| A passenger waits outside Gatwick airport near London after several flights were cancelled. (Reuters)
London, Aug. 13: The British home secretary, John Reid, and the attorney-general, Lord Goldsmith, who is the government’s most senior law officer, have warned newspapers of serious consequences if they reveal too much about the 22 suspects being questioned by police about the alleged plot to blow up trans-Atlantic aircraft.
The question is, “What is ‘too much’'”
One person from the original batch of 24 has been released and a decision will be made whether to let a second person go as well.
Among those still in custody are Amin Asmin Tariq, 23, from Walthamstow, east London, and Abdul Abdul Muneem Patel, 17, from Clapton, east London, who is the youngest of those detained.
The problem is that it is the government itself which revealed the names of 19 of the 24 since their assets, including bank accounts, were frozen by the Bank of England on the orders of Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Scotland Yard had been against any of the names being disclosed but apparently there was no way to stop that since the British authorities wanted to prevent any possibility of funds being passed on to other would be terrorists who had escaped the police net.
Once the names were out, it was relatively easy for the media to track down the addresses of those who had been arrested. In any case, in many cases, neighbours had witnessed the heightened police comings and goings.
In the case of Tariq, not much is known except that he worked at Heathrow as some sort of a security officer for Jet Airways. The airline has confirmed that Tariq is a British national who had come to the airline via a reputable security firm, G4S, which was previously known as Securicor.
The airline also said that Tariq had been “suspended pending a full investigation”.
Since there are 75,000 people who work at Heathrow - and India-UK is one of the busiest and most lucrative routes in the world - there will be worries about whether the vetting procedures are strict enough.
There is concern that because of the alleged actions of a solitary Muslim, airlines may think twice before employing anyone with a Muslim name. There is no reservation or quota system at Heathrow, which handles Air-India, Jet, British Airways, Virgin and BMI flights to India, that employers have to take on Muslims.
Since Southall and Ealing are Asian areas not far from Heathrow, a significant proportion of staff who work at the airport, including airside, are of Indian and Pakistani origin. Therefore, what happens to Tariq - and under British law, he is still innocent - does have profound consequences for Asian employment with airlines.
According to a neighbour, Tariq, “did not look shocked, just perfectly calm” when he was arrested. Tariq recently became a father and had apparently worked at Heathrow for two years.
The case of 17-year-old Abdul Muneem Patel is even more disturbing. Technically, because of his age, he should not even have been named at all by the Bank of England.
Most people will want to know why someone who is little more than a child was drawn into the terrorist net if indeed that is what has happened.
But these are exceptional circumstances and today’s Sunday Times delved into his background and painted a portrait of a troubled youth.
Patel grew up in east London as the son of Muslim immigrants from India, the paper found.
A former friend of Patel recalled how he had changed from being a carefree boy who used to enjoy playing football in the street into a cold and temperamental youth.
The friend claimed that Patel’s character changed two or three years ago when his father, a mechanic called Mohammed, travelled to Iraq on a Muslim aid mission and, apparently, never returned home.
Having attended Northwold primary school, which is directly opposite his home, Patel's secondary education was cut short. He was expelled at the age of 15 or 16.
Patel had taken to wearing traditional Muslim clothes. But more recently, said the friend, he switched back to western clothing but nobody knew why.
“He did have a temper on him,” said the friend. “Only last week he was arguing with my grandfather for staring at him in the street.”