CBSN

Brit Terror Busts: Target Was U.K.

Armed police stand guard at Belmarsh Magistrates Court in London Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2004 as terror suspects appear inside before the court. British police charged eight terrorist suspects with conspiring to commit murder and use radioactive materials, toxic gases, chemicals or explosives to cause "fear or injury" in a case involving an alleged top al-Qaida operative at the center of a U.S. terror alert this month.
AP
Eight men accused of plotting to commit murder and cause mayhem with radioactive materials, toxic gases, chemicals or explosives appeared in court Wednesday in a case linked to a U.S. terror alert this month but pointing to a plot to attack Britain.

None entered a plea, and were ordered held in custody until a court appearance next week.

Prosecution lawyer Sue Hemming said all eight suspects were motivated by "a strong and deeply held ideology" and were willing to carry out extreme acts.

Hemming said police have around a hundred computers and thousands of files to examine as part of what looms as a long and complex investigation.

"We've only hit the tip of the iceberg as far as a lot of this evidence goes," she told the high security Belmarsh Court in south London.

The charges, filed Tuesday after two weeks of interrogation, for the first time officially linked the Aug. 3 arrests across Britain and a series of arrests last month in Pakistan to the Aug. 1 terrorism alerts surrounding the New York Stock Exchange and Citigroup Inc. headquarters, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank buildings in Washington, and the Prudential Financial Inc. building in Newark, N.J.

CBS News Correspondent Richard Roth reports one of the men charged in Britain, Dhiren Barot, is accused of having "reconnaissance plans" of the five financial centers.

But officials in London indicate the evidence behind the most serious charges of murder and conspiracy pointed to a plot to attack Britain, not the United States. There have been no specifics, though, nor any suggestion it was far advanced, or even sophisticated.

Front pages of several British newspapers on Wednesday claimed the men were suspected of plotting a "dirty bomb" attack in London, though the reports offered no more information than the criminal charge, which made no mention of a device or a target.

According to the British police charges, Barot; Mohammed Naveed Bhatti, 24; Abdul Aziz Jalil, 31; Omar Abdul Rehman, 20; Junade Feroze, 28; Zia ul Haq, 25; Qaisar Shaffi, 25; and Nadeem Tarmohammed, 26, were accused of conspiring "with other persons unknown" to commit murder between January 2000 and Aug. 4, 2004.

The eight also were charged with conspiring between those dates to cause a public nuisance by using radioactive materials, toxic gases, chemicals and/or explosives to cause "disruption, fear or injury."

Tarmohammed was also charged with possessing a reconnaissance plan of the Prudential Building.

Shaffi was charged with possessing an extract from the "Terrorist's Handbook" on the preparation of chemicals, explosive recipes and other information.

A ninth man, Matthew Philip Monks, 32, was charged with possession of a prohibited weapon — an air pistol. He pleaded not guilty and was freed on bail pending a trial on Sept. 29.

Two other men arrested in the Aug. 3 sweep were released without charge, and a further two were re-arrested on non-terrorist charges.

They are all scheduled to appear at London's Central Criminal Court on Aug. 25.

Mudassar Arani, a lawyer representing seven of the men, said they had been psychologically abused through being held in solitary confinement and in some cases stopped from reading the Koran, and claimed one had been hit in the face by police when he was arrested.

Attorney General John Ashcroft said Tuesday that federal authorities were considering whether to press charges in the United States against the men and to seek their extradition.

The British raids were linked to the July arrest in Pakistan of Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan, a computer engineer and al Qaeda suspect, U.S. and Pakistani officials have said.

Maps, photographs and other details of possible targets in the United States and Britain were found on computers belonging to Khan and to Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian indicted for his role in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa, who also was arrested in Pakistan, according to the officials.

U.S. counterterrorism officials have said that they believe Barot was the author of the documents, written in fluent English, describing surveillance at U.S. financial buildings during 2000 and 2001.

Intelligence sources say Barot is a key al Qaeda operative in Britain. The Sept. 11 Commission report names him, under the alias Issa al Britani, as the agent sent by Osama bin Laden in early 2001 to "case potential economic and 'Jewish' targets in New York City."

Pakistani officials said this week that Barot, known as a veteran of the Islamic militant battle against Indian forces in Kashmir, also traveled in March to a militant hide-out near the Pakistan-Afghan border and met with other terrorist suspects.

Following the Aug. 1 terror alert involving those buildings and the World Bank in Washington, the U.S. government acknowledged it had no evidence of plans for imminent attacks. The charges specified that Barot had the plans as early as Feb. 19, 2001.

It's the biggest terrorist case in Britain since the arrest of six Muslim men and the seizure of 1,300 pounds of potential bomb-making material in March. Their trial is tentatively set for September 2005.

Trials are set to begin soon for five men in another case involving an alleged conspiracy to produce a chemical weapon. Police said they found traces of the poison ricin in that investigation.

But other prominent terrorism cases in Britain have melted away.

Lotfi Raissi, an Algerian pilot once described by U.S. authorities as the lead trainer of some of the Sept. 11 hijackers, was freed in February 2002 after the United States admitted it had no evidence to link him to terrorism.

The arrest of 10 people in and around Manchester in April prompted newspaper stories about a thwarted suicide bomb plot against the Manchester United soccer team. All 10 were released without charge.