Tomorrow’s British papers are out and the big A’s been doing what he does best: skimming and excerpting. There’s a lot here, but don’t gloss over the blockquotes. They’re all worth it, I promise.
I’ll let the Times of London set the stage.
John Reid took the telephone call at 11pm: possibly the biggest terrorist attack of modern times was imminent, the plot must be dismantled, arrests would soon be under way, Britain’s air traffic system would be plunged into chaos and the country should be placed on maximum alert.
Only a few hours earlier the Home Secretary had been haranguing critics of the Government’s anti-terrorism measures for failing to take the security threat seriously enough. “They just don’t get it,” he said.
He could have been forgiven for thinking as he picked up the telephone to inform the Prime Minister on holiday in the Caribbean: “They will get it now.”
So awesome, and totally contrived to elicit that precise reaction in hawkish news junkies like myself. Which is also pretty awesome. But I digress.
The Guardian fills out details of the plot, starting with the fact that surveillance allegedly began almost a year ago “on a scale never before undertaken.” Quote:
When the jets were in midair over American cities, they planned to combine the explosives and detonate them using an electric charge from an iPod, the security services believe. [British Airways] flights were among the targets. US officials said the bombers had been seeking to hit New York, Washington, San Francisco, Boston and Los Angeles. Other airlines targeted were thought to be United, American and Continental.
An attack on American cities? Not so fast. That’s not what the Independent is hearing:
The suicide bombers allegedly intended to carry out three “phased” attacks on nine or 10 jets over a period of several months. The plan, it is understood, was to blow up the aircraft over the sea so that investigators would be unable to discover how the explosive – possibly a peroxide-based liquid explosive – was taken through the airport security without being detected.
I read another report about “phased” attacks this morning, but the phases there were all supposed come on the same day, only an hour apart. Imagine the terror if three airliners went down over the Atlantic — followed by three more airliners a few weeks later. Followed by three more airliners a few weeks later.
Incredibly, the Blotter says the Brits had a man on the inside:
They had an undercover operative deep inside the group of at least 30 terrorists who had developed a simple, effective and potentially devastating plan to close the world’s busiest airport, Heathrow, by carrying on small but deadly bombs concealed in sports drink containers and detonated by the flash of a disposable camera, intelligence and law enforcement officials told ABC News…
When the arrests were made Thursday morning, the plotters had reached the point of identifying airlines and routes, but had not yet picked flight numbers. An arrest in Pakistan two days ago prompted authorities to begin to their round-up of suspects.
More background from Time. Here’s where half the right-wing blogosphere pops a rod over possible NSA implications:
In the two or three days before the arrests, the cell was going operational, and authorities were pressed into action. MI5 and Scotland Yard agents tracked the plotters from the ground, while a knowledgeable American official says U.S. intelligence provided London authorities with intercepts of the group’s communications.
Follow the link for some more choice newsporn in the opening paragraph. But wait — we’re not done popping rods yet! The Blotter has yet another scoop, which they attempt to tie back to a story they broke yesterday — before the plot was announced — about Pakistani terror mastermind Matiur Rehman, whom they dub “The Man Who Is Planning the Next Attack on America.” Question one: did the Blotter publish the Rehman profile yesterday because they knew the arrests were coming today? They must have, right? No one gets that lucky with a scoop. But if they knew the arrests were coming, why the hell didn’t they hold the story until the arrests had been made? Question two: what, if anything, is the significance of this?
Intelligence officials tell ABC News the plot’s trail leads to Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, where money for the plot was wired to London.
Were some of the suspects pinched by following a money trail? Was the SWIFT program involved? And if so, does this prove that we were right about terrorists not having known of the program’s existence, or does it vindicate the Times’s decision to publish the story given the fact that the jihadis here weren’t tipped off by it?
I guess it depends upon when the money was wired.
One more operational tidbit via the Guardian article I linked earlier. If this is one of those freelance, homegrown, al-Qaeda-inspired but not al-Qaeda-directed plots, then how do we explain this?
A British government source said an intercepted message from Pakistan telling the bombers to “go now” had triggered the arrests.
Curious. As is the claim of a senior Pakistani official, who told the Times of London that at least three of the people arrested were linked to AQ. As is the report in the Blotter that “two of those arrested in London came [to Pakistan] in the last few months for explosives training with known al Qaeda commanders.”
What about the plotters themselves? Mostly British men of Pakistani descent, as we’ve all heard by now.
