- The Washington Times - Monday, August 14, 2006

LONDON — Authorities warned Britons to remain vigilant yesterday, saying that 24 ongoing terrorism probes showed they could still be in the cross hairs of Islamic militants even after security forces foiled a plot to bring down packed planes heading to the United States.

Home Secretary John Reid said that authorities were conducting two dozen counterterrorism investigations in Britain and that there is no guarantee that the government will be able to thwart every plot.

“We believe we have the main targets from this particular surveillance and plot,” Mr. Reid told British Broadcasting Corp. television, adding, “There are still people out there who would carry out such attacks.”

British police questioned 22 suspects in detention yesterday, but authorities remained silent on what, if anything, they have learned.

With no briefings by police or government officials, the British press was left to speculate on a wide range of theories.

The Sunday Mirror tabloid asserted that a female suspect in custody may have been planning to use her baby as a diversion to smuggle a bomb onto a plane, but it did not name its sources. The Sunday Times reported that one of those in custody was thought to be al Qaeda’s leader in Britain, but it did not say which suspect. And the Independent on Sunday cited security sources as saying terrorists were planning an “apocalyptic wave” of attacks.

Police arrested 24 persons across England on Thursday, saying they had thwarted a plot to blow up as many as 10 passenger planes flying from Britain to the United States. One suspect was released without charge, and a court will decide today on the detention of another. That last suspect cannot be questioned in the interim.

Seventeen other persons are in detention in Pakistan — including Rashid Rauf, a British national named by Pakistani intelligence as one of the key suspects. Rauf was picked up along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and is thought to have connections to a senior al Qaeda leader in Afghanistan.

National newspapers said three of those arrested had been raised in middle-class or working-class families and only recently converted to Islam.

One of them, a former hairdresser named Don Steward-Whyte, changed his name to Abdul Waheed when he converted six months ago. Though he was not among the 19 detainees whose names were released by authorities, police guarded his home yesterday.

Mr. Waheed, who neighbors said is about 20, recently spent eight months working at a nightclub and two weeks selling electronics, never getting into any known trouble. His father was a local Conservative Party officer, and his half sister, Heather Stewart-Whyte, is a former model who was once married to tennis star Yannick Noah. She told British papers that she never met her half brother.

In Kabul, Afghanistan’s Foreign Ministry yesterday denied any Afghan connection, saying the country — where thousands of NATO and American troops are deployed — was no longer a safe place for al Qaeda to operate.

“As the recent evidences and ongoing investigations have revealed, al Qaeda continues to enjoy safe haven outside Afghanistan,” the ministry said.

Afghanistan has long complained that the Taliban and other militants are able to hide out on Pakistan’s side of the border and wants Islamabad to do more to stop them.

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