20 Dec 2010

Anti-terror raids: 12 arrested in major police operation

Home Affairs Correspondent

Twelve men have been arrested in a major anti-terrorism operation in Cardiff, Stoke-on-Trent and London. Midlands Correspondent Darshna Soni says the arrests in Stoke were “low-key”.

The men were detained on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism in the UK.

The suspects, aged between 17 and 28, were detained by unarmed officers at approximately 5am.

West Midlands Police said in a statement: “All were arrested at or near their home addresses, with the exception of one suspect from Stoke who was at a domestic property in Birmingham.

“Searches are now being conducted at the home addresses, plus the address in Birmingham and another residence in London. The suspects will be held at police stations in central London, the North West and the West Midlands.”

I believe it was necessary at this time to take action in order to ensure public safety. Met Police Assistant Commissioner John Yates

The operation is being led by Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stuart Osborne, the Senior National Co-ordinator Terrorist Investigations, and is being coordinated from the West Midlands Counter-Terrorism Unit.

'Low-key' operation in Stoke
The operation in Stoke has been very low-key, writes Chanel 4 News Midlands Correspondent Darshna Soni.

There are no police cordons around the houses and reporters are free to knock on the front doors. I understand that no armed officers were involved in any of the raids and this may suggest something about the nature of the perceived threat.

The police say this operation was pre-planned and intelligence-led. But locally, there is a lot of scepticism and many of those I have spoken to say they don't know what to believe. There have been terror arrests before in Stoke, but no charges were brought.

"It will probably all come to nothing again," one man told me.

It also involves the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command, South Wales Police and Staffordshire Police, a spokesman said.

Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner John Yates, national lead for counter-terrorism policing, said: “This is a large scale, pre-planned and intelligence-led operation involving several forces. The operation is in its early stages so we are unable to go into detail at this time about the suspected offences.

“However, I believe it was necessary at this time to take action in order to ensure public safety.”

Twelve men have been arrested in an anti-terror operation (Reuters)

UK terror threat ‘severe

The arrests come after intelligence agencies in Europe, Pakistan and the US intercepted a credible Islamic plot to launch raids on European cities, in a similar style to the attacks in Mumbai, India, two years ago.

More than 170 people were killed during a 24-hour co-ordinated attack on Mumbai, also known as Bombay, by 10 gunmen in November 2008. It has been blamed on Pakistani militants.

The planned attack in September would reportedly have been similar to the deadly commando-style raids in Mumbai, with other European cities, in France and Germany, also targeted.

It led Home Secretary Theresa May to back a warning by the United States for its citizens to be vigilant when visiting Europe.

Mrs May said the message was “consistent” with the UK’s view of the threat that existed. She also urged the British public to report any suspicious activity as police and security services try to disrupt terrorist activity.

Advice issued by the State Department in the US stopped short of recommending that citizens stay away from high-profile sites in Europe, but noted in particular “the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure”.

The UK’s terror threat rating remains at “severe”, the second highest rating, meaning a terrorist attack is highly likely.

Since the 9/11 terror attacks in the US nine years ago, al-Qaeda is believed to have moved outside Afghanistan and Pakistan to other countries such as Somalia and Yemen.

Intelligence officials in Washington said a recent surge of missile strikes by unmanned US drones in Pakistan were aimed at disrupting suspected terrorist plots targeting Europe.

But it is not known whether the drone attacks were related specifically to the plot that European authorities said they had intercepted.