Ninth man arrested over 'bomb plot' as Blair backs ID cards

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A ninth man was arrested in connection with a suspected al-Qa'ida bomb plot in the UK, and the father of the alleged ringleader was detained in Saudi Arabia yesterday.

A ninth man was arrested in connection with a suspected al-Qa'ida bomb plot in the UK, and the father of the alleged ringleader was detained in Saudi Arabia yesterday.

The developments came as Tony Blair indicated that identity cards were more likely to be introduced in Britain as a result of the Madrid bombings and the arrests of terrorist suspects in and around London.

On Tuesday, MI5 and the police made a series of arrests and seized a large amount of explosive material which they believe has foiled a plot by Islamic extremists for an attack in Britain. They have been given until tomorrow by the courts to question the eight men. The ninth man, aged 27, arrested yesterday in Crawley, West Sussex, was taken to a central London police station for questioning.Scotland Yard can apply for a further seven days to question the suspects, aged between 17 and 32.

The arrests in the UK came the day after the detention of Mohammad Momin Khawaja, 24, in the Canadian capital, Ottawa. Police in London and
Ottawa have refused to say whether the cases are linked, but detectives from the two forces are liaising over the Khawaja case, Scotland Yard said.

Mr Khawaja's 62-year-old father, Mahboob, was arrested yesterday in Saudi Arabia. The elder Mr Khawaja, an international affairs expert and lecturer, has published a number of books and papers critical of Western influence on Middle East politics.

Meanwhile, in his monthly press conference at Downing Street, the Prime Minister hinted that new anti-terrorism laws would be needed to counter a raised threat of attack.

He told reporters: "I think the whole issue of identity cards, which a few years ago were not on anyone's agenda, are very much on the political agenda here. Probably more quickly even than we anticipated. I think we will need to readjust our terrorism laws still further."

Practicalities were the only thing standing in the way of the introduction of the cards, Mr Blair said, although the issue has split the Cabinet and is strongly contested by civil liberty groups.

The Prime Minister claimed that the Government had won over those who opposed the controversial move for civil liberties reasons. "I think there is no longer a civil liberties objection to that in the vast majority of quarters. There is a series of logistical questions, of practical questions that need to be resolved. But, in my judgement, now logistics is the only time-delay in it. Otherwise I think it needs to move forward."

Barry Hugill, spokesman for Liberty, said: "It is colossal arrogance on Tony Blair's part to say there are no civil liberty objections to ID cards; there are. There are so many objections.

"The complex one is that the Government has singularly failed to show in what way an ID card will help combat crime, terrorism, or [illegal] immigration. There is no reason for us to believe that terrorists will not have ID cards, or manage to obtain forged ones."

David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, is known to favour compulsory ID cards but other cabinet colleagues have deep reservations. Last Sunday, Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, said compulsory ID cards were "many, many years away".

The Government is preparing to publish a draft identity card Bill that will outline the introduction of voluntary ID cards. The Government expects that 80 per cent of the adult population would have an ID card by 2013 and that a card would become compulsory after a decision by the Cabinet and a vote in Parliament. But Mr Blair's comments suggest pressure is growing for faster action.

Mr Blair welcomed the Muslim Council of Britain's call for the Islamic community to help the fight against terrorism and their condemnation of fanatics. He told the press conference: "We have to challenge these people and take on their ideology, their rhetoric, their extremism, their fanaticism and we have to defeat it."