Plane plot suspects appear in court
LONDON – Eleven people accused in the plot to blow up planes flying from Britain to the United States appeared in court for the first time Tuesday under extraordinarily heavy guard, driven in vans with blacked-out windows and along separate routes from court back to prison.The suspects, most of whom are Londoners, told the judge their names, ages and addresses, in the first step toward a trial that prosecutors say could begin next year. Many wore T-shirts and sweatpants and appeared at ease in the small courtroom filled with journalists and relatives.The 10 male suspects range in age from 17 to 28. The 11th suspect, Cossar Ali, is the 23-year-old mother of an infant and the wife of another suspect. She was one of two people charged with failing to disclose information that could help prevent a terrorist act.The 17-year-old was charged with possession of items that could be used to prepare a terrorist act, including a book on improvised explosives and suicide notes of suspected terrorists. Eight others were charged with conspiracy to commit murder and preparing acts of terrorism. All have denied the charges.Ali’s lawyer, Nadeen Afzal, told reporters outside the courthouse that her client should be released because the government’s evidence against her “doesn’t exist.”Prosecutors have said they have powerful evidence against the suspects, ranging from fingerprints to “martyrdom videos” to chemicals used to make bombs.Of the 24 people arrested in the alleged terrorist plot earlier this month, two have been released without charge and 11 more continue to be held for questioning. Prosecutors have until Wednesday to charge them or ask for more time to hold them.Many people here are particularly alarmed that the suspects accused of planning mass murder in the skies are British citizens, not foreign enemies. Some Muslim leaders have said that Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision to commit British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, who fight alongside U.S. troops in wars that have led to many Muslims being killed, has nurtured suicide bombers on British soil.A poll published Tuesday in the Guardian newspaper showed that an overwhelming majority of voters – 72 percent – say they believe government foreign policy has helped make Britain a target for terrorists.Blair has staunchly defended his government’s policy in Iraq and Afghanistan, while acknowledging it has not been an easy one to maintain.Some Labor supporters had hoped that the foiled attack would help win support for the security services and the government, and that the new perceived threat might rally more citizens to back Blair.But Timothy Garden, a defense expert and Liberal Democrat in the House of Lords, the upper house of Parliament, said the “nature of the relationship between the people and political leaders has changed since the Iraq war.” Many people, he said, are now skeptical of officials after being fed “over-excited threats.”Blair’s “subservient relations with the United States” has soured people, Garden said. “Everybody is pretty clear: Blair backed the wrong horse.”In the ICM poll for the Guardian, only 1 percent of those surveyed said they believed the government’s foreign policy has made Britain safer. Overall, support for Blair’s Labor Party dropped to 31 percent, well below the 40 percent approval rating for the opposition Conservative Party. ICM said it was the lowest Labor rating it had recorded in 19 years.While the initial panic at London airport has eased and air traffic has largely been restored since the alleged plot was announced Aug. 10, the financial toll of the increased airport security and the loss of revenue for airlines continue to mount. A spokesman for British Airways said in an interview Tuesday that all its flights have been restored but that in the week after Aug. 10 it had to cancel 1,200 flights and pay for 10,000 hotel rooms for stranded passengers.
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