- The Washington Times - Friday, December 7, 2001

LONDON Indian police said they had arrested a key al Qaeda operative who headed a plot to fly an airliner into Britain's Houses of Parliament and targets in other countries.

The preparations appeared to have been almost identical to those made by the hijackers who carried out the attacks on New York and Washington. A plane was to have been hijacked and crashed into Britain's most sacred and ancient political institution, known both for its age and democratic model as the "Mother of Parliaments."

In an investigation broadcast on a television news program, "Channel 4 News," Indian security forces claimed they uncovered the conspiracy after arresting 26-year-old Afroz Mohammed in Bombay. He told them he had been planning to fly the hijacked plane.

Mr. Mohammed was attending a flying school in Bedford, a town not far from London, at the time of the September 11 attacks. The flying school told the news program that Mr. Mohammed disappeared shortly afterward, despite having paid a significant amount of money toward his course.

If confirmed, the arrest provides the first concrete evidence of a concerted plan by al Qaeda to crash a hijacked plane into a target in London. The student pilot confessed under interrogation in Bombay to being a terrorist commander in charge of the plot.

He joined the flying school in Bedfordshire at the end of August this year, paying a sizable deposit for a yearlong residential course costing about $80,000 in total. Fellow student pilots knew him as friendly and fun-loving, the program reported last night.

For the next two weeks, the student dutifully attended all classes, but on Sept. 17, six days after the attacks on America, Mr. Mohammed was logged as absent from class. The school reported him to police as a missing person.

At the end of September, he was tracked down to the slums of Bombay, where Indian police arrested him. Indian government ministers now describe Mr. Mohammed as an al Qaeda commander.

The officials are quoted as saying: "He made some shocking confessions. Al Qaeda was planning to carry out attacks like those on the World Trade Center in Britain, Australia and India.

"It was a massive conspiracy. We have been able to confirm his statements and some other information he had revealed."

A senior Indian politician told "Channel 4 News" that Mr. Mohammed had confessed to being in charge of a plot to hijack a British domestic flight and to crash it into the Houses of Parliament.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, the closest ally of the United States, and his entire Cabinet are elected members of the lower chamber of Parliament, the House of Commons, and attend at least once a week.

Mr. Mohammed is believed to have left Britain on a Pakistani passport, which the Indian authorities say has been stamped with a multitude of visas for the United States, Britain and Australia, where he also has attended a pilot training course.

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