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Brits Charge 8 With Terror Crimes

British police charged eight men Tuesday with conspiracy to murder and other terrorist offenses, including one suspected al Qaeda operative accused of having surveillance plans of financial institutions in New York, Washington and New Jersey that were at the center of a U.S. terror alert this month.

The men were arrested two weeks ago in a major sweep connected to raids in Pakistan and to Aug. 1 terror alerts in the United States, where officials warned that al Qaeda had scoped out buildings as possible targets several years ago.

A ninth man was charged with possession of a prohibited weapon.

In Washington, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said federal authorities "will explore every aspect of this case" to determine whether to press charges in the United States. The FBI will continue cooperating with British authorities, he said.

"We commend the United Kingdom's action today in bringing criminal charges against individuals who may have connections to potential terrorist activities in the United States," Ashcroft said.

The eight were due to make a first court appearance Wednesday at Belmarsh high security prison in London.

CBS News Correspondent Richard Roth reports one of the men, Dhiren Barot, is accused of having "reconnaissance plans" of the New York Stock Exchange and Citigroup tower, Washington's International Monetary Fund and World Bank, and the Prudential building in New Jersey – the financial centers that were the focus of America's "orange" alert and stepped-up security early this month.

Intelligence sources say Barot is a key al Qaeda operative in Britain. The 9/11 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."

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 U.S. There have been no specifics, though, nor any suggestion it was far advanced, or even sophisticated. One man's charged for having a bomb-making guide called "The Terrorists Handbook" that's been circulating on the Internet for years.

"These are not really the big fish, the planners, the organizers, the financiers," says security analyst M.J. Gohel. "These are individuals who are coming along on the recruitment assembly lines from all over the world."

While the arrests do make a direct connection with some of the evidence used to justify the recent terror alert in the U.S., there have been no public alerts in Britian, and no warnings from British authorities of an imminent new threat.

In addition to Barot, metropolitan police identified the other seven suspects as 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.

The eight were accused of conspiring together and with unknown persons to commit murder, and conspiracy to commit public nuisance by the use of radioactive materials, toxic gases, chemicals and/or explosives.

The ninth man, Matthew Philip Monks, 32, was charged with possession of a prohibited weapon.

All nine had been held at a high-security London police station since Aug. 3 on suspicion of being concerned in the "commission, preparation or instigation" of acts of terrorism.

Under British anti-terrorism laws, police can question suspects for up to 14 days before charging them or releasing them.

The suspects were among 13 men arrested in the Aug. 3 raids in London, the nearby towns of Luton and Watford and Blackburn in northwest England.

Two were released without charge and two others were eliminated as terrorist suspects and re-arrested on suspicion of possessing forged documents.