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Pakistani Intelligence helped thwart aircraft bomb plot

AKI | August 10 2006

Pakistan's intelligence agencies were involved helping the British authorities foil a terror plot to blow up several passenger planes between Britain and the United States, highly placed sources in Pakistan told Britain's Times newspaper on Thursday. The agencies have been working closely with British anti-terror police, monitoring "for some time," the activities of suspected terrorists, many of whom have links with Pakistan-based Islamist militant groups" the Times said.

Following overnight raids in the capital London, the Midlands and the Thames Valley, British police have arrested 21 people in connection with the plot to bring down up to 12 planes using liquid explosives held in hand-luggage. They are believed to British citizens many of Pakistani descent, the Times and the Birmingham Mail said.

Also on Thursday, Pakistani security forces placed under house arrest the outlawed Islamist militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba chief, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed. Saeed, is currently the leader of charity group Jamaat-ud-Dawa and will be detained for a month, according to local officials in the Pakistani province of Punjab. Jamaat-ud-Dawa has been listed by the United States as a terrorist group.

Searches of houses and business premises continued on Thursday. Buidings in Walthamstow, East London, and in High Wycombe, in the Thames Valley were among those cordoned off by police. Several items of interest had been found, a police spokesman said.

Britain's interior minister John Reid said on Thursday police believed "the main players are accounted for." Reid said had the attack gone ahead, it would have caused loss of life on "an unprecedented scale." He said Britain's authorities were "not in any way complacent". As a precaution, they have raised the terror threat level to "critical" meaning it is feared an attack is imminent.

The investigation into the "plot to commit mass murder on an unimaginable scale," has already last a year, police said. Three US airlines are believed to have been targeted by the plot.

The US State Department has raised to "red" or maximum its threat level for all flights arriving from Britain, and to "orange" - one step below "red" - for all domestic commercial flights. Security precautions have been tightened for all departures from US airports and drastically stepped up at all UK airports.

Michael Chertoff, the US secretary for homeland security, said the plot bore the hallmarks of al-Qaeda, resembling the infamous Bojinka plot hatched by the 9/11 mastermind Sheikh Mohammed in 1995 to bring down 11 airliners over the Pacific. He added: "We were really getting quite close to the execution phase."

On 7 July, 2005, three British-born youths of Pakistani origin and one Jamaican-born Muslim convert blew themselves up on central London's transport system, killing 52 people and injuring 1,000 in co-ordinated blasts. Two of the Pakistani-descended London bombers had travelled to Pakistan and spent time there.

The UK authorities have arrested 1,000 people since 2000 on suspicion of involvement in terrorism. Of those, 154 have been charged and 60 are awaiting trial.


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