Mostly. But not all. From the Independent’s account of the terror raids:
A short distance away, police raided a house in Hepplewhite Close, and are believed to have arrested a man named Don Stewart-Whyte, 19 – a white convert to Islam. Mr Stewart-Whyte, a salesman at an electrical store, lives at the house with his mother, who is a schoolteacher, and his wife, who is believed to be of Asian or Arabic background. They married recently after his conversion.
The Times of London says there are in fact two white men among the suspects who had converted to Islam — or, more specifically, to a “devout form of Islam.” The same paper published an expose of Internet jihad recruiting networks back on June 7 that said:
One aim [of Islamic terrorists] to create an army of “white-skinned” militants, men born in Europe and America who can convert to Islam and become harder for the authorities to detect as they cross the world on their missions, including suicide attacks…
Experts were struck by how the network was radicalising non-Arabs to alter the profile of its operatives. This included using women recruits, such as the 38-year-old Belgian waitress, born to a white, middle-class Christian family, who died in a suicide attack against US troops in Baghdad last November.
No surprise then that, according to the Independent, “Whitehall sources say most of the suspects are of Pakistani descent and include women. But a few of the alleged plotters are also of north African descent.”
And not only that. According to the Guardian, “one of the plotters was understood to work at Heathrow.”
So how’s the UK’s Islamic community handling things? The same way they always do — by bitching about everything except the fact that yet another bunch of Muslims has been discovered plotting mass murder. Times of London again:
Asjad Ibn Abdussamed, the head imam of the Abu Bakr mosque, recalled that after the July 7 terrorist attacks the faithful had slept there to protect it from reprisals.
“This morning I was upset,” he said yesterday, playing with his young son in his office. “I knew that Islam would be portrayed in a bad light again. As soon as I heard that Heathrow was closed, I thought — I bet they will say that Muslims were behind it. The key word is ‘alleged’. Nothing is proven. We must accept that just because we have a beard or dress Islamically we are going to be the first targets.
And here’s a broad-strata alert:
Muhammed Abdul Bari, the secretary-general of the council, said that the links had to be found between the suicide bombers on July 7 and other attacks to avoid a general assault on the Muslim community. “We need to find out what was the connection between 7/7 and subsequent attacks. It is imperative to find that link to stop continuing Islamophobic attacks,” he said. [Isn’t it more imperative to “find” that link to stop terrorist attacks? — ed.]
Abdurahman Jafar, the vice-chairman of the council’s legal affairs committee, said that the Muslim community was holding its breath as events unfolded. “Whether the result is successful or not does not matter. Muslims will be stigmatised and kids will come back from school with more vitriol thrown at them.
“Muslims today feel another layer of deep despair as they know what tomorrow’s headlines will say.”
“Deep despair” over the stigmatization. Not the ten planes blowing up over the Atlantic.
And of course, no Muslim victimization orgy would be complete without this:
Fahad Ansari, of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, said that many Muslims would be sceptical about the police statement. High-profile arrests in the past, including Forest Gate, had failed to produce any evidence of terrorist activity, he said.
He accused Tony Blair of being in a “persistent state of denial” on the impact that British foreign policy — from Afghanistan and Iraq to the Middle East — was having on Muslims in Britain. “He has to realise that there was a relationship between 7/7 and British foreign policy,” he said.
Finally, I keep seeing these warnings popping up online about August 22 and how Iran’s supposedly going to do something crazy, but I’ve shrugged them off thus far as so much Internet crankery. But according to the Times of London (yet again), British and American “crisis planners” are taking it very seriously. I’m not shrugging anymore.
Update: A “shiver of anxiety”!
Update: Here’s a partial list of suspects via guess who:
Umir Hussain, 24, London E14
Muhammed Usman Saddique, 24, London E17
Waheed Zaman, 22, London E17
Assan Abdullah Khan, 22, London E17
Waseem Kayani, 28, High Wycombe
Waheed Arafat Khan, 24, London E17
Cossor Ali, 24, London E17
Tayib Rauf, 21, Birmingham
Ibrahim Savant, 26, London E17
Osman Adam Khatib, 20, London E17
Shamin Mohammed Uddin, 36, Stoke Newington
Amin Asmin Tariq, 23, London E17
Shazad Khuram Ali, 27, High Wycombe
Tanvir Hussain, 24, London E10
Umar Islam, 28, (born Brian Young) High Wycombe
Assad Sarwar, 25, High Wycombe
Abdullah Ali, 26, London E17
Abdul Muneem Patel, 17, London E5
Nabeel Hussain, 21, Waltham Forest
Are any of those names female?