British authorities yesterday identified 19 of the 24 suspected terrorists who allegedly plotted to destroy US-bound commercial jetliners and froze their assets, while investigators probed their movements, backgrounds and finances.
Many of the names released by the Bank of England, acting on an order from the government, were of Muslim origin, many of which are common in Pakistan. The suspects ranged in age from 17 to 35.
Authorities said on Thursday the plot would have caused "mass murder on an unimaginable scale." At least one of the 24 people arrested was reportedly a woman with a small child; another was a convert to Islam.
In Pakistan, authorities arrested five people, bringing the total number of suspects held there to seven. A Pakistani official said the five Pakistanis were believed to have been helping two British citizens who were taken into custody there a week ago.
Investigators, describing a plot on the scale of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the US, said the attackers planned to use common electronic devices to detonate liquid explosives to bring down as many as 10 planes.
The bombs were to have been assembled on the aircraft apparently with a peroxide-based solution and everyday carry-on items such as a disposable camera or a music player, two US law enforcement officials said on Thursday. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Britain asked that no information be released.
A US law enforcement official in Washington said that at least one martyrdom tape was found during ongoing raids across England.
The Guardian newspaper, citing unidentified British government sources, said that after the first two arrests were made in Pakistan, a message was sent to Britain telling the plotters, "do your attacks now."
That message was intercepted and decoded earlier this week, the Guardian said.
Authorities pressed ahead with efforts to smash the purported terror ring. Two US officials said British, US and Pakistani investigators were trying to trace the steps of the suspects in Pakistan and were seeking to determine whether a couple of them attended terrorist training camps there.
Many of the suspects were said to be British Muslims and neighbors said at least two were converts to Islam.
Raids were carried out at homes in London, the nearby town of High Wycombe and in Birmingham, central England. Police still guarded homes in High Wycombe, where the Muslim community expressed shock and anger at being thrust into the international spotlight.
"They are considered ordinary British Muslims and they haven't caused any harm to anyone," accountant Mohammed Naeem said of those arrested. "They come from decent families."
Imtiaz Qadir, of the Waltham Forest Islamic Association, said one of the suspects was a woman in her 20s who had a six-month-old child. "They have taken the child too, because it needs to be with its mother," he said.
Neighbors identified another suspect as Don Stewart-Whyte, 21, from High Wycombe, a convert who had changed his name to Abdul Waheed.
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