Two suspects charged for attempted jetliner terror

LONDON – Authorities charged two more suspects yesterday in an alleged plot to blow up passenger-laden jetliners bound for the United States, bringing to 17 the number formally charged.

One other suspect was released without charge, while two others were still being held. Police have a few hours before a legal deadline to charge or release the two.

All five have been held for 28 days – the maximum length of time allowed under Britain’s new anti-terrorism laws.

Police said the two suspects, Donald Douglas Stewart Whyte and Muhammed Usman Saddique, 24, were charged with preparing an act of terrorism.

The five suspects were rounded up with about two dozen others in raids on Aug. 9 and 10 into the alleged plot to assemble and detonate improvised explosives on board as many as 10 U.S.-bound planes carrying hundreds of passengers. Five others had been released.

The purported attack would have caused mass murder on an “unimaginable scale,” police said. They announced arrests in early August – leading to major terror alerts in the United States and Britain, and causing major disruptions to air travel.

Eleven suspects have been charged with conspiracy to commit murder and also with preparing acts of terrorism. Whyte and Saddique are also charged with preparing terrorism acts. Four others are charged with lesser offenses, including withholding information about planned terrorism.

Prosecutor Colin Gibbs told a hearing at London’s Central Criminal Court on Monday that 11 suspects facing the most serious charges would not be brought to trial before 2008 as officials sift through evidence from across the world.

Investigators continue to study evidence including alleged explosive materials, computers, travel and phone records and other documents, Gibbs said.

Peter Clarke, London’s chief counterterrorism detective, has disclosed that police seized hydrogen peroxide, bomb-making components and six martyrdom videos during searches of 70 homes, businesses, vehicles and open spaces, including a stretch of woods in High Wycombe.

British Home Secretary John Reid has signaled he now intends to seek parliamentary support to extend the maximum detention limit for people arrested on suspicion of terrorism beyond 28 days.

Lawmakers agreed on the limit last December, after Prime Minister Tony Blair failed to persuade legislators to agree to a 90-day detention period – his first ever defeat in Britain’s House of Commons.