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Suspects Held Without Charges in UK-U.S. Airline Bomb Plot

A British judge agreed to extend the warrants of the 24 people suspected in a plot to bomb transatlantic flights until next week. British law dictates a maximum of 28 days for suspects to be held without charge. A reporter speaks about the developing investigation.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    British authorities have arrested their 24th suspect in the alleged plot to bomb planes headed for the United States. The investigation, which now stretches to Pakistan and to Germany, is still under way.

    For more on what officials now say they know, we turn to Sebastian Rotella of the Los Angeles Times. He joins us from London.

    Welcome, Sebastian. With this additional suspect now under arrest, how extensive is this investigation into the plot at this point?

  • SEBASTIAN ROTELLA, Los Angeles Times:

    It's quite extensive, with all the suspects arrested here, another 17 in Pakistan, including someone who seems to be a very important figure, a lot of searches still going on, very meticulous searches of dozens of properties and cars. And the police have spent a long time following and watching these people, but, in these kinds of cases, there's always a lot left to do once they're arrested.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Tell me about the very important figure arrested in Pakistan that you just alluded to?

  • SEBASTIAN ROTELLA:

    Well, the exact title, whether it's "mastermind" or one of the planners, remains to be seen, but his name is Rashid Rauf, and he's been living in Pakistan for some years. He has brother who was among the people arrested in London.

    And the Pakistani authorities who arrested him say that he was significant to the plot, that he was in communication with a group here, and that he in turn in Pakistan had been in touch with senior people of al-Qaida, so that he was a driving force in the plot. It's always difficult in these cases to identify one mastermind, but he certainly seems a central figure anyway.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    We've also seen in your reporting that there have been some links suspected, at least, to the 9/11 attacks?

  • SEBASTIAN ROTELLA:

    There's a slim but intriguing lead that could connect one of the plotters in this case — we don't know which one it is — to one of the few fugitives remaining from the 9/11 case, an accomplice of the Hamburg cell, a German-Moroccan named Said Bahaji who fled to Pakistan.

    And the Germans are helping the British investigate apparent contact, probably e-mail, between one of these plotters and Bahaji's wife, who continues to be in touch with him from Hamburg. It's significant because Bahaji is believed to be hiding with al-Qaida in Pakistan and may well still be involved in plotting. And it could be an interesting connection, in terms of potential involvement in the planning of this plot, but it's too early to say definitively because there just isn't that much information yet.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Yes, but one of the reasons it strikes such a chord for people is we remember very well the Hamburg element of the 9/11 plot and wonder whether we're seeing some of the similar — at least that's what they're investigating, which is that there is a cell in Hamburg which involves people who go back and forth for training to Pakistan, and in this case to London, as well.

  • SEBASTIAN ROTELLA:

    Here, yes, you definitely have some similarities in the terms of a cell in London that seems reliant, if not dependent, on activity in Pakistan, whether it's training, expertise, orders. The difference would be that, in Hamburg, they were immigrant students, and in this case we're talking about British-born suspects of Pakistani descent.

    So the combination is different, but if, in fact, what we're hearing is true, we're talking about a plot that would have attempted to at least match the horror of 9/11, so that connection or that suspected connection certainly adds another worrisome and interesting element to this.