updated 8/20/2006 7:47:14 PM ET 2006-08-20T23:47:14

Pakistani authorities interrogated a key British suspect Sunday in the alleged plot to blow up U.S.-bound passenger jetliners. Britain’s top security official said that police have gathered “substantial material” and indicated they were close to charging some of the suspects.

Rashid Rauf, a Briton of Pakistani descent, was arrested days before authorities said they had uncovered the plot to bomb 10 trans-Atlantic jetliners with liquid explosives. Britain has arrested 23 people, including a brother of Rauf.

Rauf has been described by Islamabad as a “key person” in the alleged conspiracy. Britain announced on Aug. 10 that security services had foiled a plan to “bring down a number of aircraft through mid-flight explosions, causing a considerable loss of life.”

Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao would not provide any details of Rauf’s interrogation. He said a British team had arrived in Pakistan but was not involved in the investigation.

British Home Secretary John Reid indicated Sunday that criminal charges could be filed in the next few days but did not disclose specific details.

“Police and the security authorities are content that their investigation is rewarding substantial material which would allow them to take forward the judicial process,” Reid said in an interview with ABC-TV’s “This Week.”

Charging deadline approaches
“The police and the authorities are convinced that there was an alleged plot here,” he said. “They have intervened. And in the course of the next few days, we’ll wait and see what happens in terms of charges.”

Investigators have until Monday to question two suspects, and until Wednesday to interview 21 others. Police can ask a judge to extend the current deadlines.

Under British law, officers can hold terror suspects for a maximum of 28 days before charging them, if a judge approves.

New security measures threw Britain’s airports into chaos in the days after arrests were made on Aug. 10, but officials at London’s Heathrow airport — Europe’s busiest and most-affected hub — said Sunday that most flights now are operating normally.

Reid also told ABC it was “relatively simple to make quite an effective bomb” aboard an airplane.

“It is a constant search by the terrorists to find ways around our restrictions, around our surveillance, around our security means, around our airports and other transportation restrictions, in order to try and defeat our counterterrorism and to inflict the sort of damage that we’ve seen before,” he said.

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