The Guardian UK
By Patrick Wintour
Friday 11 August 2006
Decision to sanction raids took ministers by surprise. First Cobra meeting took place late on Wednesday.
Downing Street admitted Tony Blair would not have left the country on Monday for his Caribbean holiday if he had known the police would need to swoop so quickly to disrupt a terrorist plot.
Downing Street officials said he had also mentioned the specific surveillance operation. Mr Blair warned the president that it showed there was a specific threat to US airlines and urged total secrecy, warning premature leaks would destroy the monitoring of the group.
From his , he spoke again to Mr Bush on Wednesday around 8pm UK time, again mentioning the security threat, but primarily discussing fresh plans to break the deadlock at the UN on the Middle East. Hours later police and security services were in contact with their US partners to say a specific threat was being acted upon.
**despite this, both Blair and Bush chose to do what? GO ON VACATION**
The decision to sanction the raids took ministers by surprise. Douglas Alexander, the on Wednesday when he was told by security officials he needed to be briefed on a threat to UK aviation. The official flew to Mull, and he was told there was a plot to blow up planes simultaneously.
Mr Alexander immediately decided he needed to be in London. So an RAF helicopter was flown to the island and he was taken to London in time for the first Cobra meeting that began a little before midnight. John Reid, the home secretary, chaired the meeting, which included senior figures from the security services, defence chiefs and Metropolitan police.
The discussion centred on how to handle the likely transport disruption yesterday as well as the economic and community implications of the raid. It was also agreed that Mr Reid should brief the leaders of the opposition parties. John Prescott, the deputy leader and in charge in the prime minister's absence, was not at the meeting.
Largely the same group met again at 5am yesterday - midnight US time - to discuss the details of the raid, and , including the early morning statements from Mr Reid and Mr Alexander as well as the need to involve local communities in the fight against terrorism.
Mr Prescott was given the job of speaking to constituency MPs about the reasons for the raid but was not give a prominent media role. The communities minister, Meg Munn, spoke to Muslim religious leaders.
Some of the near desperate tone in Mr Blair's speeches, especially in Los Angeles, suggest he was exercised by the levels of alienation of Muslim opinion in the Middle East and Britain. British foreign policy was not perceived to be even-handed or just, he conceded, even if he offered no criticism of the invasion of Iraq or the scale of Israeli bombings in Lebanon.
He said radical Muslims were backward looking, intolerant and a perversion of true Islam. But he seemed acutely aware that there had to be a new push towards solving the Palestinian problem once the Lebanese crisis was settled. He has also stressed at his Downing Street press conferences that there was a tendency in too many Muslim groups to give ground to those who argued British foreign policy justified terrorism. He said with open frustration that British Muslim leaders needed to be a lot more aggressive to confront such thinking.
The foiling of the alleged plot also
Shahid Malik, the Labour MP for Dewsbury, argued : "I think today's events may well have an impact, but I think the momentum was always there. We want to make sure that the representations made to us by our constituents are actually debated in the chamber of the house. I think that is the democratic thing to do."
Mr Malik has been one of many Muslim MPs who have questioned the degree to which the government followed up the recommendations of taskforces set up by ministers in the wake of 7/7 designed to ensure Muslims remained fully bonded into British society.
On the Tory and Liberal Democrat benches there was no attempt to make political capital. The shadow home secretary, David Davis, confined himself to praise for the security services.
The Tory MP Paul Goodman, whose constituency includes High Wycombe, spoke for many Tories when he said it was an "inexpressibly sad day" for the town, where community relations were "traditionally good".
He said the events highlighted two key points: "First, that the vast majority of Muslims in High Wycombe and elsewhere are peaceful and law-abiding citizens and that any hostile action towards them is reprehensible. Second, that all Muslims must strive ceaselessly to condemn, confront and root out support for terror from their communities. Loyalty to Britain and its way of life must come first."