US undermined UK probe into al Qaeda airline bomb plot

British police were forced to cut short their investigation into the 2006 al Qaeda airline bomb plot after the US pressurised Pakistan to arrest the suspected mastermind Rashid Rauf.

Updated: Sep 08, 2009, 17:34 PM IST

London: British police were forced to cut short their investigation into the 2006 al Qaeda airline bomb plot after the US pressurised Pakistan to arrest the suspected mastermind Rashid Rauf.

According to The Telegraph, American intelligence officials, who were briefed about the police investigation, became frustrated at British reluctance to arrest the suspects.

They urged the Pakistanis to swoop for Rauf to force the hand of the Metropolitan Police, who wanted more time to gather evidence.

"It probably was the case that something happened between the Americans and Pakistani authorities that precipitated the arrest," former Met Police Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman told BBC.

As a result the police were forced to arrest all the British-based suspects straight away, rather than in co-ordinated night time raids as had been planned.

"To go right from a standing start was a difficult challenge in itself. You would ideally want to be in much more control," he added.

Three British Muslims were yesterday convicted of planning a series of co-ordinated bomb attacks on airlines flying from the UK to US, which could have killed up to 10,000 people.

According to the paper, Abdullah Ahmed, Tanvir Hussain and Assad Sarwar plotted to cause mass murder by detonating home-made liquid explosives on board at least seven passenger flights bound for the US and Canada.

The plot had the potential to be three times as deadly as the 9/11 attacks of 2001.

The men made suicide videos, and they were bugged by MI5, which revealed how they discussed details of the plot. They were also filmed in their bomb factory in east London where they had practised making bombs from household goods, including soft drink bottles, batteries and disposable cameras.

All three men convicted on Monday had been found guilty at an earlier trial last year of conspiracy to murder, but prosecutors said it was vital to secure a conviction on another charge of conspiring to blow up the aircraft in order to prove that the threat to air traffic was genuine.

Their arrests in 2006 resulted in immediate worldwide restrictions on passengers carrying liquids in their hand luggage.

A ban on containers larger than 100ml is still in place.

When the men were arrested, one of the plotters, Abdulla Ahmed Ali, had a computer memory stick in his pocket which highlighted seven flights from London to six cities in the US and Canada, each carrying between 241 and 286 passengers and crew.

The flights all departed within 2 hours and 35 minutes of each other, to Chicago, Montreal, Toronto, San Francisco, Washington and New York and police believed there would have been no chance of stopping the attacks once all the aircraft were in the air.

Investigators also believed that the men were considering an even larger attack after they were bugged discussing plans for as many as 18 suicide bombers, which could have led to 5,000 deaths in the air and as many again on the ground.

The case has also led to a review of visa restrictions on Britons travelling to the US, and Monday’s convictions, which came during the diplomatic row over the release of the Lockerbie bomber, focused yet more attention in the US on how Britain deals with terrorists.

MI5 believed the plotters were linked to the highest levels of al Qaeda through a British man called Rashid Rauf, who was also involved in the build-up to the attacks of July 7 and July 21, 2005.

The Crown Prosecution Service must now decide whether those men, who were also tried last year, should face a third trial.