Terror police target 70 'plots'
By John Steele, Toby Helm and David Derbyshire
More than 70 anti-terrorist investigations involving over 100 suspected Islamic extremists are under way in Britain in an operation unmatched even at the height of the IRA's mainland campaign.
John Reid, the Home Secretary, confirmed yesterday that police and security services were aware of about 24 "major conspiracies".
They are believed to be "multi-handed" terrorist plots, such as the alleged plan to blow up transatlantic airliners that led to the arrest of 24 people last Thursday.
Sources say that, on top of the inquiries confirmed by Mr Reid, up to 50 more are being conducted by anti-terrorist police, most of them involving Scotland Yard and MI5.
Some relate to fund-raising activity - aimed at Iraq or other foreign hot spots, as well as the UK - and intelligence-gathering, such as details of potential targets.
A significant amount of the activity involves internet communication between groups, often young Muslim men at college or university.
The total number of suspects in Britain has not been disclosed and security sources say it is often fluid.
Individuals sometimes drop in and out of suspect groups and, at times, obvious overlaps emerge between terrorist gangs.
"The numbers are very difficult," a source said. "Some may not be about to launch a bomb attack but may be suspected of background help."
Mr Reid told BBC News 24: "There would be more [plots] which are not at the centre of our considerations and there may be more that we don't know about at all."
He said that four major plots had been thwarted since the July 7 bombings in London last year in which 56 people died.
Mr Reid also disclosed that the al-Qa'eda threat to Britain dated from a planned attack on Birmingham which was thwarted in 2000.
For the fourth day, tightened security caused queues and chaos at airports.
A third of scheduled flights from Heathrow were cancelled and a fifth of flights are expected not to take off from the airport today. Some flights that escaped cancellation left virtually empty.
An estimated 20,000 to 25,000 passengers were prevented from checking in at Heathrow, although their planes were leaving on schedule, because the queues at security were too long. Delays at other airports were less severe.