Nine nabbed in Britain on terror charges
BIRMINGHAM, England (AP) — Counterterrorism police arrested nine men in an alleged kidnapping plot Wednesday – a plan that reportedly involved torturing and beheading a British Muslim soldier and broadcasting the killing on the Internet.
The kidnapping plot was the first of its kind to be uncovered in Britain, according to counterterrorism officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.
Police would not confirm the potential victim’s occupation or details of the plot that was unraveled in the predominantly Pakistani neighborhood in central England. A dozen houses and two Islamic bookshops were cordoned off and being searched.
Since suicide bombers killed 52 people in London on July 7, 2005 – killings carried out by Muslim extremists who grew up in Britain – counterterrorism units have conducted several raids across Britain. Several sweeps have been conducted in Birmingham, including a raid in August, when suspects were arrested in a major plot to use liquid explosives to blow up at least 10 planes between the United States and Britain.
The potential victim of the latest plot – a British Muslim soldier – was under police protection, Sky News reported, saying the kidnapping was going to end in an “Iraq-style” execution. The British Broadcasting Corp. also reported that the plan was to kidnap a soldier.
“The threat of terrorism has been growing over the years,” said David Shaw, a police spokesman in Birmingham. The operation took months.
Birmingham is the hometown of Britain’s first Muslim soldier to be killed in Afghanistan last year – a death that prompted militant Islamist Web sites to denounce Cpl. Jabron Hashmi, 24, as a traitor. One site – that of extremist British sect al-Ghurabaa – posted an image of the soldier surrounded by flames.
Last year, a London street vendor was sentenced to six years in prison in a plot to kill a decorated British soldier. Abu Baker Mansha was accused of targeting Cpl. Mark Byles, whose address and other materials, were found in Mansha’s apartment.
Byles was awarded a military cross for bravery following an attack in which several Iraqi insurgents were killed – exploits covered by British newspapers. One of the articles with Byles’ name was circled and found in Mansha’s apartment.
The Defense Ministry said 330 Muslims are serving in the British armed forces. It would not comment on reports that the intended victim was a soldier.
Dozens of people have been kidnapped in Iraq, and captors have often broadcast their pictures on the Internet.
One widely publicized kidnap-slaying was that of 62-year-old Kenneth Bigley from Liverpool. He was abducted from a Baghdad suburb where he was working in September 2004 and beheaded three weeks later. His death was captured on video.
“People don’t trust their own children any more,” said Shabir Hussain, chairman of the Ludlow Road Mosque in Birmingham. “You feel like you should challenge your son or daughter: `Where are you going at night? What are you watching on TV? What are you doing on the Internet?’
In a raid last year in London, a man was shot by police, sparking complaints from Muslim communities across the country.
“The police and government seem to be against Muslims and are trying to turn us against one another,” said Kadir Mohammad, 18, who lives in one of the raided neighborhoods.
Britain’s MI5 has said it set up a network of eight new regional offices across the country in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, including a center in the West Midlands.
The service had previously had regional branches in Northern Ireland, but uses the new offices to liaise with police in counterterrorism work.
Prime Minister Tony Blair’s official spokesman declined to comment on the police operation.
Sky TV reported that British investigators contacted Pakistani intelligence agents four days ago about the plot. The Foreign Office would not confirm there were such discussions.
In Islamabad, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said, “The British authorities have confirmed to us that there is no Pakistan connection.” She gave no other details on the contact between authorities in the two countries.