24 held in raids... including convert and young man with £300,000
Key quote "There were people coming to the [bungalow] at night-time, around midnight, almost every night. I have no idea what they were doing, but they certainly were not living there, as they left a few hours after they arrived." - Neighbour Peter Whitelock
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A TEENAGER who attended a well-known grammar school and recently converted to Islam was among the suspects arrested over the foiled terror plot, it emerged last night.
Neighbours said Don Stewart-Whyte had grown a beard and made different friends since he changed his beliefs.
Police swooped on Mr Stewart-Whyte's home in Hepplewhite Close, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, shortly after 10pm on Wednesday.
His widowed mother, Dot, was said to be on holiday at the time.
Mr Stewart-Whyte, 19, had been a pupil at the prestigious Dr Challoner's Grammar School in nearby Amersham, where Sir Roger Moore once studied.
"He was always such a pleasant young man, always so polite, so very helpful," one neighbour said. "This is a real shock to many of us."
Another neighbour said Mr Stewart-Whyte had converted to Islam about a year ago, after which he noticed marked changes.
"He had grown a long beard and had shaved his head.
"The people he was hanging around with were different. Now he's with people who are religious, he doesn't speak to anyone around here since his conversion."
Mr Stewart-Whyte recently changed his name to Abdul Wahid.
Details of the family's life in Britain emerged as police raided addresses in London, Birmingham and High Wycombe and arrested 24 people in connection with the plans to blow up planes.
Most of the arrests were made at a string of addresses in Walthamstow, east London. In High Wycombe, police also swooped on two homes in Micklefield Road and another in nearby Walton Drive. Nine homes near the latter scene were evacuated as police investigated a suspected bomb factory.
Neighbours said Khuram Ali, who is said to be aged in his late 20s, was among those arrested.
One friend of Mr Ali last night said: "He did not used to be a radical, but he went to Pakistan two years ago and came back a changed man.
"When he came back everyone noticed changes in him. He was more twitchy and nervous and seemed to be always looking over his shoulder.
"He thought everyone was against him."
Neighbour Tim Wilmington, 58, said the raided homes in Micklefield Road belonged to the Ali family. He said: "The Ali family turned up two years ago and bought a house here.
"Their son then disappeared to Pakistan for a couple of months and came back with enough money to buy the bungalow opposite. The family paid cash - around 300,000. The family then rented out the bungalow. At one point there were 15 people living there."
He added: "They were selling two or three cars a week, but six months ago the council shut the car lot down after residents complained. They still have great big containers of petrol in the back garden."
Peter Whitelock, 77, who co-ordinates Neighbourhood Watch in the area, said: "There were people coming to the [bungalow] at night-time, around midnight, almost every night. I have no idea what they were doing, but they certainly were not living there, as they left a few hours after they arrived."
It is thought police raided the Ali family home late on Wednesday then raided the bungalow shortly after 5pm yesterday. Officers blocked the road off, extending the cordon over a 150-yard stretch with constables guarding the scene.
Local Tory MP Paul Goodman said it was an "inexpressibly sad day" for the town, where community relations were "traditionally good".
In east London, neighbours of a flat believed to be linked to the terrorist plot said they saw about 20 officers raiding the property late on Wednesday.
Police rammed the front door to a house divided into a number of flats in Forest Road, Walthamstow, shortly before midnight.
John Weir, 50, who lives opposite the terraced property, said plain-clothed officers in unmarked cars lined up opposite the house before the raid.
He said: "At about 10:30pm unmarked police cars all lined up on the street and just sat there. About 11:50pm two vans came up the road and parked at either end of the street. Then about 20 officers, four of them in uniform, ran up and bashed the door in."
He said the flat involved had been sold about a month ago and two men had been living there for the past few weeks.
"It was sold overnight. I think two men moved in the following weekend. No furniture was moved or anything, it was really strange."
He added: "I saw a couple of North African-looking men about three weeks ago. They were in their mid-thirties. They were dressed in T-shirts and trousers. I haven't seen them in the last couple of weeks. There is not often anyone there."
Police also raided a second house in nearby Folkestone Road in the early hours of yesterday and arrested a man named by neighbours as Omar Savant, who became a devout Muslim about eight years ago and used to work at Selfridges.
In Albert Road, forensic officers in blue suits were seen entering a third property.
In Birmingham, two men were arrested following a raid on a terraced house in St Margarets Road, Ward End. Neighbours named them as Maroof Rauf, 19, and his 22-year-old brother, Abdul.
June Lethbridge, 85, who lives next door, said of the people living in the house: "They've always been very pleasant. As far as I know, most of the family are in Pakistan for a wedding. I haven't seen them come back."
Ikram Ulhaq, whose 12-year-old daughter received lessons in Islam from a woman who lived at the address, said the residents were "peaceful people".
Determined gang 'was getting very close to the execution phase'
THE terrorist gang was planning to blow up as many as nine aircraft using liquid explosives disguised as drinks and other everyday objects, according to sources.
Three US carriers - American, United and Continental Airlines - were said to have been targeted, a US intelligence source said - although he added that airlines from other countries might also have been involved.
