6 Charged In Alleged Terror Plot In Britain

By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, February 10, 2007

LONDON, Feb. 9 -- British police charged six men arrested in Birmingham last week with terrorism-related offenses Friday, officially alleging for the first time that the suspects were plotting to kidnap and kill a British soldier.

Parviz Khan, 36, is accused of leading the plot with help from four other men arrested in pre-dawn raids last week and charged with providing equipment and funding for the plan: Mohammed Irfan, 30; Zahoor Iqbal, 29; Hamid Elasmar, 43; and Amjad Mahmood, 31. All five appeared in a London courtroom Friday and were ordered held until a Feb. 23 hearing.

The sixth suspect, Basiru Gassama, 29, was charged with failing to inform authorities about the plot, which is a crime under Britain's Terrorism Act. He is due to appear in a London court Saturday.

David Shaw, spokesman for the West Midlands police, said police had recovered 4,500 pieces of evidence, including computers and mobile phones, that point to "the stark reality of what was being planned in our midst."

The plot, reportedly involving the kidnap, torture and murder of a Muslim soldier in the British army, is widely seen as a new kind of extremist threat in Britain. Since bomb attacks on the London public transit system that killed 52 passengers and four bombers in July 2005, police have repeatedly broken up alleged plots to commit large-scale attacks, including an alleged plan last summer to blow up commercial jetliners traveling from Britain to the United States.

For many Britons, the plot to kill a soldier -- and, according to the media, post video of the execution on the Internet -- has had worrisome echoes of violence that until now had been common in Iraq but unheard-of in Europe or the United States.

Police arrested nine people last week, including three who were released without charge. British police may hold terrorism suspects for up to 28 days without charge with a judge's approval.

One of the men, Abu Bakr, told reporters after he was released that Britain had become a "police state for Muslims."

"It's not a police state for everybody else because these terror laws are designed specifically for Muslims, and that's quite an open fact," said Bakr, a university student who works in an Islamic bookstore that was raided by police. He said his week-long detention was "going to affect me for the rest of my life."

Bakr's comments mirror a widespread feeling among Britain's nearly 2 million Muslims that they are being unfairly targeted by police and government policies. Many believe that the actions of some religious extremists have cast unwarranted suspicion on the wider Muslim community, pointing to last year's arrest of two brothers in the Forest Gate section of London in a suspected chemical weapons plot. After a high-profile police raid, in which one of the brothers was shot by police, the men were released without charge.

Prime Minister Tony Blair called the description of Britain as a police state "categorically wrong."

Jack Straw, a top official in Blair's government, called the allegations "absolute, utter nonsense."

"We live in a democracy, and what we are sadly having to fight at the moment is people who seek to destroy the very basis of our democracy," Straw said in Parliament this week.

Also Friday, government officials announced that they had ordered the closure of an Islamic school in Sussex, southeast of London, that was raided in September as part of an anti-terrorism operation. Government education officials said the Jameah Islameah school had been closed for failure to meet government standards for independent schools.

The school, set in the countryside on 54 acres of land, was searched by scores of police in an operation in which 14 people were arrested in London. Media reports at the time said the school might have been used by radicals trying to recruit and train violent extremists. Police on Friday said 12 of those arrested were charged with terror-related offenses and are awaiting trial. Two were released without charge.

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