Dick Cheney, the former US Vice President, nearly destroyed Britain's efforts to bring the airline bomb plotters to justice, police and intelligence experts said today.
By ordering the early arrest of Rashid Rauf, the bombers' link man in Pakistan, Washington forced British police to detain the suspects in the UK before all the evidence had been gathered, it was claimed.
Yesterday three British Muslims - Abdulla Ahmed Ali, Tanvir Hussain and Assad Sarwar - were finally convicted of plotting to blow up seven transatlantic airliners in mid-air in a co-ordinated attack intended to surpass the horror of 9/11. But the plotters were arrested before they had bought the airline tickets that would have been the ultimate proof of their intentions. Police fear that several key figures of the plot have remained free.
Andy Hayman, who was the Metropolitan Police's Assistant Commissioner Specialist Operations at the time of the plot, said he believed that the White House had grown jittery as the British updated them of the mounting evidence of a plot targeted at American cities.
Fearful for the safety of American lives, the US authorities had been getting edgy, seeking reassurance that this was not going to slip through our hands. We moved from having congenial conversations to eyeball-to-eyeball confrontations.
We thought we had managed to persuade them to hold back so we could develop new opportunities and get more evidence to present to the courts. But I was never convinced that they were content with that position. In the end, I strongly suspect that they lost their nerve and had a hand in triggering the arrest in Pakistan.