British air terror plot was not imminent, says NYT

The daily says there is no proof that suspects who were taken into custody on Aug 10 were preparing to strike.

india Updated: Aug 30, 2006 18:52 IST

Amajor terror plot uncovered in Britain that led to global panic was not imminent as stated earlier and claims that up to 10 planes may have been targeted was exaggerated, says The New York Times.

In an exhaustive investigation into the probe still underway in Britain and other countries, the daily says there was no evidence that the suspects who were taken into custody on Aug 10 were preparing to strike.

British Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff had suggested in the wake of the arrests that the suspected plot was imminent and that it was "getting really quite close to the execution stage".

The Times said, "But the suspects were unprepared to move immediately, five senior British officials said. Two of the suspects did not have passports. One official said the plot's leaders were still recruiting and radicalising would be bombers."

The daily said interviews with high-ranking British and European and American officials showed that "the plot did not appear to be in its final stages.

"Instead, the reactions of Britain and the US were driven less by information about a specific, imminent attack than that other, unidentified terrorists might strike in the wake of the arrests...

"In fact, two and a half weeks since the inquiry became public, British investigators have still not determined whether there was a target date for the attacks, how many planes were to be involved or how many suicide bombers were intended to be abroad each plane. British officials said the estimate of 10 planes was speculative and exaggerated."

British officials had announced Aug 10 after arresting 24 suspects that they had broken up a terrorist network that was then planning to bomb US-bound flights over the Atlantic with liquid bombs.

In the wake of the startling disclosure, unprecedented security measures were put in place almost throughout the world, scores of flights were cancelled, all liquids and carry on bags were banned in many countries, and virtual panic set in.

The Times said despite charges against the accused, officials "are still unsure of one critical question: whether any of the suspects was technically capable of assembling and detonating liquid explosives while airborne".

"While officials and experts familiar with the case say the investigation points to a serious and determined group of plotters, they add that questions about the immediacy and difficulty of the suspected bombing plot cast doubt on the accuracy of some of the public statements made at the time."

One official was quoted as saying: "There may have been too much hyperventilating going on."

In addition, British authorities are still scouring the evidence for clues to whether there is a global dimension to the plot, particularly the extent to which it was planned, financed or supported in Pakistan, and whether there is a connection to remnants of Al Qaeda."

When the arrests were unfolding, Britain raises its terror alert level to "critical" and a senior official said the attacks would have been "mass murder on an unimaginable scale".

"Two weeks later, senior officials have characterised the remarks as unfortunate."

First Published: Aug 30, 2006 15:36 IST