By Karla Adam
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, December 27, 2010; 4:07 PM
LONDON - Nine of 12 men arrested last week in Britain on suspicion of planning a terror attack against targets including the U.S. Embassy were charged Monday with conspiracy to set off explosions and testing potential bombs.
A U.S. State Department spokesman confirmed Monday that the U.S. Embassy in London was on the list of potential targets. "Our folks in London are aware of this, are working quite closely with British authorities, and appreciate the high level of cooperation that we have with them," said department spokesman Mark Toner. He added that embassy officials are taking "suitable security precautions."
Another potential target was the London Stock Exchange, the BBC reported.
The charges added to worries in Europe over reported preparations for a terror strike during the holiday season. Public concern was triggered by a warning last October from U.S. intelligence agencies, and further heightened by a string of recent terror-related incidents in several European cities. Some of the incidents were linked to Islamic militants, while others were allegedly the work of European anti-government radicals.
Adding to the jitters, police in Rome said they had defused an explosive parcel Monday outside the Greek embassy - the third such incident in a week. Last Thursday, an Italian anarchist group said it was responsible for parcel bombs that exploded at the Chilean and Swiss embassies in Rome, injuring two staff members. Italian police said the Greek embassy bomb was similar to the earlier devices.
In the Netherlands Friday, 12 men of Somali origin were detained in Rotterdam on suspicion of plotting terrorist-related offenses. Five were released without charge, and seven were detained for further investigation.
Earlier this month, a Swedish man of Iraqi origin blew himself up on a busy shopping street in Stockholm, the Swedish capital, slightly injuring several passersby.
Against that background, British police said, they moved quickly to prevent the British plot from getting off the ground.
"I have today advised the police that nine men should be charged with conspiracy to cause explosions and with engaging in conduct in preparation for acts of terrorism with the intention of either committing acts of terrorism, or assisting another to commit such acts," Sue Hemming, head of the Crown Prosecution Service Counter Terrorism Division, said in a statement.
Hemming said she was satisfied there was enough evidence "for a realistic prospect of conviction, and it is in the public interest that these men should be charged."
The suspects - two from London, three from the Welsh capital Cardiff and four from Stoke-on-Trent, a town in central England - continued to be held in custody following a hearing of the charges in a London court on Monday. They next appear in court on Jan. 14.
The suspects, some of whom were said to be of Bangladeshi origin, were accused of plotting an explosion "of a nature likely to endanger life or cause serious injury to property in the United Kingdom," between Oct. 1 and Nov. 20, the West Midlands police said in a statement.
Between Oct. 1 and Dec. 20, the day of the arrests, the suspects were preparing for acts of terrorism, "researching, discussing, carrying out reconnaissance on, and agreeing [to] potential targets;" as well as "igniting and testing incendiary material," the police statement said.
British media reports said the suspects, ages 19 to 28, were targeting British landmarks, including the Houses of Parliament, and reported that the plot was related to al-Qaeda. The British terror threat remained at the "severe" level, the second-highest of a five-level grading, where it has been unchanged since January.