Airline plot police uncover 'suitcase bomb-making kit'

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Police investigating the alleged terrorist plot to blow up transatlantic flights found a suitcase yesterday containing items which could be used to make a bomb.

The BBC reported that the discovery was made during a search in King's Wood, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. The corporation reported a police source as saying the suitcase contained "everything you would need to make an improvised device".

Scotland Yard last night refused to comment on the report, although in a separate development, MI5 and the police have privately conceded the alleged plot will prove to have links with the July 7 suicide bombers.

Britain's intelligence agencies are investigating connections between the 23 men and women being questioned over the alleged airliner plan and previous terror attacks. No direct links have yet been uncovered, but security and police sources say it is only a matter of time before they are established. Counter-terrorism sources argue that connections between various groups are inevitable because of the nature of the loose-knit network of alleged al-Qa'ida activists.

The UK's intelligence chiefs are bound to be criticised if their organisations are found to have missed obvious links. A security source said: "No definite link with 7/7 has yet been established, but with this type of investigation you inevitably end up with cross-overs and indirect links. I would be amazed if at some point we don't find some links with these individuals and others, however indirect."

A police source added: "It is inevitable we will find some links, however tangential. We are prepared for that."

One likely crossover will be the terrorist training camps in Pakistan. Several of the suspects currently being questioned about an alleged plot to smuggle liquid explosives on to US-bound flights are alleged to have been to Pakistan for training by al-Qa'ida.

Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shahzad Tanweer, the two senior members of the suicide cell that killed 52 people in London last year, visited terrorist training camps in Pakistan in 2003 and 2004.

MI5 has been criticised after it emerged that it had Khan, the Edgware Road bomber, and Tanweer, the Aldgate bomber, under surveillance before 7/7, but did not investigate them further, partly because they were not considered to be part of a terror plot, and partly due to a lack of resources.

MI5 is investigating about 1,200 British-based suspects believed to be involved in terrorist activities, many of whom are linked.

Meanwhile, the police are continuing to question the 23 men and women arrested last week, while searches go on at about 14 locations for evidence of a plot to destroy up to 10 transatlantic airliners in three attacks.

The intelligence agencies believe that a man currently being held may be one of the most senior al-Qa'ida figures in Britain.

Another significant figure in the alleged plot is Rashid Rauf, a British citizen from Birmingham whose surprise arrest forced Scotland Yard into carrying out last week's raids. Mr Rauf is considered to be a key suspect likely to have provided links with al-Qa'ida in Pakistan. MI5 and the police do not consider him to be the "mastermind".

Since his arrest in Pakistan, the security services in that country have given a series of unconfirmed briefings claiming that al-Qa'ida's leadership sanctioned the alleged airliner plot, and that Ayman al-Zawahiri, the terrorist organisation's second-in-command, is likely to have approved the plan. These allegations have not been confirmed by British anti-terrorist sources, some of whom have suggested that the Pakistani authorities are making exaggerated claims.

Pakistani intelligence officials have also said they are searching for three more suspects ­ a British Muslim of Afghan origin, an Eritrean national and a Pakistani ­ who have been named by people detained in Britain and Pakistan.

In a separate inquiry, it was disclosed yesterday that a 47-year-old man and 44-year-old woman were arrested at Holyhead port, on the Isle of Anglesey in north Wales, on Friday last week in an anti-terror investigation. It was not linked to the alleged airliner plot.

* A terminal at Tri-State airport in West Virginia was evacuated yesterday after two bottles of liquid found in a woman passenger's luggage twice tested positive for explosives. "The bomb squad is on site and the woman is being interviewed by the FBI," an airport spokeswoman said.