LONDON — Eleven suspects accused of plotting to blow up U.S.-bound airliners appeared in court under heavy security Tuesday, and a magistrate ordered them held without bail in what investigators say will be a months-long probe spanning the Atlantic.
Making their first public appearance since a massive police dragnet swept up two dozen suspects from all over London and Birmingham this month, the detainees filed into court in pairs and sat impassively in a glassed-in dock as the magistrate made his rulings. Eight of them are charged with conspiracy to commit murder and terrorism; the three others face lesser charges.
The suspects appeared relaxed, and they made no comments except to state their names and dates of birth.
In a case that has raised Britain's security alert to its highest level ever, few of the defendants applied for bail. One exception was Cossar Ali, 24, whose lawyer pleaded with the court to allow her to return to her 8-month-old child.
"The reality is that the last 10 days have been the first time in her life and the life of her child that they have been separated," said the lawyer, David Gottlieb.
He said police at the preliminary detention center had been voluntarily carrying breast milk from the jail to the home of Ali's family. "That can't continue after the remand today," he said.
Ali, wearing a blue head scarf, sat quietly in the dock and showed no emotion as the judge ordered her held for at least another week.
Prosecutors allege that Ali had information about the purported plans of her husband, codefendant Abdullah Ali Ahmed Khan, to commit an act of terrorism and failed to disclose it to authorities.
Under British court rules, detailed discussion of the charges or defendants' substantive arguments for release on bail, or the judge's reasons for denying it, cannot be reported.
Many of the eight primary suspects were ordered to appear for a preliminary hearing Sept. 4. Authorities are to make a decision by today on whether to file charges against, release or seek further temporary detention for 11 additional suspects also still in custody.
Meanwhile, investigators continued to pore over hundreds of phone records and massive quantities of computer storage data as they seek to draw links between suspects in Britain and as many as 17 others in custody in Pakistan.
Authorities have not identified any co-conspirators within the U.S. but are tracking communications across the Atlantic to identify potential suspects, an American diplomat said.
"As is typical, we're looking at phone calls, visits, any contacts with the United States," said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity under standard diplomatic protocol.
"To say there are contacts does not mean they are contacts of substance," he added. "What we have to do is check under every rock, every phone call that we can document. Go out and find out why that call was made, who that call was made to. Quite frankly, it could be nothing, just a friend or a business contact."
The diplomat said U.S. officials have taken the evidence seriously despite the public skepticism in Britain, especially in the Muslim community, about whether any of the suspects could have created a bomb onboard out of chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide, listed this week among the materials seized by police.
"With some scientific background, some guidance from someone knowledgeable of the chemicals and processes, no, it would not be very difficult," he said.
"And it could be done in a fashion where the [improvised explosive device] could be created and brought on the plane in a fashion that would be very difficult to detect."
Times staff writer Janet Stobart contributed to this report.