Police arrest suspect at Gatwick as inquiries focus on British links to hijack conspiracy

War on Terrorism: Investigation
Click to follow

Police are questioning a terrorist suspect who was arrested at Gatwick airport while preparing to board a flight for the United States.

The man, aged 36, was following a similar route to 11 suicide hijackers who passed through Britain from Dubai earlier this year on their way to carry out the attacks on New York and Washington.

American investigators are increasingly focusing on Europe, where more than 30 people have been arrested since the attacks of 11 September on suspicion of having links with Osama bin Laden.

While the attacks are believed to have been planned in Germany, London is increasingly being seen as a important stopping-off point. Ten of the 19 hijackers travelled from Dubai and stopped off in London for only a few hours between April and June. The 11th hijacker may have stayed longer, Scotland Yard said last week.

Sussex Police declined to say yesterday if the man arrested at Gatwick on Friday had travelled from Dubai. "A 36-year-old man was arrested at Gatwick while in transit to the USA and detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act," a spokesman said. Under the Act, police can detain suspects for seven days without charge.

Another important figure in the investigation is Habib Zacarias Moussaoui, who lived and studied in Brixton, south London. He is strongly suspected of being a would-be 20th hijacker but he was arrested by the FBI before the attacks for US immigration violations. Police are still trying to trace Mr Moussaoui's girlfriend.

His mother said that her son, the youngest of four, had suddenly turned from being a tearaway to a devout Muslim, in the early 1990s. Aicha Moussaoui, a French Moroccan and non-practising Muslim who lives in Narbonne, south-west France, said her son had told her he considered her a "heretic" after he became a disciple of Wahhabism, the Islamic code followed by the Taliban and Osama bin Laden.

Mrs Moussaoui said her son, known as Zac to his family, had come under the influence of Wahhabists after studying at university in Perpignan, near Narbonne, and left for London in 1990. He had felt he would have greater freedom to practise his faith in Britain, and in London he came into contact with religious groups financed from Saudi Arabia, she said.

The French newspaper Le Monde said Mr Moussaoui used to spend his spare time smoking cannabis, night clubbing and watching pornographic films. The newspaper said he and an older brother were so out of control that their mother, a single parent, would have to call the police to fetch them home.

Mrs Moussaoui said she believed the root of the delinquency of her son was institutional racism in the French education system. The only news she had had in four years was a phone call on 12 September saying he was accused of involvement in the US attacks.

At the weekend, police were granted permission to hold two men detained last week in Leicester until tomorrow. The two, said to be French-speaking Muslims, are being questioned over planned attacks on US targets in Europe. Plans to bomb the American embassy in Paris were unveiled when, Djamel Begal, a former British resident, was arrested with a false passport in Dubai in July.

A third man arrested in Leicester, Kamel Daoudi, 27, said to be a member of the militant Islamic group Takfir-wal-Hijra, was handed over to French police on Saturday. British police are still questioning Lotfi Raissi, an Algerian pilot who allegedly taught four of the suicide hijackers how to fly.