updated 12/13/2006 2:11:41 PM ET 2006-12-13T19:11:41

Terrorism charges were dropped Wednesday against a suspect labeled as a key figure in an alleged plot to blow up jets flying from London to the United States this summer.

A judge in an anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi ruled that the case against Rashid Rauf, a British Muslim of Pakistani origin, did not “fall in the category of terrorism,” and transferred the case to a regular criminal court, a court official said.

Rauf now faces charges of possessing explosives and forging travel and identity documents, said a court official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment to the media.

He faces up to 14 years imprisonment or a fine if convicted, said prosecution lawyer Raja Mohammed Yasin.

Hashmat Habib, Rauf’s lawyer, said the explosive his client is accused of possessing is hydrogen peroxide, a disinfectant that can be used to make a bomb if combined with other chemicals.

Police arrested 25 people in raids across Britain on Aug. 9-10 and charged 17 of them, after uncovering an alleged plot to assemble and detonate improvised explosives on board as many as 10 U.S.-bound planes.

Alleged plot led to security crackdown
After British officials announced they had foiled the alleged plot, tighter security was immediately imposed at airports around the world. Passengers were banned from carrying hand luggage and liquids onto planes.

A total of 15 people remain charged in the plot, and 13 remain in custody.

Rauf was arrested in Pakistan in August and identified by Pakistani officials as a “key person” in the plot. Pakistani intelligence officials had alleged Rauf had contacts with an Afghanistan-based al-Qaida operative who was said to be the mastermind.

British authorities have asked Pakistan to extradite Rauf in connection with a separate 2002 murder inquiry in Britain. Rauf moved to Pakistan soon after his uncle was stabbed to death in April 2002.

Pakistan and Britain don’t have an extradition treaty. A Pakistani official who also requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case said recently that no decision been made on the extradition request.

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