Police searching woods for clues in an alleged plot to bomb trans-Atlantic passenger jets have found a suitcase containing components for an improvised explosive device, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported Thursday.
The BBC quoted an anonymous police source as saying a suitcase holding “everything you would need to make an improvised device” had been uncovered in a stretch of woodland in High Wycombe, 30 miles northwest of London. The wood is near the home of one of two dozen suspects arrested Aug. 10 in connection with the foiled bomb plot.
The Metropolitan Police refused to comment on the BBC report, saying it could not discuss anything found during the searches, which reportedly have uncovered several firearms and other items of interest.
Police said Thursday they were searching 14 homes and businesses and had searched 49 locations since the Aug. 10 raids in London, High Wycombe and Birmingham, central England.
On Wednesday, a judge gave police several more days to question 23 people arrested on suspicion of involvement in the plot.
The judge said 21 of the suspects could be held until at least Aug. 23, and two others until at least Aug. 21, before any new request is made to a judge.
Under British anti-terrorism laws, detectives can make further requests to detain suspects for up to 28 days before they must be charged or released.
Airports almost normal
Service returned almost to normal at British airports Thursday, a week after they were thrown into chaos by the terrorist alert.
British Airways, the worst-affected airline, said it had almost cleared a backlog of 5,000 pieces of luggage separated from their owners amid hundreds of delayed and canceled flights. The airline canceled 19 short-haul services from Heathrow Airport Thursday, and said it planned to operate a full service on Friday.
British officials said Thursday that negotiations were under way to extradite to London a British Muslim who Pakistani authorities claim colluded with al-Qaida leaders over the bomb plot.
Authorities said negotiations were continuing with Pakistan over the extradition of Rashid Rauf, a 29-year-old who holds both British and Pakistani passports, but acknowledged discussions were likely to take at least several days.
Pakistani investigators say Rauf, arrested Aug. 9 in the city of Bhawalpur, planned the alleged bomb plot and recruited people in both Britain and Pakistan to carry it out.
No comment on 9/11 anniversary link
Detectives in Britain have refused to comment on claims by Pakistani officials that Rauf had intended bombings to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
A senior Pakistani intelligence official told The Associated Press that Rauf was operating under an al-Qaida mastermind whom he declined to name.
Rauf moved from Birmingham to Pakistan in 2002, but authorities there say he maintained close contact with two younger brothers who remained in Britain. His 22-year-old brother, Tayib, is among those in British custody.
In Birmingham, public dissent was growing Thursday over the lack of information about the alleged plot and the fact that police have yet to bring charges against the suspects.
“The Metropolitan Police said they had chilling evidence, but if they have the evidence, why is it so difficult to prove,” said Mohammed Naseem, chairman of Birmingham’s Central Mosque.
Home secretary cites need for balance
Britain’s interior minister, Home Secretary John Reid, said police and government had attempted to balance providing information to the public with the fear of prejudicing any future court proceedings. But he said Wednesday there was evidence of a “substantial nature” against many of the suspects.
Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao told the AP that Reid called him Thursday to thank him for Pakistan’s help “in foiling the London terror plot.”
In Wales, police said they had not ruled out a link between the arrest Friday of a 47-year-old man and 44-year-old woman on suspicion of terrorism at Holyhead Port — terminus for ferries to Ireland — and the alleged jetliner plot.