Officials focus on brothers, warn terror inquiry not over

Published August 13, 2006

LONDON - The investigation into a plot to blow up jetliners over the Atlantic zeroed in Saturday on brothers arrested in Pakistan and Britain, one named as a key al-Qaida suspect who left the family's home in England years ago and the other described as gentle and polite.

British authorities, meanwhile, warned against complacency, saying the detention of several dozen suspects had not eliminated the danger. The terror threat level in Britain remained "critical" - its highest designation - and delays, flight cancellations and intense security continued to greet travelers at London airports.

"No one should be under any illusion that the threat ended with the recent arrests. It didn't," Home Secretary John Reid told police chiefs at a breakfast meeting. "All of us know that this investigation hasn't ended."

Among the questions British police are studying is whether any of the suspects had links to last year's London suicide bombers and how many visited Pakistan in recent months. They also are examining Internet cafes near the suspects' homes, looking into the possibility of tracking e-mails or instant messages, Scotland Yard said.

British investigators and officials have not said how close the plot was to fruition when the arrests were made, but U.S. officials have said they would not have likely waited as long.

In June, U.S. law enforcement officials arrested seven young men in Miami. The men are accused of a plot to bomb the Sears Tower in Chicago and a federal building in Miami.

"You want to go and disrupt cells like this before they acquire the means to accomplish their goals," U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta said.

One intelligence veteran suggested cultural and legal differences could account for why British authorities are more willing than their American counterparts to watch and wait before making a move in a terror case.

"It's just the way they work," said Stan Bedlington, of Arlington, Va., a former CIA terrorism analyst who also served in the intelligence services of the British Colonial Police. "They (British) would always hope that they could turn somebody and use them to their advantage."

Much attention has focused on the role that brothers Rashid and Tayib Rauf may have played in the airliner plot. Their father, Abdul Rauf, immigrated to Britain from the Mirpur district of Pakistan several decades ago, and his five children were all born in Britain, the family said.

Rashid Rauf was arrested about a week ago along the Pakistan-Afghan border, and Pakistani officials have characterized him as a "key person" in the airline plot. They said evidence linked him to an "Afghanistan-based al-Qaida connection" but gave no details.

His 22-year-old brother, Tayib, was taken into custody in Britain during the sweeps that nabbed 24 people.

A great-uncle of the Rauf brothers said Tayib is partially deaf due to a childhood illness.

"He is very, very polite, the kindest person you could hope to meet," Qazi Amir Kulzum was quoted as saying in Saturday's edition of the Birmingham Post. "No one can believe that he would be involved in such matters."

British authorities have released little information about the brothers, or the course of their investigation into the alleged terror plot in general. There were no briefings Saturday for the second straight day, and senior government figures stayed largely out of sight.

British police on Friday released one of the 24 people originally arrested. No charges have been filed yet against the others. Under tough new antiterrorism laws, authorities can hold suspects up to 28 days without charge, but pressure is likely to mount for police to disclose at least some of the evidence.