- The Washington Times - Friday, August 11, 2006

LONDON — Arrests of young Muslims in a terrorist plot to blow up U.S.-bound passenger jets soared yesterday, with Pakistan and Italy rounding up dozens of suspects. Britain froze bank accounts of 19 of 24 persons arrested a day earlier.

Pakistan said it was holding Rashid Rauf, a 35-year-old Briton with links to al Qaeda, whom it identified as operations manager of plans to destroy up to 10 planes crossing the Atlantic at the height of tourist season.

Links to Italy were less clear, where police raided Internet cafes, money-transfer offices and long-distance phone call centers catering to Muslims and arrested 40 persons.

The arrests in Rome, Milan, Venice, Florence, Naples and other cities were “part of an extraordinary operation that followed the British anti-terrorist operation,” the Interior Ministry said.

British police said they hoped financial, telephone and other records would provide evidence leading to others involved in the suicide scheme, which if successful could have produced a death toll higher than September 11, 2001.

“Think of it as a river — you look upstream to find the source, and downstream to find out where the money is going,” Cliff Knuckey, former chief money laundering investigator for Scotland Yard, told the Associated Press.

The FBI, meanwhile, searched for links to militants in the United States.

“Currently, we do not have evidence that there was, as part of this plot, any plan to initiate activity inside the United States or that the plotting was done in the United States,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said.

Though an investigation had been under way for months, Pakistani officials said British information prompted the first arrests in Pakistan about a week ago of two British nationals, including Rauf.

Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said Rauf has ties to al Qaeda and was apprehended in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area.

On an unspecified date, Pakistani authorities also arrested five Pakistanis as “facilitators” in Lahore and Karachi.

An intelligence official in Islamabad told the Associated Press that 10 other Pakistanis had been arrested yesterday in the district of Bhawalpur, about 300 miles south of Islamabad near the Indian border.

Pakistan is both a key U.S.-British ally in the anti-terror campaign, and a hotbed of Islamic radicalism. It’s border area with Afghanistan is the likely hiding place for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

One of the 24 suspects held in Britain was released yesterday. There was no word on reports in U.S. newspapers that at least five suspects remained at large.

The Bank of England named and froze the assets of 19 of the suspects. All were identified as British Muslims between the ages of 17 and 35.

“Financial institutions and other persons are requested to check whether they maintain any accounts or otherwise hold any funds, other financial assets, economic benefits and economic resources for the individuals named and, if so, they should freeze the accounts or other funds and report their findings,” the bank said.

The move was ordered by Prime Minister Tony Blair’s treasury secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown.

Britain remained on its highest security alert, “critical,” which was ordered before dawn Thursday, although the chaos at airports began to ease as airlines and passengers began adapting to new rules.

The strictures include a ban on drinks, cosmetics and anything in a liquid, semiliquid or crystal state that could be used to conceal explosives.

Electronic devices such as laptop computers and cell phones that could be used to detonate bombs were also banned from British airline cabins.

The disruption at airports was expected to continue for another 48 hours, airport officials said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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