British Investigators Debate Holding Terror Plot Suspects Without Charge

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The New York Sun

LONDON — British investigators argued at a closed-door hearing yesterday that suspects arrested in an alleged plot to blow up as many as 10 trans-Atlantic jetliners should be kept in custody without charge.

The hearing, which addressed the cases of 22 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. 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.

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.

Previously, police were able to detain people suspected of terrorism offenses for 14 days only. But the new legislation, which became law earlier this year, also created new offenses, including preparing a terrorist act, giving or receiving terrorist training, and selling or spreading terrorist publications.

Prime Minister Blair failed to receive parliamentary approval for his own plan to interrogate terrorist suspects for up to 90 days.

The British probe of a plot to destroy American-bound jetliners with chemical explosions is the highest-profile case to be conducted under the new legislation.

Home Secretary John Reid, Britain’s chief law-and-order official, acknowledged that some of the suspects would likely not be charged with major criminal offenses but said there was mounting evidence of a “substantial nature” to back the allegations.

His comments came after he met with the French, German, and Finnish interior ministers, Nicolas Sarkozy, Wolfgang Schaeuble, and Kari Rajamaki, respectively, and the vice president of the European Union Commission, Franco Frattini. They later announced the allocation of $235,000 to research the best ways to detect liquid-based explosives.

Meanwhile, air service nudged closer to normal at major London airports, but British Airways said it canceled 35 flights from Heathrow and another 11 at Gatwick.

The New York Sun

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