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Terror plot: Internet cafes raided




Department of Homeland Security

LONDON, England (CNN) -- British police confirmed Saturday that they had raided a series of Internet cafes in their investigation into an alleged plot to blow up as many as 10 trans-Atlantic aircraft.

There was no confirmation of any arrests in the raids in London, Birmingham and the Thames Valley region, west of the capital.

The raids came as links to suspected terror operatives in Pakistan -- possibly connected to al Qaeda -- were emerging Saturday as key elements of the investigation.

Suspects in the UK received a coded message from Pakistan to "attack now" as authorities there closed in on them, security sources have told CNN.

Meanwhile, chaos triggered by the alleged plan to smuggle liquid explosives on board passenger jets began to subside as airports adjusted to stringent, new security measures.

In Berlin authorities confirmed they were checking whether the suspects -- 23 of whom remain in custody following the release of one man -- had contact with operatives in Germany.

The lawyer for two of the suspects on Saturday criticized their treatment at the hands of British police. In an exclusive CNN interview, Mudassar Irani listed a series of complaints, including the allegation that one of her clients had not received food and water for 26 hours.

She complained she was able to meet with her clients for only five minutes on Friday.

The men -- who are 22 and 23 years old -- told her they are being held in cold cells and that requests for blankets were refused.

In the United States, a Department of Homeland Security memo said that a message was intercepted in the days before police made their arrests that advised the alleged plotters to "do your attacks now."

A British official said that the "go ahead" message originated with an operative in Pakistan. (Full story)

Government officials in both countries told CNN that during a trip to Pakistan, two of the suspects may have had contact with Matiur Rehman, a Pakistani explosives expert suspected of being an al Qaeda operative.

Shortly after they returned to Britain, money was wired to them from Pakistan, the officials said.

Rehman, who remains at large, has not been linked to the plot, the officials said. He was not one of the seven individuals arrested last week in Pakistan.

U.S. and British sources said one of the men in custody in Pakistan, Rashid Rauf, allegedly had a key operational role in the suspected plot.

Rauf, a British citizen, appeared before magistrate Saturday, according to Pakistan's Interior Ministry.

Rauf is believed to have left the UK after his uncle was killed in 2002. He was not charged in connection with the murder, which has not been solved.

The arrests have led to increased pressure on Britain's Muslim community, prompting leaders to publish an open letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair in which they blame his foreign policy for inciting extremist anger.

"It is our view that current British government policy risks putting civilians at increased risk both in the UK and abroad," the letter said.

The U.S. security memo also shed light on the backgrounds of the 23 suspects being held by British police:

  • All were born in Britain, and most were of Pakistani descent. They had good reputations in their neighborhood and did not express radical sentiments.
  • Among those arrested were a biochemistry student, a worker at Heathrow Airport and a 17-year-old who recently converted to Islam. While the teen had grown a beard and started wearing traditional Muslim clothes, he did not appear to be radicalized.
  • British police believe the key players are in custody but cannot be sure that "unknown or unexpected elements do not exist."
  • A tip from a member of the British Muslim community about suspicious behavior by an acquaintance alerted authorities to the alleged conspiracy, and a neighbor of the alleged plotters helped confirm those suspicions, the memo said.

    Counterterrorism officials used telephone records, e-mails and bank records to connect the suspects and build a detailed picture of the conspiracy, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said.

    Their spending habits and bank accounts also were traced by a unit that monitors the flow of money to provide evidence of association, the memo said.

    Intelligence received within the past five days by MI-5, the British security agency, led officials to conclude that the plan was in its execution phase, the memo said. The fact that U.S.-bound aircraft were to be targeted was learned only about two weeks ago, U.S. homeland security said.

    The alleged plotters planned to bring "some type of liquid or power explosive" on board the aircraft in drink or toothpaste containers, then explode it with detonators hidden in cell phones or MP3 players, the memo said.

    The Department of Homeland Security's report to law enforcement agencies outlined three types of explosives the suspects might have been planning to use:

  • TATP, made with hydrogen peroxide and acetone, which was used in last year's London subway bombings. It would not trigger conventional airport explosive detectors because it does not contain nitrogen. However, TATP is highly unstable and difficult to manufacture without expertise.
  • Nitroglycerin, a liquid explosive to which color can be added to make it resemble soft drinks or baby food. This was what was used in a thwarted 1994 al Qaeda plot to bomb aircraft traveling from Asia to the United States, which mirrored the alleged plot disrupted in Britain. (Watch how the plot had hallmarks of al Qaeda -- 3:19)
  • A combination of nitromethane, used to fuel model airplanes and racing cars, and an oxidizer, such as ammonium nitrate fertilizer. These ingredients were the basis of the bomb Timothy McVeigh used to destroy the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995.
  • According to homeland security, requiring passengers to taste beverages as a security measure might not be a deterrent because many dangerous compounds, such as nitroglycerin, are harmless in small doses.

    In a new development Saturday, it was claimed that plot suspects "apparently" had contacts with Germany.

    "Apparently there were some contacts by the suspected attackers with Germany -- we are checking these contacts," August Hanning, a deputy interior minister, told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper in a preview of an article to be printed Sunday.

    The Interior Ministry confirmed his comments.

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