IMAGE: British police
Andrew Parsons  /  AP
British police officers stand watch Wednesday outside a house in High Wycombe, England, after terrorism-related arrests.
msnbc.com news services
updated 8/16/2006 8:16:58 PM ET 2006-08-17T00:16:58

Scotland Yard said Wednesday night that a person arrested earlier this week as part of its investigation into a foiled plot to blow up trans-Atlantic jetliners had been released.

In a brief statement, police said the suspect was released without charge. Scotland Yard said the suspect had been arrested on Monday.

Earlier in the day a district judge ruled that British investigators have until next week to investigate the suspects arrested in the alleged plot to destroy as many as 10 trans-Atlantic jetliners, saying they could be kept in custody without charge.

It was the first major test of a new terrorism law that lets suspects be held for as long as 28 days without charge so investigators can solidify their cases.

The hearing, which addressed the cases of 23 suspects arrested in Britain’s initial sweep last week, was held behind closed doors and attended only by the suspects’ lawyers, investigators and government officials.

Scotland Yard said that 21 of the suspects could be held for questioning through Aug. 23, while another two could be held until Aug. 21. No reason was given for the difference in the length of time.

The final suspect, who was arrested Tuesday, was not involved in the hearing, Scotland Yard said, adding that he remained in police custody.

Complex inquiry
Experts say the primary reason police could use nearly a month to complete a probe is because of the complexity of investigations into the alleged plot to smuggle liquid explosives hidden in hand luggage aboard flights.

“You’ve got laptops, you have to bring in translators to translate all the documents in there, and sometimes it’s inopportune to release all your suspects — particularly terrorism suspects — while all that is being downloaded and translated,” said Cliff Knuckey, a retired police detective who has worked on terrorism investigations.

“Terrorism investigations are different, simply because you’re dealing with people who will do their best not to compromise their plans and who will do anything not to be compromised.”

Other sites examined
Police, meanwhile, examined several homes and businesses for clues into the alleged plot broken up Thursday. The suspect arrested Tuesday brought the number held to 24.

The hearing scheduled for Wednesday afternoon addressed the cases of 22 suspects arrested in the initial sweep. Under new terrorism laws, the suspects can be held for 28 days as investigators prepare charges.

Anti-terrorism laws passed after the July 7, 2005, London transit bombings give the government up to four weeks to hold suspects without charge, but they must periodically go before a judge to make a case for continued confinement. The accused person is represented by lawyers and does not appear in court.

'They've got it all wrong'
Amjad Sarwar said his brother, Assad, was one of the people arrested in High Wycombe, west of London. He said Assad is not involved in terrorism.

“They’ve got it all wrong,” Sarwar told Britain’s Channel 4. “He is an innocent guy. He minds his own business. He’s been helping the youth out considerably in the area, and he’s got nothing to do with it.

“There is no way he could have anything to do with terrorism. He condemns terrorism.”

A Metropolitan Police spokeswoman said that 46 locations, including businesses and homes, have been searched. Three Internet cafes were raided in the towns of Slough and Reading the same day the first arrests were made, a spokesman for Thames Valley Police said.

Officers have not officially disclosed details about any items recovered during the searches.

The British Broadcasting Corp. reported that a search of the woodland area in High Wycombe turned up several firearms and other items of interest. It was not clear if they were to be used in the alleged jetliner plot, which authorities say involved a plan to smuggle liquid explosives hidden in hand luggage aboard flights.

Air security breach
Meanwhile, air service nudged closer to normal. British Airways said it planned to operate 90 percent of scheduled services from Heathrow airport on Wednesday and resume a full schedule Friday.

Concern about security rose after a 12-year-old boy managed to board a plane at Gatwick Airport on Tuesday without a passport, ticket or boarding pass. He was detected by the cabin crew and removed before the flight took off.

“The boy had passed through a full security screening process and we are confident there was no threat to passengers, staff or the aircraft at any time,” said Stewart McDonald, spokesman the airport’s owner, BAA PLC.

Way down the track’
Moves to extradite any British citizens arrested in Pakistan in connection with a plot to blow up transatlantic airliners were some way off, a British High Commission official in Islamabad said on Wednesday.

The Pakistani government last Friday confirmed the arrest of seven people, including two British Muslims of Pakistani descent, in connection with the plot to set off bombs on airliners travelling from Britain to the United States.

“We are still at the stage of establishing whether there are any British nationals involved,” said Aidan Liddle, a spokesman for the High Commission. “The next step after that is providing consular access.”

Salvatore Di Nolfi  /  AP
An armed police officer stands guard next to a security person frisking a passenger at a security checkpoint at a boarding gate for a flight to New York, at Geneva International Airport, Switzerland, on Tuesday.
Extraditing any plotters was “way down the track” after these processes, he said.

Pakistan last week identified one of the arrested Britons as Rashid Rauf. The government said he was an al-Qaida operative with links in Afghanistan and was central to the plot.

A Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said on Tuesday it was possible Rauf would be sent to Britain, although Pakistan had no extradition treaty with Britain and Pakistan had not received a British request for his extradition.

British media reports said British officials had arrived in Pakistan to join the investigation but Liddle declined to comment.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Terror plot case heads to court

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,