Police granted more time to question suspects

War on Terrorism: Security
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An Algerian man who was on a flight-training course in Britain was one of three people being questioned by anti-terrorist officers last night after detectives acting on an FBI tip-off made a series of arrests in connection with the terror attack in America.

Scotland Yard was granted permission to extend the time they can question Lotfi Raissi, 27, his wife Sonia, 25, and a 44-year-old student at a police station in central London.

The police can continue holding the suspects until Wednesday, after which they can apply for further extension under anti-terrorism laws to detain them until Friday when they must release or charge them.

Mr Raissi, who was arrested at his flat at 3am on Friday in the village of Colnbrook, Berkshire, about four miles from Heathrow airport, has been doing an advanced theory-based flying course.

A qualified pilot in Algeria, he was attempting to gain qualifications to fly in Europe.

A fourth man, Mr Raissi's brother, Mohamed Raissi, 29, who was arrested at his home in Hounslow, west London, at the same time, has been released and the police are to take no further action against him.

The three men and a woman were arrested by the Metropolitan Police's anti-terrorist branch after a request from the Federal Bureau of Investigation which had their names on a "watch list'' of potential suspects running into several hundred. The FBI has also been studying telephone calls made by the hijackers.

Mr Raissi is thought to have been in Britain for about nine months. He had been training at the Four Forces Aviation flying school in Poyle, Berkshire, where he was doing his theory exam for a European licence. He is qualified to fly multi-engined jets and was paying £2,000 for the British training.

He told reporters several days before his arrest that many Algerians with flying skills were coming under suspicion. "It's gone crazy,'' he said. "I'm an airline pilot in Algeria, but over here I'm just a student. I've been living here for nine months training for my European conversion. I've a relative in America who is training as a pilot and he has been interviewed by the FBI. He knows no more about it than you or I.''

Forensic science officers continued yesterday to search his flat where neighbours said the couple had regular visitors. Mukhtar Raissi, a cousin of the two brothers, said: "He has been arrested because he is Algerian and he is a pilot and has been taking a European fly course here. Neither he, Mohamed nor his wife had any connection with any terrorism.''

Another member of the family, Mr Raissi's uncle, Kamal, said the allegations were "absolute rubbish" and said the family were expecting a police apology in the next few days.

The third person officers are continuing to question is reported to be Abu Imard, 44, a student at Aston University, who recently moved to Britain from America. He was arrested at 7pm on Friday at a rented house in the Highgate area of Birmingham. A silver BMW was also seized.

The FBI is drawing up lists of suspects believed to be connected to the terror attacks, and anti-terrorist officers at Scotland Yard raided a flat in Brixton, south London, a week ago last Saturday on behalf of US investigators looking for a woman linked to Habib Zacarias Moussaoui who is being held in custody in the US. They have not been able to trace her.

Scotland Yard and the security services MI5 and MI6, have not yet obtained any evidence to suggest the terrorists who carried out the atrocity in America were living in Britain or drew up plans to carry out the attacks here. There is, however, growing evidence that Britain is being used as a staging post and centre to recruit Islamic fundamentalists, raise funds and carry out planning for operations.