The German authorities are investigating contacts between a Briton being questioned over the alleged plot to blow up transatlantic airlines and a key figure in the September 11, 2001, terrorist cell.
Intelligence sources said that, at Britain’s request, they were examining possible links between the suspect and Said Bahaji, the computer expert in the Hamburg cell that planned the suicide hijackings in 2001.
Bahaji shared an apartment in Hamburg with Mohamed Atta, the lead hijacker, and Ramzi Binalshibh, the planner of 9/11. He fled Germany for Pakistan a week before the attacks in New York and Washington and has never been caught.
The global financing of the alleged airline plot is also assuming increasing significance as investigators piece together the mechanics of the operation.
The Charity Commission, the Government’s charity watchdog, said that it was treating allegations that money raised to help victims of the Kashmir earthquake had been diverted to terror cells as “an immediate priority”.
The commission said that it would look into the activities of Crescent Relief, a registered charity based in Ilford, East London, which was involved in the relief effort last year.
One of its founding trustees was Abdul Rauf, the father of Rashid Rauf, 25, who is being held in Pakistan and named as a “key suspect” in the ongoing inquiry.
Rashid Rauf left Britain for Pakistan after the murder of his uncle, Mohammed Saeed, 54, who was stabbed to death in Birmingham in April 2002. No one has been convicted of the murder.
Another of Mr Rauf’s sons, Tayib, 21, is being questioned by the anti-terrorist squad in London after being arrested in Birmingham last week.
The destination of money raised in Britain for the Pakistani organisation Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), which carried out extensive relief work in Kashmir, will also be examined.
JuD is an offshoot of the extremist group Lashkar-i-Taiba and has been designated by the United States as a terrorist organisation. It has no formal structure in Britain, but receives funds from a strong support base within the Kashmiri community. Hundreds of young British jihadis have received guerilla training at Lashkar-i-Taiba camps in Pakistan.
Abdullah Muntazer, of JuD, said that the allegations against the organisation were baseless. He added: “We condemn every kind of terrorism, whether committed by states or individuals.”
Muslim community leaders told The Times that large amounts of money were raised at mosques after the earthquake last year. Some of that was taken to the stricken region in the form of suitcases full of cash, creating opportunities for fraud or siphoning off of funds.
No evidence has been found that either Abdul Rauf or anyone else connected with Crescent Relief has diverted charitable funds for any terrorist purpose. The charity could not be contacted yesterday, but Mr Rauf Snr is thought to be no longer involved with it.
But the Charity Commission said it had to examine urgently any allegations that charities might have been infiltrated.
A spokesman said: “Any links between charities and terrorist activity are totally unacceptable. ‘Links’ might include fundraising or provision of facilities, but also include formal or informal links to organisations ‘proscribed’ under the Terrorism Act 2000, and any subsequent secondary legislation.
“The Charity Commission will deal with any allegation of links between a charity and terrorist activity as an immediate priority.
“Where such allegations are made we will liaise closely with relevant intelligence, security and law enforcement agencies to facilitate a thorough investigation.”
Scotland Yard declined to comment on the financial investigation and has remained tightlipped about other aspects of the plot, which senior officers said was intended to “commit mass murder on an unimaginable scale”.
A court granted police extra time to question one of the suspects detained in raids in East London, Birmingham and High Wycombe last week.
The 23 people in custody, who include the mother of a six-month-old baby, can be interviewed until tomorrow evening when police must seek a further extension if they wish to continue to detain them.
Searches are continuing at some 30 locations across the country, including woodland in High Wycombe where officers are believed to be looking for evidence of bomb-making activities. Specialist teams are believed to have found substantial quantities of cash, a martyrdom video made by someone apparently planning to become a suicide bomber and chemicals that could be used to make explosives. Police refused to comment on reports that a handgun and a rifle had been found at separate addresses.
The German Interior Ministry said that inquiries were being conducted into apparent contacts between individuals in Germany and a Briton arrested in connection with the terrorist plot. A spokeswoman said: “There are close contacts between the German authorities and the British. We are conducting inquiries into communications between Germany and certain individuals.”
Sources in Berlin said that they were examining e-mail traffic between a Briton and Bahaji’s wife, Nese, in Hamburg during 2004-05. The writer of the e-mails — who is now under arrest — is thought to have been acting as a conduit for Bahaji to contact his spouse.
Bahaji, who is of Moroccan descent, fled Germany on September 4 2001. Several of the key figures in the Hamburg cell, including Mohamed Atta, attended his wedding in Hamburg in October 1999.