Airline Plot Investigation Quietly Moves Forward

British police ask a judge for additional time to question two-dozen people suspected of being involved with the alleged plot to blow up trans-Atlantic airliners. Not much is known about the investigation into the bombing, although a fresh arrest was made Tuesday and reports say police my have found evidence in a patch of suburban London woods.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Good morning. Later today, British police will ask a judge for additional time to question two dozen people suspected of being involved with the alleged plot to blow up trans-Atlantic airliners. Late yesterday another person was arrested, bringing the total number of suspects in custody to 24.

NPR's Guy Raz is in London and joins us. And Guy, what will police be asking the judge?

GUY RAZ reporting:

Renee, they're going to have to present some kind of material evidence to this district judge in London today. We do know that the investigators probably have pretty good circumstantial evidence and that may not be enough. But what many analysts here are saying is that because it's only been a week since those arrests, the judge will most likely extend this detention period. Now this is all related to last year's London transport bombings. Basically, the British government passed a law last year that allows police to hold suspects in terror-related cases for up to 28 days without charge. But those detention periods, they have to be approved and renewed usually about every seven days. Now we do, as I say, we do expect the judge to go ahead and approve this request today. That gives police about another seven days to interrogate these suspects. And then at that point - when they reapply for an extension - they will have to reapply to the British High Court.

MONTAGNE: And how much evidence have police gathered so far?

RAZ: You know, these suspects have been under surveillance here in Britain for about eight months. Last week, the country's transport system was shut down in light of this plot. So the assumption is that they have pretty good and pretty strong intelligence. Now anecdotal information about some of these suspects suggests that some of them were behaving in unusual ways. One of them bought a home just a month ago in cash. But that being said we really don't know very many details about what British police have recovered because they're notoriously tight-lipped about these things. In fact, most of the information we do have is coming out of Washington and Islamabad and now recently from Berlin. So we know, for example, that Pakistani intelligence - they've interrogated seven people including one man, Rashid Rauf, who's actually a British national. Apparently, he has admitted to Pakistani intelligence officials that he has some kind of ties to a Pakistani branch of al-Qaida. And then the newspapers in this country are reporting that police in Britain who are scouring a forest outside the London suburb of High Wycombe have actually found guns in that forest. That forest, they believe, was a place where some of these suspects were gathering before the arrests. But all together, investigators are now searching about 50 different places all over the country.

MONTAGNE: And this latest arrest. What do we know about that suspect?

RAZ: Again Renee, we know very, very little about the arrest. We only know that it took place just outside London. We believe, again, in High Wycombe. What we do know about another one of the suspects in custody -and as I say this, information is coming out very slowly and most of it coming out of Washington, Islamabad and Berlin, not necessarily London -but one of the suspects in custody may have been in e-mail contact with the wife of Said Bahaji. Now Bahaji was one of the members of the Hamburg cell that carried out the September 11th attack. He was not a highjacker. He's actually a fugitive. He is thought to be in Pakistan now - obviously, one of the most wanted people in the world. Now the reason why we know or we believe that one of the suspects in London was in e-mail contact with Bahaji's wife is because that was revealed by the German interior minister on German television yesterday. And today, all of the European Union interior ministers - basically the equivalent of our attorney general - will be in London today to speak with their counterparts in Britain to exchange intelligence information.

MONTAGNE: So for those still traveling from and through London, the terror alert in Britain has been reduced. People can now take a single carry-on bag, but I gather there are still airport delays.

RAZ: There are. I mean, British Airways has been hit the hardest. Thirty percent of its flights on average have been cancelled every day for a week. But now the airline is saying 90 percent of its flights will be taking off today, and they're not expecting any further delays they hope.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much. NPR's Guy Raz speaking from London.

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