Airline Terror Plot Foiled in UK Soon Before Planned Bombings
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SIMON ISRAEL, ITV News Correspondent: Mass murder on the
scale of 9/11. The aim of an alleged conspiracy, with its roots here in the
Buckinghamshire town of High Wycombe.
It’s where two of 21 terrorist suspects have been arrested and where police
have evacuated residents from houses, set up a two-mile radius for searches,
and where officers have been combing the nearby woods.
From homes such as these, the plan was devised, according to
intelligence sources, to take out packed transatlantic flights by blowing holes
in the fuselage whilst flying over American cities, using handheld exploding
devices capable of avoiding x-ray detection.
PAUL STEPHENSON, Deputy Commissioner, London Police: We
cannot stress too highly the severity that this plot represented. Put simply,
this was intended to be mass murder on an unimaginable scale.
Twenty-one people are currently in custody, and many addresses are being
searched. There were two arrests in Birmingham,
by West Midlands police, coordinated by the
counterterrorism branch. It included a raid on a premises in Belchers Lane.
In High Wycombe, there were
arrests in Walton Drive
and Micklefield Road.
But the majority took place in London.
Two of the locations were Forest
Road and Folkestone
Road in Walthamstow.
Channel 4 News understands that all of those arrested are
British, mostly late teens and early 20s, and mostly of Pakistani origin. The
group had been under surveillance for many months. They include an Islamic
charity worker and at least one Heathrow employee with a pass to all areas. He
was in his airport uniform when taken away in handcuffs.
PETER CLARKE, Anti-Terror Coordinator, London Police: We’ve
been looking at meetings, movements, travel, spending, and the aspirations of a
large group of people.
It’s been confirmed that the prime minister briefed President Bush several
times over the last few weeks about the threat, including last night, when, at
10:00 p.m., the Cobra committee met to discuss the threat, chaired by the home
secretary, John Reid.
It was then the decision was made to make arrests, and the
Metropolitan Police began the overnight series of raids against terror
suspects. At 2:00 a.m., another Cobra meeting of just officials this time
raised the terror threat level from “severe” to “critical.”
British Airways say they were alerted around this time,
along with other airlines and all airports, just as the raids were being
carried out. At 5:00 a.m., the Cobra committee met again, again chaired by John
Reid. Thirty-eight minutes later, the Metropolitan Police announced to the
press that a major terror plot had been disrupted and, at around 6:45, the home
secretary and transport secretary recorded this televised statement.
JOHN REID, Home Secretary,
The police, acting with the security service, MI-5, are investigating an
alleged plot to bring down a number of aircraft through mid-flight explosions
causing a considerable loss of life.
By lunchtime, while the threat level remained critical, the home secretary said
the major players had been rounded up.
JOHN REID: We have raised the threat to the maximum of
“critical” and will maintain it there as a precautionary measure
primarily. Although we, by which I mean the police and the security services,
think we have the main players in this particular conspiracy, you can never at
this stage be certain.
more details of the plot, specifically the type of handheld device starting
from a kit of innocent-looking parts carried through airport security, ending
up as an assembled explosive onboard the flight.
Channel 4 News understands that some of the arrested had
made trips to Pakistan,
which tonight confirmed that its intelligence services had also played a major
role in uncovering this plot.
RAY SUAREZ: As we’ve been reporting, there were three more
arrests after that report was filed, bringing the total to 24.