| A passenger waits outside a terminal at Heathrow on Friday. (AP)
London, Aug. 11: Nineteen of 24 British Muslims who are in police custody, accused of plotting to blow up 10 aircraft on the UK-US route with liquid explosives, had their assets frozen today, presumably to stop them from giving money to co-conspirators who may not have been caught.
American sources said five people slipped the police net during yesterday’s raids, though British home secretary (minister) John Reid expressed confidence that the majority of the main players had been caught.
Reid, who is keeping Britain on a state of “critical alerts”, admitted: “There is no 100 per cent certainty in these things.”
The 19 whose bank accounts have been frozen by the Bank of England on the orders of Gordon Brown, the chancellor of exchequer (finance minister), were named today.
Three of the 24 men are middle-class converts to Islam. They include Don Stewart-Whyte, 21, from High Wycombe, who now likes to be addressed as “Abdul Waheed”.
A neighbour said: “He converted to Islam about six months ago and grew a full beard. He used to smoke weed and drink a lot but he is completely different now.”
Ibrahim Savant, from Walthamstow, east London, changed his name from Oliver when he converted, according to neighbours.
Although Pakistan is claiming credit for providing the British with the information, which triggered the police raids on Wednesday, there is another version of events.
The TV network CNN said that according to a British intelligence official, the original information about the plot came in a tip from the UK’s Muslim community.
The Washington Post also said a tip-off from within the community, by someone reporting “vague suspicions” about an acquaintance, sparked the investigation.
The bombers had apparently targeted Continental, United and American airlines. There was one report that British Airways, too, was on the list.
Yesterday, BA cancelled the bulk of its short-haul flights. Today that was down to 10 per cent from 70 per cent yesterday. That still meant over 100 BA flights were cancelled today. But, by and large, the British have taken the huge disruption philosophically.
Some of the worst travel chaos was endured by passengers due to fly to the US. BA cancelled six American flights from Heathrow, including three to New York, and there were long waits for transatlantic services for passengers flying from Manchester airport.
As the new measures, under which no cabin baggage is allowed, took effect, it is beginning to dawn on businessmen that perhaps never again will they be allowed to carry laptops on flights.
A number of prominent British Muslim groups and individuals, including three of the four Muslim MPs and three members of the House of Lords, have written to Prime Minister Tony Blair asking for protection for the community.
“It is our view that current British government policy risks putting civilians at increased risk both in the UK and abroad,” said the letter, which will appear in tomorrow’s newspapers.
“The debacle of Iraq and now the failure to do more to secure an immediate end to the attacks on civilians in the Middle East not only increases the risk to ordinary people in that region, it is also ammunition to extremists who threaten us all.”
The letter added: “Attacking civilians is never justified. This message is a global one. We urge the Prime Minister to redouble his efforts to tackle terror and extremism and change our foreign policy to show the world that we value the lives of civilians wherever they live and whatever their religion. Such a move would make us all safer.”