Da The Guardian del 10/08/2006
Originale su http://www.guardian.co.uk/terrorism/story/0,,1841140,00.html?gusrc=rss...

'Mass murder terror plot' uncovered

· Claims 10 planes were targeted
· 24 held following raids
· Chaos at British airports

di David Batty, Mark Oliver

A plot to kill thousands of people by detonating explosions on up to 10 transatlantic flights from UK airports was disrupted today.

The home secretary, John Reid, today said such an attack could have caused civilian casualties on an "unprecedented scale".

It is believed the intention was to set off near simultaneous blasts on flights, probably bound for the US, using explosives smuggled into passenger cabins inside hand luggage.

Police were holding 24 people in custody in London following overnight raids by anti-terror officers and MI5. Mr Reid would not comment on claims that the detainees were British-born Muslims of Pakistani descent.

A decision was made to move suddenly following months of surveillance. US counter-terrorism officials told the Associated Press that three major US airlines - United, American Airlines and Continental - had been targeted in the plot.

The aim of the plot was to blow up planes over UK and US cities, Sky News reported. Five US cities are thought to have been among the targets, including New York, Washington and Los Angeles, it added.

The plans could have been carried out in the next two days, a White House spokesman said today. He added that Tony Blair and George Bush had discussed the plot on Sunday and Wednesday.

Reports citing official sources said the apparent idea was to use a liquid-based explosive, and there were suggestions one explosive component was to have been hidden in bottles of fizzy drink.

President Bush said the was a "stark reminder" that the US was "at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom." He thanked the British government for "busting this plot".

There is major disruption to flights in the UK, and European airlines have cancelled hundreds of flights into London. Flights at Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted airports have been particularly disrupted. It is believed that up to 400,000 passengers have been affected.

Emergency restrictions were in place at British airports, barring passengers from taking any liquids or other hand luggage, apart from travel documents and essential prescriptions, on board. Heathrow officials said all milk for babies would have to be tasted by an "accompanying passenger".

There were no firm indications of plans for an attack to have been carried out today, but the US homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, said it was a "well advanced" scheme. He said the plot was based in Britain but was "international in scope".

Mr Chertoff said: "They had accumulated the capability necessary and they were well on their way."

"This wasn't supposed to happen today," a US official who asked not to be named, told the Washington Post. "It was supposed to happen several days from now. We hear the British lost track of one or two guys. They had to move."

The US attorney general, Alberto Gonzalez, said it was "suggestive of al-Qaida tactics". British officials were more circumspect about the background to the plot than their US counterparts, stressing that they had to be careful about what they said because there could be trials in future.

Officials also declined to confirm the number of flights believed to have been targets - sources said up to 10 - and the home secretary would only say the alleged intention was to carry out a "wave" of attacks.

Paul Stephenson, the deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan police, spoke of the threat of "mass murder" on an "unimaginable scale".

Mr Reid said there was confidence that the plot's "main players have been accounted for", but added that officials were not being "complacent".


Most of the suspects detained overnight were arrested in east London. Two people were also arrested in Birmingham, and Mr Stephenson said there had also been an operation in the Thames Valley.

Thames Valley Police said homes in High Wycombe were also being searched. But a spokesman stressed there was not thought to be a direct threat to people in the area.

Peter Clarke, the head of the Metropolitan police's anti-terror branch, said the operation had involved an "unprecedented level of surveillance" and had reached a "critical point" last night when officers move to "protect the public".

The focus of the long investigation had been on the "meetings, movement, travel pending and the aspirations of a large group of people", and the alleged plot had "global dimensions", he said.

At 2am, the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre raised the UK terror alert from severe to critical - its highest level - for the first time. The Home Office website defines critical as meaning an attack is expected imminently.

The US government responded by raising its threat assessment to red, the highest level, for commercial flights from Britain. Passengers in the US have also been prohibited from carrying liquids or lotions on flights.

Mr Chertoff said the plotters had "planned to carry the components of the bombs disguised as beverages, electronic devices or other common objects". Components could then be mixed on board to create explosives, he said.

If 10 planes had been targeted, it would have been by far the most ambitious terror plot since the September 11 2001 attacks in the US killed more than 2,700 people.

Downing Street said Tony Blair, who is on holiday in the Caribbean, was being kept constantly informed of developments and had briefed the US president, George Bush, overnight.

The anti-terror operations were carried out with Mr Blair's "full support", No 10 said.


The restrictions caused delays of up to five hours on some flights, and the disruption was expected to last for several days.

All passengers were hand searched, and their footwear and all items they were carrying x-ray screened. Laptop computers, mobile phones and iPods are among the items banned from being carried on board.

At Heathrow terminal one and Manchester airport, huge queues stretched the length of the departure lounge this morning.

Yesterday, Mr Reid said Britain was facing its most sustained period of serious threat since the end of the second world war and told critics of the government's controversial anti-terror tactics that they "just don't get it".

In recent months, officials have said several plots had been foiled since the July 7 London bombings, in which 52 people died.

Three days before Christmas 2001, Briton Richard Reid, who pledged allegiance to al-Qaida, tried to set off explosives in his shoes while on an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami.

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