Al-Qaeda link to terror plot

The Age, Australia/August 11, 2006

At least three people linked to global terror network al-Qaeda have been arrested in connection with a plot to blow up international passenger flights out of Britain, says Pakistan.

British authorities have arrested 24 people in raids on homes and offices across the country but have declined to comment on reports that five key suspects are still at large.

Pakistan's Foreign Office spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam would not say how many arrests had been made in Pakistan but said the operation was coordinated with the raids in Britain and crucial to foiling the plan for a simultaneous attack on up to 10 passenger jets.

Britain and the US immediately raised their nationwide terrorist alerts to the highest levels. It is the first time Britain had been on maximum alert, signifying that an attack is "imminent".

News of the al-Qaeda link comes as the full extent of the alleged plot hits home in Britain and the US and as heightened security measures cause chaos in airports around the world.

The bombers planned to hide explosive gel or liquid in a sports drink and then detonate it with the flash from a disposable camera, ABC News reported.

The US has banned all liquids "including beverages, hair gels and lotions" on outgoing planes and asked foreign operators to impose the same ban on flights into the US.

Hand luggage restrictions were introduced in Australia, Canada, Ghana, Kenya, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland and by a number of individual airlines, including US carrier Delta and Austrian Airlines.

British officials said those arrested in the UK were British-born Muslims with links to Pakistan. They say the plot involved would-be suicide bombers boarding up to 10 flights to the US with bomb-making chemicals disguised as harmless liquids.

The plot reportedly involved blowing up United, Continental and American airlines jets over several US cities.

US President George Bush said the plot showed America was still at war with "Islamic fascists" five years after the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, prompting an outcry from Muslim comunity leaders.

"We can't stress too highly the severity that this plot represented," said Paul Stephenson, a deputy commissioner with London's Metropolitan Police. "Put simply, this was intended to be mass murder on an unimaginable scale."

A US intelligence official said the planned bombings were just days away, with a "dry run" planned first: "They were a couple of days from a test, and a few days from doing it."

US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said that, if successful, the bombings could have been as horrific as the September 11 attacks.

"If these plotters had succeeded in taking down multiple jets carrying hundreds of people, we would have seen a disaster on a scale comparable to 9/11, with hundreds and maybe thousands of people being killed," Mr Chertoff said in a television interview.

He said the US was in a race against "terrorist ingenuity".

Edina Lekovic, a spokeswoman for the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles, said she was concerned Mr Bush's "Islamic fascists" tag would cast suspicion on all Muslims, even the vast majority who wanted to live in safety.

"The problem with the phrase is it attaches the religion of Islam to tyranny and fascism, rather than isolating the threat to a specific group of individuals," said .

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.