A plot described by counter-terrorism officials as potentially ‘bigger than 9/11” has been foiled by British and international counter-terrorism forces.

Up
to ten transatlantic flights from Heathrow Airport were targeted in the
plan, which was allegedly intended to simultaneously blow up planes
over US and UK cities. Three US airlines were targeted – Continental,
United and American Airlines – and five US cities – New York,
Washington DC, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles. The plan was to use a
liquid-based explosive, carried on in hand luggage, that could be mixed
and detonated on board.

Following months of surveillance, the
decision was made to move after intelligence suggested that the
terrorists were ready to act within days. After intensive monitoring of
the meetings, travel and spending of the suspect group, security
officials were alerted by a telephone call about the alleged plot, a
noticeable increase in internet communication, and two men under
surveillance disappearing off the intelligence radar.

24 people
are currently being held in custody at a high security police station
in West London while officials continue to search for evidence. The Times has listed 19 of the suspects here.
According to a Scotland Yard source all the major suspects have been
arrested, contrary to reports from the US based ABC, which suggested
five suspects were still at large.

Many flights into London
have been cancelled and all hand luggage on outgoing flights has been
banned. No liquid apart from baby milk is allowed to be carried on
board.

While US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has said that the plan had many characteristics of an al-Qaeda operation, British officials have been more cautious in their comments.

The
similarity to an al-Qaeda plot codenamed Bojinka – foiled in 1995 – in which
organisers planned to mix chemicals and carry them on-board flights to
America, has been pointed out by The New York Times.

Peter Fray

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