Britain Investigating a Dozen Terrorism Plots

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Officials say the threat of a terrorist attack in the United Kingdom is still substantial. They are looking into at least twelve major terrorism plots, and also reveal that they have thwarted at least four previous plots. Nonetheless, many Britons wonder whether strict airport security measures are still needed.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

British officials confirm they are investigating at least 12 terror plots in the country. That news comes just days after police arrested 24 people suspected of planning major terrorist attacks on U.S.-bound flights. NPR's Guy Raz is in London with the details.

GUY RAZ reporting:

Though the arrests were carried out this week, British Home Secretary John Reid says these suspects were under surveillance since last December.

Mr. JOHN REID (British Home Secretary): Well, I've known for some time about this alleged plot and several others as well. But it didn't become obvious until literally hours before we had to move that we would have to move.

RAZ: What prompted the sweep was the arrest of Rashid Rauf thousands of miles away in Pakistan. Rauf is British-born, and he's thought to be the leaders of the alleged conspiracy. After his arrest, someone in Pakistan called one of the cell members in Britain to warn them. That call was intercepted by British intelligence, who determined the attack was imminent.

Reid says the main suspects are probably in custody, but...

Mr. REID: I have to be honest and say that on the basis of what we know there could be others out there, perhaps 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: So substantial that as many as 12 other alleged terror plots, described by John Reid as major plots, are now under investigation in the U.K. Of those arrested this week, some may be linked to the bombers who carried out last year's London transport bombings.

For the first time since the bombings, Reid revealed that British intelligence operatives had thwarted other hitherto unreported terror attacks.

Mr. REID: I can tell you that at least four major plots have been thwarted.

RAZ: Despite this announcement, many Britains are wondering whether the strict airport security measures are still necessary. British officials say those measures will continue for the days to come, contributing to severe backups at Britain's three major airports.

At the same time, Reid today said he's spoken to U.S. Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff, suggesting that he consider easing some of the restrictions imposed on flights from the United States.

Guy Raz, NPR News, London.

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