- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 17, 2006

LONDON — A district judge ruled yesterday that British investigators have until next week to keep suspects in the airplane bomb plot in custody without charges while investigating the plans to blow up as many as 10 trans-Atlantic jetliners.

Scotland Yard later said a person arrested Tuesday as part of its investigation into the foiled plot was released without charge. Another detainee was released without charge Friday.

The judicial order was the first major test of a new terrorism law that lets suspects be held for as long as 28 days without charge so investigators can solidify their cases.

The hearing, which addressed the cases of 23 suspects arrested in Britain’s initial sweep last week, was held behind closed doors and attended only by the suspects’ lawyers, investigators and government officials.

It was viewed as a test case for a new law extending the period of detentions without charges.

Experts say the primary reason police could use nearly a month to complete a probe is because of the complexity of investigations into the plot to smuggle liquid explosives hidden in hand luggage aboard flights.

“You’ve got laptops, you have to bring in translators to translate all the documents in there, and sometimes it’s inopportune to release all your suspects — particularly terrorism suspects — while all that is being downloaded and translated,” said Cliff Knuckey, a retired police detective who has worked on terrorism investigations.

When police officials appeared in February before a House of Commons committee looking at Britain’s terror legislation, they told lawmakers much the same thing.

And Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, who commands the anti-terrorist police branch, said officers had found terrorist-training videos spliced in the middle of Hollywood films, meaning hours spent scrutinizing videotapes.

Previously, police were able to detain people suspected of terrorism offenses for only 14 days. But the new legislation, which became law earlier this year, also created new offenses, including preparing a terrorist act, giving or receiving terrorist training and selling or spreading terrorist publications.

Prime Minister Tony Blair failed to receive parliamentary approval for his own plan to interrogate terrorist suspects for up to 90 days.

The British probe of a plot to destroy U.S.-bound jetliners with chemical explosions is the highest-profile case to be conducted under the new legislation.

Home Secretary John Reid, Britain’s chief law-and-order official, acknowledged that some of the suspects would likely not be charged with major criminal offenses, but said there was mounting evidence of a “substantial nature” to back the accusations.

“As we face the threat of mass murder, we have to accept that the rights of the individual that we enjoy must and will be balanced with the collective right of security and the protection of life and limb that our citizens demand,” Mr. Reid told journalists.

The European Union, he added, faces “a form of terrorism that is unconstrained in its evil intention.”

His comments came after he met with the French, German and Finnish interior ministers — Nicolas Sarkozy, Wolfgang Schaeuble and Kari Rajamaki, respectively — and European Commission Vice President Franco Frattini. They later announced the allocation of $235,000 to research the best ways to detect liquid-based explosives.

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