The flights' destinations included cities that were "primary tourist attractions", such as New York, Washington DC and Los Angeles, the official said. "You'd have to add Boston; you'd have to add Chicago. Kind of the big hubs, if you will," he added.
This would have meant at least five planes being blown up but there were suggestions that nine planes may have been targeted.
Michael Chertoff, the US homeland security secretary, said the plan had been to detonate liquid explosives on board "multiple commercial aircraft".
He said: "The conception, the large number of people involved, the sophisticated design of the devices that were being considered and the sophisticated nature of the plan all suggest that this group that came together to conspire was very determined, very skilled and very capable."
Mr Chertoff said there was nothing to suggest the target date was 11 September. "Nor can I tell you that they would have waited that long," he said.
The would-be terrorists plotted to carry the explosive material and the detonating devices on board disguised as drinks, electronic devices and other "common objects", Mr Chertoff said.
"This operation is in some respects suggestive of an al-Qaeda plot," he said. "But because the investigation is still under way, we cannot yet form a definitive conclusion."
He said the plot was "well advanced", adding: "We were really getting quite close to the execution phase. They had accumulated and assembled the capabilities they needed and were in the final stages of planning for execution."
Mr Chertoff suggested that the plotters could have planned to carry on to planes liquids that were innocuous on their own but potentially deadly when mixed.
"Certainly, one of the considerations or concerns that we've had is the possibility of bringing on board a number of different components of a bomb, each one of which would be benign but which when mixed together would create a bomb," he said.
It is thought that the terrorists may have turned to liquid explosives in an attempt to circumvent security measures put in place following the attacks of 11 September, 2001.
The use of a methyl-nitrate bomb would have been possible without a detonator, which probably would have been caught on airport scanners.
Mr Chertoff said authorities in the UK had been working on the case for some time, but the threat to the US had become apparent only in the past fortnight.
"Some of the threats which led to this investigation had been pursued by British authorities for some considerable period of time," he said.
Why hand luggage is security headache
TIGHT restrictions imposed by the Department for Transport yesterday were necessary because scanning equipment for hand luggage cannot detect certain types of explosives, experts said.
Unlike equipment used to scan checked-in baggage, metal detectors designed to pick up guns and knives and X-ray machines which screen hand luggage can spot only non-plastic explosives.
Paul Beaver, a defence analyst, said
hold baggage was pretty safe because it was 'sniffed', X-rayed and sometimes hand-searched. But passenger and hand-luggage screening was only 60-70 per cent secure. "The problem is hand baggage, because the policy is to create an environment where it is easy for passengers to be screened without causing disruption. We don't want to be constantly stopping people."
Mr Beaver said electronic 'sniffers' were in use in some government buildings and would now have to be considered for screening airport passengers, despite their high cost.
Chris Yates, an aviation-security analyst with Jane's Transport, said Manchester airport was conducting trials of such equipment, which is the size of conventional X-ray scanners and already in use in the US, Canada and Australia.
Liquid explosives 'easy to get hold of'
LIQUID explosives can be easily hidden in innocent-looking bottles or cans that could be smuggled on board an aircraft, scientists warned yesterday.
Several kinds that are not difficult to obtain or make from raw ingredients could have been involved in the terror plot.
One candidate, nitromethane, is used to fuel model aeroplane engines as well as being an explosive and an industrial solvent.
Dr Sidney Alford, an explosives technician, said it was quite easy to get hold of in fairly small quantities, but it would have to be combined with a "sensitising" substance to make a bomb.
An alternative, nitroethane, was less well known but just as effective, and there were fewer restrictions on obtaining and transporting it, he said.
Another substance, methyl nitrate, is unusual in that it will explode as soon as it is combined with another substance. It does not need a detonator.
Dr Alford said: "The fact you don't need a detonator would be a great advantage. Methyl nitrate has been used as a component of an anti-personnel mine. When you step on the mine, you break a container which causes the substances to mix."
Despite being the best known "liquid bomb", nitroglycerine will not detonate with the slightest movement. "This idea is a myth," Dr Alford said. "It will not explode unless you whack it quite hard."
It is usually mixed with another material, such as nitroglycol, and would have to be ignited with a detonator.
Dr Alford, chairman of the explosives company Alford Technologies, said other possible chemicals included astrolites, based on hydrazine, which is used to make rocket fuel.
He said liquid explosives would not necessarily be picked up by "sniffer" type security scanners if placed in carefully sealed and cleaned containers.
"It's right that they're not allowing liquids to be carried on to planes other than milk for a baby, which the mother has to be prepared to taste," he said. "I think a good move would be to ban all duty-free alcohol on planes."
Professor Hans Michels, of Imperial College London, said nitroglycerine was easy to make or to obtain from chemical suppliers.
"It can be colourless, pale yellow or brown, but you can add colour to make it resemble anything you like, such as fizzy drinks or even baby food," he said.
"In a handbag under an X-ray machine, it would just appear that you were carrying a harmless liquid; there would be no way of picking it up.
"And once on the plane, it would only need a small spark to ignite it."
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