Thu, Aug 17, 2006 - Page 7 News List

UK cops nab 24th London bomb plotter

LIQUID THREAT As airports scrambled to manage the chaos in the foiled attack's wake, a row eupted about whether Asians and Muslims should be more closely scrutinized


British authorities said on Tuesday that they had made another arrest in what they described last week as a major terrorist plot to blow up trans-Atlantic airplanes. The new arrest, in the Thames Valley area, the police said, brings the number of people being held to 24.

None have been formally charged. No details were disclosed about the new arrest.

At the same time, London's main airports continued their efforts to end the chaos of missed flights, lost baggage, corroded tempers and lost revenue brought on by last Thursday's increased security restrictions. As the airlines said delays in security screening were the fault of BAA, the company that owns and operates London's largest airports, a debate broke out over whether passenger screening should focus more narrowly on people whose appearance suggests they pose the greatest likelihood of being terrorists.

The government has not officially proposed a change, and a spokesman for the Transport Department, which sets airport security rules, said that the department would have no comment on its screening plans. But after the Times of London and the Sun reported that the department had discussed the possibility of singling out people who, for example, behave suspiciously or who have certain ethnic or religious backgrounds, a flurry of outrage erupted from South Asians and Muslims. Such a program, they said, amounted to racial profiling.

"What you are suggesting is that we should have a new offense in this country called `traveling whilst Asian,'" Chief Superintendent Ali Desai of the Metropolitan Police, who is a Muslim, told the BBC program Newsnight.

Racial profiling

Focusing on Asians or people in Muslim dress, he said, would infuriate law-abiding Asians, who already feel unfairly victimized by the police in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the US and the bombings in London on July 7 last year.

The furor over racial profiling in airports began on Sunday, when Lord Stevens, a former Metropolitan Police commissioner, endorsed the approach in a commentary in News of the World.

Criticizing the rigorous checks imposed on all passengers now -- with a large percentage still being searched by hand, in addition to the usual checks -- Stevens said that he was a "white 62-year-old, 6-foot 4-inch suit-wearing ex-cop" who did not fit the profile of a suicide bomber. But, he said, he and others -- including young mothers, gay couples and members of rugby teams -- were still subject to strict screening rules that slowed the process and wasted resources.

"The truth is, Islamic terrorism in the West has universally been carried out by young Muslim men, usually of ethnic appearance, almost always traveling alone or in very small groups," he wrote.

The leader of the opposition Conservative Party, David Cameron, refused on Tuesday to rule out such an approach. Decisions about screening should be based on "what's right in terms of intelligence and policing," he said at a news conference, and not "people making politically correct judgments in Whitehall and Westminster."

Cameron attacked the government's anti-terrorism program, saying that it had not done enough to root out Muslim extremism in its midst.

"Why have so few, if any, preachers of hate been prosecuted or expelled?" he asked. "Why has so little been done to use the existing law to deal with the radicalization that is rife within our shores?"

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