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Earthquake Relief Funds Lead to Bomb Plot

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Police in Britain are scouring a forest near the London suburb of High Wycombe, searching for possible clues in the alleged plot to blow up flights headed for the U.S. One more person was arrested today, bringing the total number of suspects in custody to 24.

As NPR's Guy Raz reports from London, it now seems likely that recent bank transfers between Britain and Pakistan led authorities to close in on the alleged plotters.

GUY RAZ reporting:

Immediately after last year's devastating earthquake in Kashmir that killed 73,000 people, large sums of money were being transferred from Britain to Pakistan. That's not surprising, especially considering that Britain has a large Pakistani Diaspora, a community that was looking to help out its suffering countrymen.

That didn't really interest intelligence officials, but -

Mr. GLENMORE TRENEAR-HARVEY (Former British Intelligence Officer): What did interest them was that the funds were specifically paid into three individual banks in Pakistan, the Saudi Pak Bank, the Standard Chartered and the Habib Bank in Pakistan, and to the accounts of three individuals. But they had no known charitable organization.

RAZ: That's Glenmore Trenear-Harvey, a former British intelligence officer who's now an independent analyst. Two of those bank accounts in Pakistan were held by British citizens of Pakistani origin, both with previous suspected ties to known terror groups.

Mr. TRENEAR-HARVEY: In turn, the British contacted the ISI, the Inter-Service Intelligence, the leading intelligence agency in Pakistan, and they were subsequently arrested and shown to have links with al-Qaida.

RAZ: Those seven arrests in Pakistan 10 days ago prompted police in Britain to close in on the suspects here. The charity fund in Pakistan, Jamaat ud-Dawa, provided millions of dollars in relief aid to victims of the earthquake.

But Jamaat is also widely believed to be a front operation for an al-Qaida affiliated terror group in Pakistan. The names of the account holders in Pakistan haven't been revealed, but intelligence sources say the amount transferred exceeded $150,000.

Mr. PETER NEUMANN (King's College London): I think it may well turn out to the clue that led the intelligence services to uncover this plot.

RAZ: That's Peter Neumann, director of the Security Studies Program at King's College London. He says the money trail, plus other clues gathered while the suspects were under surveillance, tipped the balance.

Mr. NEUMANN: All this information taken together amounts to a sort of strong circumstantial case, and the transfer of money might have been the last piece in the puzzle that triggered arrests because we know that in these terrorist plots, the transfer of money to buy tickets, for example, is usually the very last thing that happens before the plot actually goes ahead.

RAZ: Two dozen suspects are in British custody now. Tomorrow police here will ask a judge to extend the detention of the suspects for another week. But if no charges are filed within the next three weeks, all 24 alleged plotters will have to be freed.

Guy Raz, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Guy Raz
Guy Raz is an independent producer who has been described by the New York Times as "one of the most popular podcasters in history."