Liquid Explosives Suspected in U.K. Terrorist Plot

British authorities say they have arrested at least 21 suspects in connection with an alleged terrorist plan to destroy planes flying from Britain to the United States using liquid explosives, perhaps brought onboard in carry-on luggage.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And joining us from London now is NPR's Rob Gifford.

And Rob, 21 people arrested? Do British authorities believe everyone involved is now under arrest?

ROB GIFFORD reporting:

Well, John Reid the Home Secretary, the man in charge of Britain's domestic affairs and security, said in a news conference this morning he believed that the main suspects had all been arrested. But of course the fact that they have moved on the airports, they have implemented these measures - very strict measures, especially on hand luggage, especially at Heathrow Airport, but all around the UK - suggests that they're not taking any chances.

And of course, the nature of the kind of cells that we're talking about in organizations, terrorist organizations we're talking about, means they're very secretive, so who knows whether there could be more out there.

BRAND: Yes, and at Heathrow, British authorities have cancelled flights to Europe and to other places. Flights are not allowed in from many places and they're still screening luggage for liquids, not allowing carry-ons.

GIFFORD: That's right. It's the liquids that are the key issue here. The suggestion was that someone was - this group were going to be taking maybe separate liquids on board, mixing them together to create some kind of inflammable explosive, not the traditional type of explosive at all. And that has been slowing down - the thing that's been slowing down the flights going out of British airports is that the whole way of traveling with any kind of hand luggage has completely changed.

And of course it's high vacation season here. Everybody's trying to travel. There's 186,000 passengers go through Heathrow Airport every day, and there's complete gridlock there this afternoon.

BRAND: And Rob, what are British officials saying about the suspects? Who are they, and where are they from?

GIFFORD: We know very little about it. And the police have been playing their cards very close to their chest. They have to be very sensitive and very careful, especially, of course, because of the sensitivities with the Muslim community. We heard President Bush there talk about Islamic fascists. Those are not words that any British official would ever, would ever use about the suspects, and so the police are not saying anything. They just say, We've got 21 people under arrest and we are investigating them and questioning them right now.

BRAND: NPR's Rob Gifford in London.

Thank you, Rob.

GIFFORD: Thank you very much, Madeleine.

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