A Link to al-Qaida in the Airline Plot

British officials say the suspects in the bombing plot have been under surveillance since December — and that the ringleader has ties to the al-Qaida-affiliated group in Pakistan that is believed to have murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Britain's top law enforcement official, Home Secretary John Reid, told the BBC today that at least four major suspected terror plots have been thwarted since the London bombings that killed more than 50 people in July of last year. Reid also said that the British government believes it has arrested all the main suspects in the alleged plot revealed this past week to blow up passenger planes over the Atlantic. But he acknowledged that more plotters may remain at large.

NPR's Guy Raz joins us from London.

Guy, what more are we finding out this morning?

GUY RAZ reporting:

Well, actually quite a bit, Liane. In fact, British intelligence officials are saying that these suspects have been under surveillance since last December, for several months in fact. Now, of course there were 24 arrests on Wednesday. Not all 24 of these people are necessarily implicated. Two of them, we believe, have already been released. But the British Home Secretary, John Reid, is pretty confident that they have the main suspects in custody. And he said that just a few hours ago on the BBC this morning. Let's take a listen.

Mr. JOHN REID (British Home Secretary): I have to be honest and say on the basis of what we know there could be others out there, perhaps people we don't know, perhaps people who are involved in other plots. So the threat of a terrorist attack in the United Kingdom is still very substantial.

RAZ: Now, Liane, what happened was that on the 4th of August, a man was arrested - a British-born man was arrested in Pakistan. His name is Rashid Rauf, and he's now basically believed to have been the ringleader of these cells. Once he was arrested, a call went out from Pakistan to one of the cells in Britain, essentially a call saying expedite this attack, carry it out as soon as possible. British intelligence had intercepted that call and that is why they went ahead and arrested these suspects, because they believed that this plot was imminent.

We also heard from John Reid this morning that since last year's July 7th bombings there have been four other terror plots that British intelligence agents have managed to thwart. So quite substantial information coming out of the British government this morning.

HANSEN: Any more new details about the people in custody?

RAZ: It appears that the focus is now on this man called Rashid Rauf in Pakistani. He's a known member of an al-Qaida affiliated group in Pakistan. The group is called Lashkar and it's the group that's believed to have been behind the murder of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter. His brother Tayib was also arrested in Britain this past week in Birmingham.

Most of the suspects who are arrested are from the neighborhood of Walthamstow. It's in the East End of London. One of those arrested, a guy called Waheed Zaman, is actually the head of the Islamic Society at London's Metropolitan University. He's a biochemistry major; again, with possible ties to some of the radical groups in this country.

And there are also hints coming from the British security that some of these suspects probably had ties to those who carried out those bombings in London last year.

HANSEN: NPR's Guy Raz in London. Guy, thanks a lot.

RAZ: Thank you, Liane.

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