British Home Secretary John Reid says police are confident they have accounted for all the main players in an alleged plot to blow up U.S. airliners in mid-air, but he says the British government is not complacent.
Reid says what he calls a complex police operation continues, while U.S. and British news reports say five suspects are missing. The terror threat level in Britain has been raised to critical -- the highest level.
British police Thursday arrested 24 people in London, Birmingham, and southeastern England after an eight-month long surveillance operation. U.S. security officials say the suspects may have been just days away from carrying out their deadly plans. British and U.S. officials say a martyrdom video was found during one of the raids.
British intelligence says terrorists were ready to smuggle liquid explosives onto as many as 10 U.S. airliners (including United, American, and Continental airlines) and blow them up en route to major U.S. cities including Washington, New York, and Los Angeles.
They would have assembled the separate components into a bomb on board the jets.
If the alleged plot had been carried out, Reid says there would have been an unprecedented loss of innocent civilian lives.
Authorities do not yet know who was behind the alleged plans. But top British and U.S. officials say it is similar to a failed 1995 al-Qaida plot to blow up a number of airliners over the Pacific.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair Thursday thanked British police and intelligence agents for what he called their "immense effort" in protecting the country.
Al-Qaida has called on Muslims to fight those who have backed Israeli attacks on Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. The group also warned of more attacks unless U.S. and British forces leave Iraq and Afghanistan.
Al-Qaida terrorists hijacked four aircraft in the United States on September 11th, 2001, flying them into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon. A fourth airliner crashed on its way to another major Washington target.
In December 2001, Briton Richard Reid was arrested trying to set off a bomb hidden in his shoe on a commercial passenger jet.