Police Probe Money Trail in Foiled Plot

New information underlines how close the plotters were to mounting attacks.

London's Evening Standard reported the plotters apparently chose next Wednesday as a target date, since they had tickets for a United Airlines flight that day, as well as ones for this Friday, apparently a test-run to see whether they could smuggle chemicals aboard in soft-drink containers.

The paper didn't report the flight's destination, but United has flights from Heathrow to New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle.

The British say their inquiry began months ago - prompted by a tip from within the British Muslim community after the bloody July 7, 2005, terror bombings of the London transit system, The Washington Post reported.

There were signs preparations stepped up recently. One of the houses raided by British police this week had been bought last month by two men in an all-cash deal, in a neighborhood of $300,000 houses, neighbors reported.

Pakistani officials said British information led to the first arrests in Pakistan about a week ago, of two British nationals, including Rauf, called a "key person" by the Pakistani Foreign Ministry.

Pakistan's interior minister, Aftab Khan Sherpao, said Rauf has ties with al-Qaida and was apprehended in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area. The Foreign Ministry in Islamabad spoke of "indications" of a link between Rauf and al-Qaida in Afghanistan.

On an unspecified date, Pakistani authorities also arrested five Pakistanis as alleged `facilitators" for the Britons in the major cities of Lahore and Karachi. An intelligence official in Islamabad said 10 other Pakistanis had been arrested Friday 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 antiterror campaign, and a hotbed of Islamic radicalism and likely hiding place for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

"I am 120 percent convinced there's a link" with al-Qaida, Louis Caprioli, a former top French counterintelligence official, said of the trans-Atlantic bombing plot. "Was it al-Qaida who contacted them, or vice versa? Only the investigation will be able to tell."

Scotland Yard didn't identify the lone detainee released Friday from among 24 arrested in London, the town of High Wycombe 35 miles west of London, and the central city of Birmingham.

The 19 identified ranged in age from 17 to 35, had Muslim names and appeared to be of Pakistani descent, although many were born and all reared in Britain.

One not on the list of 19 names was believed to be a young woman in her 20s with a 6-month-old baby. At least three people among the suspects were converts to Islam. It was unclear how the alleged plotters met, or who the ringleader was, although suspicion fell on the only one identified who is over 30 - Shamin Mohammed Uddin, 35, of east London.

A teenage neighbor of suspect Assad Sarwar, 26, who lived with his parents in High Wycombe, said Sarwar had become increasingly strident after the London transit bombings, in which four suicide bombers killed 52 other people. "He started talking about terrorism and acting like it's OK to blow up people," said Nawaz Chaudhry, 17.

At least one "martyrdom" tape, the type left by suicide bombers, was found in the British raids, a U.S. law enforcement official said.

Under Britain's toughened antiterrorism laws, suspects can be held for up to 28 days without charge. On Friday, detention orders for 22 suspects were extended through Wednesday. The 23rd suspect, still in custody, will have a detention extension hearing Monday.


Associated Press writers Jill Lawless and Matt Moore in London, Katie Fretland in High Wycombe, England, Rob Harris in Birmingham, England, William J. Kole in Vienna and Sadaqat Jan in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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