Britain Arrests 9 in Anti-Terror Raids
Operation Reportedly Targeted Iraq-Style Plot to Abduct, Kill Muslim Member of Army
Thursday, February 1, 2007; Page A08
BIRMINGHAM, England, Jan. 31 -- British police arrested nine people Wednesday in a large counterterrorism sweep reported to involve an alleged Iraq-style plot to kidnap, torture and kill a Muslim soldier serving in the British army and post video of his execution on the Internet.
Such a plot would represent a dramatic turn in tactics by Islamic extremists in Britain -- a single murder rather than a bomb plot designed to kill large numbers of people. It would also be the first known case of radicals in Britain targeting a fellow Muslim for serving in the British army.
Birmingham police did not release the names of the people arrested in pre-dawn raids on eight homes and four businesses in two predominantly Muslim neighborhoods. Neighbors reported that police broke down doors and hauled off suspects beginning about 4:30 a.m.
David Shaw, a top police official, said the arrests were the "culmination of many months of activities" and "a very, very major investigation" that is "by no means finished." At a news conference, he declined to elaborate on the alleged plot or comment on reports by the BBC and many other news organizations that police sources said the plot involved the planned abduction and execution of a particular Muslim soldier. Several reports said the soldier had served in Afghanistan and has been placed under protective custody in Britain.
The arrests and raids stunned this city of 1 million residents northwest of London where the Muslim population, estimated at 14 percent in the 2001 census, has grown in recent years.
"If it were another bombing plot, I wouldn't be as scared," said Vera Bates, 65, who has lived for 40 years in the Alum Rock neighborhood, a predominantly Muslim area. "But because now they are talking about kidnapping someone off the street, beheading him and putting him on a video -- now that is scary." Her home is near a brick rowhouse and a business, Khan's General Store, that were raided by police.
Many Muslims who gathered at police lines said they viewed the raids as unfairly targeting their community and probably based on false intelligence. "We feel like we are under siege," said Allah Ditta, a businessman in Alum Rock and a member of a mosque a block from Khan's General Store.
Ditta said that he had already felt a backlash from the police operation when several men drove past him in a van and swore at him simply because he was dressed as a Muslim. "We will be picking up the pieces of this raid for years to come," he said.
Police counterterrorism raids have become increasingly common since Islamic extremists killed 52 people on subway trains and a bus in London in July 2005. What police call a virtually identical attack two weeks later failed when the alleged attackers' bombs failed to detonate; six men are on trial in that case.
Eliza Manningham-Buller, head of Britain's MI5 domestic security agency, which was involved in Wednesday's raids, gave a rare public address in November and said British authorities were monitoring as many as 30 potential terrorism plots involving up to 1,600 individuals in 200 radical groups.
"If anyone is involved in terrorist activities, I condemn it," said Shaukat Ali, who lives on Jackson Road, where one of the arrested men lives.
He said he knew the man, describing him as a 28-year-old named Amjad and a father of two, and found it hard to believe he was involved in such a plot. He said the man worked behind the cash register at his father's business, Khan's General Store, from early morning until late at night seven days a week. "Many people knew this hardworking family and we are shocked," Ali said.