- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 13, 2006

LONDON — The investigation into a plot to blow up U.S.-bound jetliners over the Atlantic zeroed in yesterday on brothers arrested in Pakistan and Britain, one named as a key al Qaeda suspect who left the family’s home in England years ago and the other described as gentle and polite.

The brothers are Rashid and Tayib Rauf, whose father, Abdul, immigrated to Britain from the Mirpur district of Pakistan several decades ago. His five children were all born in Britain, the family said.

British authorities, meanwhile, warned against complacency, saying the detention of the Raufs and several dozen other Muslim suspects in the airliner plot had not eliminated the danger.

“No one should be under any illusion that the threat ended with the recent arrests. It didn’t,” Home Secretary John Reid told police chiefs at a breakfast meeting. “All of us know that this investigation hasn’t ended.”

While authorities in Pakistan believe they nabbed the main players in the plot, one intelligence official told the Associated Press that two or three suspects remained at large.

They include Matiur Rahman, a senior figure in the al Qaeda-linked Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. The official told the AP that one detainee mentioned Rahman during interrogation.

Five suspects learned bomb-making in al Qaeda training camps, Pakistan intelligence officials told the London Sunday Telegraph.

The five, who were not identified, also recorded “martyrdom videos,” which were to be released by al Qaeda immediately after the attacks, the Telegraph reported.

Among the questions British police are studying is whether any of the suspects had links to the London subway bombers last year and how many visited Pakistan in recent months.

The suspects are reported to have traveled to Pakistan during the past 24 months and to have met with al Qaeda members. Some visited the region at the same time as London subway bombers Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, the Telegraph said.

Confusion and disorder continued yesterday for passengers attempting to leave Britain by air, with up to a third of the flights from London’s Heathrow Airport canceled. More disruptions were expected today.

At the Washington area’s three main airports, however, security lines moved without significant delays, officials said.

A swirl of attention focused on the role that Rashid and Tayib Rauf may have played in the plot.

Rashid Rauf was arrested about a week ago along the Pakistan-Afghan border, and Pakistani officials characterized him as a “key person” in the airliner plot. They said evidence linked him to an “Afghanistan-based al Qaeda connection” but gave no details.

His 22-year-old brother, Tayib, was taken into custody in Britain during the sweeps that nabbed 24 suspects here, and unconfirmed reports said a third brother might have been detained.

A great-uncle of the Rauf brothers said Tayib is partially deaf as a result of a childhood illness.

“He is very, very polite, the kindest person you could hope to meet,” Qazi Amir Kulzum was quoted as saying in yesterday’s edition of the Birmingham Post. “No one can believe that he would be involved in such matters.”

The devout Muslim family is no stranger to the authorities.

The Raufs’ terraced home was first searched during a 2002 investigation into the fatal stabbing of Mohammed Saeed, an uncle of the brothers, police said. Rashid Rauf was reportedly a suspect in the slaying and is thought to have left England for Pakistan shortly after the death.

The house was searched again in connection with a slaying during race riots in 2005.

Pakistan is questioning at least 17 persons, including Rashid Rauf and one other British national whose name has not been released.

A senior Pakistani security official told the AP that Rashid Rauf’s arrest prompted an accomplice in the southern city of Karachi to make a panicked phone call to a suspect in Britain, giving the green light for the airliner plot to move forward urgently.

“This telephone-call intercept in Karachi and the arrest of Rashid Rauf helped a lot to foil the terror plan,” the official said.

A second intelligence official, who described the accomplice as “inexperienced,” also said the caller “alerted his associates about the arrest of Rashid Rauf, and asked them to go ahead.”

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