Plot picked off.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 11 2006 3:39 AM

Royal Flush

Everybody leads with the big, foiled terror plot in which 24 British men, mostly of Pakistani descent, were arrested and are suspected of plotting to bomb multiple airliners with liquid explosives.

The papers are filled with speculative and often competing quotes from unnamed intel officials. Most suggest that the plotters, after doing a planned dry run, were closing in on launching their attacks. A British anti-terror official told the Los Angeles Times it was set to happen "within weeks." As of now, there's no evidence of suspects in the U.S. 

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The LAT, citing a U.S. intel official, said the information known so far was "vague and did not indicate firm time frames." One"American official"quoted in the New York Timeswarned against the "imminent" label: "I would caution about how close it was." One of the issues may be that the Brits—who got burned last year by leaks around the London bombings—apparently haven't been too keen on sharing details.

The Washington Postsays the investigation began soon after last year's subway attacks when police got "a call from a worried member of the Muslim community" suspicious about an acquaintance. The NYT says authorities decided to move in Wednesday after one of the suspects was arrested in Pakistan, and officials worried the men might go to ground. The Post says there was "a sudden decision" after officials concluded that there "might be additional unknown conspirators." The Wall Street Journal talked to a neighbor of one of those arrested who said the suspect "worked at Heathrow airport."

The travel to Pakistan seems to have been key to both the plot and its unraveling. While some of the suspects were there, the NYT hears, they "might have met with at least one person affiliated with al-Qaida." Citing a Pakistani intel official, the Post says they got help from "a small militant Islamic group."

The plot looks a whole lot like one by al-Qaida players that was thwarted back in the mid-1990s, right down to the intended use of liquid explosives. Of course, details of that plot—named "Bojinka"—are all over the 'net. As for solid connections to Osama and Crew—the AQ OGs, if you will—the Post offers a facile and bordering-on-irresponsible take, claiming "strong indications of an al-Qaida link." (The NYT has a similar, but ultimately more careful assessment.)

Meanwhile, the Journal points out that "no concrete links" have been established between AQ Central and the suspects. The LAT has the particularly nuanced assessment emphasizing the fractured nature of the jihadist movement. "There hasn't been anyone in a long time who is serious about this stuff who thinks it begins and ends with al-Qaida," said one "U.S. intelligence official." A Kashmir-focused jihadist group from Pakistan was linked to this summer's suspected Canadian terror plot.

Authorities have known about the possibility of liquid bombs since Bojinka. But as the NYT puts it, they've "made little progress" in figuring out how to stop them. A Homeland Security Department official told the Times the department had to "redirect" some of its R & D money to pay for screeners.

Still, they're not exactly perfect bombs. The things don't have much patience for, as one FBI warning noted, "heat, shock and friction."

In Slate,Daniel Benjaminnotes that the scuttled plot does look darn similar to Bojinka—except this one went a step further: Suicide was part of the plan. The upshot is that there appear to be "more individuals with greater emotional commitment—fanaticism, if you prefer—available for jihadist terror than before."