More than 20 suspected terrorists were arrested in England by early Thursday morning, in an operation that involved British intelligence, Scotland Yard and assistance by a number of other law enforcement and intelligence agencies, including those in Pakistan.It's always hard to know what to make of stories of foiled plots, but this one sure sounds like a biggie. It sounds like the group was being tracked for a while, too, and (I would assume) pretty comprehensively; if investigators knew that the plotters "began to book flight reservations," and had a sense of the particular flights at risk, it seems safe to assume that at least a portion of the overall group was identified and UK investigators were tapping their phone/Internet connections. But of course it's hard to tell from the outside, especially just from early reports like this, and it's unclear when (if ever) we'll know the real details.
ABC News has learned that two "significant arrests" in Pakistan in recent days may have significantly accelerated the pace of the investigation.
Many of the alleged terror plotters appeared to be of Pakistani descent. It appears that they were probably "homegrown" terrorists with strong links to al Qaeda and Pakistani operatives. This new generation of terrorists have figured significantly in plots in the U.S., London and Canada in recent months.
In this case, the plotters apparently intended to assemble small but powerful bombs in flight and use them to take down flights from England to the United States. * * *
According to a Department of Homeland Security briefing to the aviation sector, the terrorists appear to have planned to use multiple persons aboard each flight to assemble peroxide-based liquid or gel high explosives. The bomb-making materials could easily be concealed in small containers -- water bottles, tooth paste tubes, juice boxes and any of the other numerous person items passengers traditionally take into the passenger compartment of commercial flights.
At least nine transcontinental flights from American, United and Continental airlines were targeted in the plot. ABC News has learned that terrorists planned to attack the planes three at a time, waiting an hour between each attack.
According to federal authorities, two or three bombers would each carry a separate portion of the bomb onto the plane to avoid detection. Once onboard the bomb would be assembled and then detonated by using heat or friction.
British authorities had been tracking some of the suspects for several weeks but stepped in to round up the plotters when they began to book flight reservations.
The terror plot foiled in the U.K. is the big news of the day. Closer to home, there are reports that two Michigan men were arrested in southeast on Ohio on charges they engaged in money laundering to support terrorist activities.
Deputies stopped the two on a traffic violation Tuesday and found the flight documents along with $11,000 cash and 12 phones in their car, Sheriff Larry Mincks said.
It wasn't clear what significance the airline information might have. Assistant County Prosecutor Susan Vessels declined to comment on whether the manifests were for upcoming flights or those that already had flown. She also would not give the origin or destination of the flight or flights. . . .
[The two men, Osama Sabhi] Abulhassan and [Ali] Houssaiky admitted buying about 600 phones in recent months at stores in southeast Ohio, said sheriff's Maj. John Winstanley. They sold the phones to someone in Dearborn, Winstanley said.
Vessels declined to say how the phones, cash or flight information involved terrorism.
UPDATE: More on the story:
Twenty-year old's Ali Howssaiky and Osama Abulhassan are facing charges of money laundering to aid terrorism. This comes after a traffic stop Tuesday led police to thousands of dollars in cash, several disposable cell phones and instructions of how to obtain private flight information. Police also found a list of flight passengers in the car.
"It also had information about airport checkpoints, and what would be accomplished there, so this is a little bit unusual," Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks says.
Sheriff Mincks also says the disposable cell phones are especially important, because it appears their final destination was supposed to be overseas.
"They are digital and can be used to detonate car bombs," he says.
The Associated Press reports that the two men will face an additional charge for committing acts supporting terrorism. Meanwhile, the Columbus Dispatch provides more information on their arrest and their defense:
The men were stopped while driving for failure to signal a turn Tuesday after a clerk at a RadioShack called deputies to report the two acting suspiciously while buying three disposable, prepaid TracFones. The men bought six more phones from a Wal-Mart at the same strip mall near I-77.
Inside the car, deputies found nearly $11,000 in cash, a dozen cell phones, instructions on accessing and altering computerized passenger and baggage information from Royal Jordanian Airlines, and some airline-flight manifests.
Assistant Prosecutor Susan Vessels accused the men of "very serious crimes" in detailing the suspicious items found in their car and their admission that they bought 600 cell phones in the last month and were after another 300 on a trip south from Dearborn, Mich.
Attorneys for the two men said authorities are overreacting to a legal purchase of phones by two men who are working for a legitimate businessman. He resells the cheap phones at a profit and has been cleared of any terrorism links by the FBI, the attorneys said.
Agent Dawn Clenney, spokeswoman for the FBI in Detroit, could not confirm what the lawyers said. The Marietta case is a matter for Ohio lawenforcement agencies, she said.
The airline-related documents found in the car owned by Houssaiky's mother belong to her, the men's attorneys said. She works for a company that provides ground support for Royal Jordanian Airlines and others at the Detroit airport, they said.
The attorneys suggested the men were stopped and arrested as targets of racial profiling.
The two men arrested in Marietta, Ohio and accused aiding terrorism after they had purchased numerous cell phones and airport information was found in their car will not be charged after all, local prosecutors announced today.
Washington County Prosecutor James Schneider said he didn't have enough evidence to present the felony terrorism charges to a grand jury. He said in a news release he needed more information to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.
The charges will be dropped at a hearing Tuesday in Marietta Municipal Court and a $200,000 bond reduced to $1,000 each, Schneider said in a phone interview. . . .
"At this time we didn't see a link that we could prove," Schneider said, adding he was referring to both terrorism in general and any specific group.
But Schneider said the investigation is open and he could still present evidence to a grand jury to pursue terrorism-related charges.
The two men are still charged with a misdemeanor count of falsification accusing them of lying about why they bought the phones, Schneider said.
Schneider said his office and federal authorities don't believe "the defendants pose an imminent threat at this time."
An attorney for one of the men welcomed the announcement.
"We're grateful the Washington County Prosecutor's Office has been willing to keep an open mind and look at all the evidence and make their decisions based on the evidence," said William Swor, a Michigan lawyer representing Ali Houssaiky of Dearborn, Mich.