Bomb plot traced back to Al Qaeda
Rashid Rauf is the link between the plot's planners and British-based Muslims, according to intelligence officials
By STEPHEN WRIGHT and DAVID WILLIAMS | August 12, 2006
A Briton held in Pakistan has been named as a key suspect in the airline bomb plot as links to Al Qaeda were revealed.
Pakistani intelligence officers say Rashid Rauf is the link between the plot's planners and British-based Muslims who were allegedly preparing to carry out attacks on transatlantic flights.
Rauf, 25, is the brother of one of 24 suspects arrested by Scotland Yard antiterror officers in raids across Britain.
Details of his arrest in the Pakistani port city of Karachi came as U.S. intelligence officials disclosed the plot had been masterminded by Matiur Rehman, an Al Qaeda commander said to have personally overseen the training of young British radicals.
It was unclear whether 29-year-old Rehman, who was known to be planning an atrocity to mark the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, was among nine people held in Pakistan.
Pakistani officials said there was evidence Britons had been trained in Karachi in the use of explosives and that large sums of money had been transferred from the city to the bank accounts of suspects in Britain. They also suggested a link to Afghanistan where Al Qaeda used to be based.
Investigators would not say how long Rauf had been in Pakistan, where he is thought to have visited an area in which Rehman is known to have operated, in the tribal heartland of Al Qaeda.
Rauf, one of two Britons arrested in Pakistan, is said to have been absent from the family's Birmingham home since a relative's murder four years ago.
His brother Tayib is among 19 of the arrested terror suspects whose assets have been frozen by the Bank of England, acting under powers granted by the UN to tackle terrorism funding in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on the U.S.
Some of those arrested at homes in Birmingham, High Wycombe and London are said to have recently received large sums of money to buy airline tickets so they could blow up jets over five U.S. cities.
Details of Al Qaeda links emerged as:
• The UK security threat level remained critical
• Chemicals and materials thought to be for bomb-making were found in at least one of the raided homes
• Anti-terror detectives continued to question the 24 suspects, aged 17 to 35
• It emerged that three of those being held recently converted to Islam
• U.S. intelligence said at least five people were being hunted over the plot
• Delays continued at British airports as a result of new security measures.
• A radical leader held in Pakistan over the plot was linked to a 7/7 bomber.
Police believe the alleged plot involved smuggling bomb components on board jets hidden in hand luggage. The devices would have been disguised as drinks and reportedly would have used triacetone triperoxide - TATP - known as the 'Mother of Satan' by terrorists.
The substance was used by the bombers who attacked London on July 7 last year - one of several emerging similarities between the plots.
At least two members of the July 7 attacks were British-born Muslims who trained in Pakistan in bomb-making and met Al Qaeda operatives.
Further claims of a possible link to Osama Bin Laden's terror network came from U.S. President George Bush's Homeland Security Adviser Fran Townsend.
She said the plot had 'all the hallmarks' of Al Qaeda and that potential links were being examined.
She added: 'The plotters intended this to be a second September 11.
'It's a frightening example of multiple simultaneous attacks for explosions of planes that would have caused the deaths of thousands.'
Most of those under arrest are of Asian origin but at least three are converts to Islam and several came from comfortable middle-class backgrounds.
One of the suspects was Don Stewart-Whyte, 21, from High Wycombe, who changed his name to Abdul Waheed after converting to Islam.
Home Secretary John Reid repeated yesterday he believed the main suspects were in custody but said it was right to 'err on the side of caution'.
Neither Mr Reid nor Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander held out any immediate prospect of a lifting of stringent security measures introduced at airports.
Mr Alexander said the measures, which include a ban on all hand baggage, would remain in place 'only as long as the situation demands'.
Police, who now believe seven planes were to be attacked, are seeking to establish who recruited, groomed and radicalised the Britons.
Investigators have been told that the war in Iraq and Afghanistan is likely to have been an influence on the young Muslims.
British authorities agree with U.S. intelligence that Rehman was involved.
He first emerged as an Al Qaeda commander last March as President Bush was about to make his first visit to Karachi.
Pakistani intelligence agents said then that they believed Rehman was in the early stages of planning a major attack on Britain and the U.S.
Rehman was known to be a vital link between Al Qaeda chiefs and militant Islamists in tribal areas, and Pakistan offered a 10million rupee reward - about £90,000 - for his capture.
Pakistani officials said Rehman had helped train thousands of fellow Pakistani militants at Al Qaeda camps in the late Nineties, with militants from Africa and the Arab world.
Meanwhile, Tony Douglas, chief executive of the airport operator BAA, said the restrictions at British airports would remain in force for 'some time'.
He added: 'Until the Department for Transport and British Government revise the status of the security problem, we will be maintaining working to these security precautions.'
He warned this weekend was likely to be busy and urged people to check with their airlines before travelling.