsend, U.S. President George W. Bush’s homeland security adviser, said authorities are also investigating whether the plotters have links in the United States.

Hundreds of FBI agents tracked down leads around the U.S. in the past few weeks in the search for suspects, but they didn’t find any plotters, FBI officials said in Washington.

"We are looking for connections between anyone in the United States and the plotters in the U.K., but we don’t have any evidence that there is an active threat or cell here," she said.

Chris Pope, head of intelligence at the Royal United Services Institute, a London–based think tank, said Thursday’s shutdown of Heathrow Airport and the intense security in Britain, the United States and elsewhere "suggests to me that someone else might be out there" capable of an airliner attack.

 

LONDON (AP) – Who bankrolled and masterminded the plot to blow as many as 10 airplanes out of the skies? Is the threat over? The search for answers spawns an inquiry stretching from the United States to Europe to Pakistan.

The British government on Friday released the names of 19 of the 24 suspects in custody – many of them apparently British Muslims of Pakistani ancestry – and froze their assets. In Pakistan, officials revealed that they were holding two British citizens connected to the plot, along with five Pakistanis believed to have been their "facilitators."

The role of Pakistan promises to be a central theme as the investigation takes shape.

The country is a key ally of Britain and the United States, but also a hotbed of Islamic radicalism and a likely hiding place for al–Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and his right–hand man, Ayman al–Zawahri. Most of the top al–Qaida arrests since Sept. 11, 2001, have taken place on Pakistani soil, and more of bin Laden’s henchmen are believed to be hiding there.

That connection, and the breathtaking scope of the alleged jetliner plot, have many convinced that al–Qaida must have had a direct hand in the planning of the latest scheme.

"I am 120 percent convinced there’s a link" with al–Qaida, said Louis Caprioli, a former assistant director of the DST, France’s main counterintelligence agency. He added that it remains to be seen how the contacts were made: "Was it al–Qaida who contacted them, or vice versa? Only the investigation will be able to tell."

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry, as well, said there were "indications of an Afghanistan–based al–Qaida connection" in the case, but did not elaborate. U.S. officials have said the plot bears the hallmark of al–Qaida, but that it is too early to say for sure whether the group was involved.

Regardless of whether such a link is established to bin Laden’s men, the arrests are raising troubling questions about the deeply conservative South Asian country whose name always seems to be in the mix when terror plots come to light.

Three of the four suicide attackers in the July 7, 2005, London transit bombings that killed 52 people were British Muslims of Pakistani origin, and two visited Pakistan before the attacks. Officials believe they may even have recorded their taped suicide messages while overseas.

And back in 2004, the capture of an alleged al–Qaida computer engineer and other suspects in Pakistan led to the arrests of eight men in Britain accused of plotting to commit murder with radioactive materials, toxic gases, chemicals or explosives. That plot prompted a U.S. terror alert surrounding the New York Stock Exchange and other financial centers.

Analysts say investigators will be seeking to make sense of the Pakistan connection as they pore over the suspects’ phone, Internet and banking records.

"Show me the money," said Russell Howard, a retired U.S. brigadier general who now runs the Jebsen Center for Counterterrorism Studies at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. "There’s probably a link back to Pakistan. Follow the money and follow the communications – get into their cell phones and (computer) hard drives."

But while investigators try to crack the case, security officials face an even more pressing task: making sure the skies are safe for travel, and the plot has been totally crushed.

British Home Secretary John Reid said Friday they believe they have apprehended the main players in the plot, but said that if further investigation revealed new leads, agents "would go where any further evidence takes us."

Frances Fragos Townsend, U.S. President George W. Bush’s homeland security adviser, said authorities are also investigating whether the plotters have links in the United States.

Hundreds of FBI agents tracked down leads around the U.S. in the past few weeks in the search for suspects, but they didn’t find any plotters, FBI officials said in Washington.

"We are looking for connections between anyone in the United States and the plotters in the U.K., but we don’t have any evidence that there is an active threat or cell here," she said.

Chris Pope, head of intelligence at the Royal United Services Institute, a London–based think tank, said Thursday’s shutdown of Heathrow Airport and the intense security in Britain, the United States and elsewhere "suggests to me that someone else might be out there" capable of an airliner attack.

 

 

 




Explore our related content