LONDON (AFP) -Eleven people have been remanded in British custody over an alleged plot to use suicide bombers to blow US-bound airliners out of the sky.
The 11 accused — including a young mother and a minor — appeared in a magistrates court in London Tuesday, 12 days after police raids in and around the British capital which prompted unprecedented security measures at major airports worldwide.
Eight facing the most serious charges of conspiracy to murder and preparing acts of terrorism were told to return to court on September 4.
No pleas were entered before judge Timothy Workman and only one asked for bail, but Mohammed Zeb, a lawyer for one of the accused, Tanvir Hussain, stated that “all allegations are denied”.
The whole process lasted four hours, but the first appearance of the nine men, one women and one youth took just five minutes each.
They were brought into the glass-panelled dock in courtroom number one at the City of Westminster Magistrates Court in twos and threes, the men wearing matching white sweatshirts, grey jogging trousers and black, laceless pumps.
Only the sole woman charged stood out, her face peering out from behind a blue-coloured hijab, or headscarf, and rimmed spectacles.
The 17-year-old — too young under British law to appear in the dock or to be identified — sat next to his lawyer on the back row of the three benches reserved for their legal team.
Each confirmed his or her name, date of birth and address — although not the exact location, which was made subject to a reporting restriction to protect the defendants’ families — and listened to proceedings.
Lawyers for young mother Cossar Ali, 23, Mehran Hussain, also 23, and the 17-year-old youth indicated they would plead not guilty.
Workman told the eight to reappear on September 4 before judge Anne Rafferty at the Old Bailey criminal court in central London — traditional venue for Britain’s biggest criminal trials.
The three others are to return to the magistrates court next Tuesday.
Eleven other people remain in police custody for questioning but have not been charged. A further two who were arrested on or after August 10 have been released.
The eight facing the most serious charges were men mainly from east London: Hussain, 25; Umar Islam, 28; Arafat Waheed Khan, 25; Ahmed Abdullah Ali, 25; Ibrahim Savant, 25; Waheed Zaman, 22; Assaid Ali Sarwar, 26; and Adam Khatib, 19.
They appeared in court first, follwowed by Ali, the only woman accused and the mother of an eight-month-old son, and Mehran Hussain, 23. They have been charged with withholding information about an impending terrorist attack.
The 17-year-old youth has been accused of possessing a book about bomb-making, suicide notes and wills, and a map of Afghanistan with information “likely to be useful” to someone planning an attack.
On their way back to the cells, escorted by four, sometimes five dock officers, some of the defendants craned their necks to see whether their relatives were among those crammed into the public gallery.
One nodded and waved to a relative, another smiled and made an “O” with his finger and thumb before disappearing.
“The investigation is far from complete. The scale is immense. Enquiries will span the globe,” said Peter Clarke, chief anti-terrorist officer at London’s Metropolitan Police, on Monday as the charges were announced.
Seven other people, including two Britons, are being held in Pakistan, where the authorities have suggested a possible link with Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network, which carried out the September 11 attacks in the United States.
Security at major airports was dramatically increased in the days after the August 10 raids, with a ban imposed on hand baggage and on carry-on beverages, as it emerged that the plot allegedly involved liquid explosives disguised as innocent drinks being smuggled onto US airliners at British airports.
As the accused appeared in court, a junior minister in Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government said it would take “generations” to overcome extremists who want to destroy society.
“We see this fight against terrorism as a perpetual fight,” said Communities Minister Phil Woolas at a meeting of leaders from various faiths in Bolton in northwest England.