Al-Qa'ida Christmas bomb plot foiled in London
Published 21/12/2010 | 05:00
An al-Qa'ida plot to target Christmas shoppers with a wave of suicide bomb attacks in London was foiled by a series of raids across the UK yesterday.
Twelve men were arrested in Cardiff, Stoke-on-Trent, Birmingham and London following intelligence that a terrorist cell was at an advanced stage of planning co-ordinated attacks on shops, banks and "iconic targets" in the British capital
The dawn raids followed months of surveillance by MI5. Police moved in when intercepted communications suggested that the bombers were ready to act.
Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner John Yates, the UK's most senior counter-terrorism officer, said the raids had been "absolutely necessary" to keep the public safe.
The cell was said to have been made up of young British men of largely Bangladeshi origin who were influenced by al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula and the preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, who is based in Yemen.
The investigation focused on radicals in Stoke-on-Trent who were associated with the banned group al-Muhajiroun, and others in Cardiff and London. Plans for the arrests were drawn up last Friday and police moved in in the early hours of yesterday.
Mr Yates said the operation was "intelligence-led" and the men were arrested on suspicion of the commission, preparation and instigation of acts of terrorism.
Theresa May, Britain's home secretary, was told about the intended raids last week. She said police were still at an "early stage of what could be a complex and lengthy investigation".
She added: "We know we face a real and serious threat from terrorism and I would like to thank the police and security service for working to keep our country safe."
Those arrested included men from Stoke using the pseudonyms Abu Saif (19); Abu Bosher (26); and Abu Sumayyah (25), a Muslim convert.
Another 26-year-old man from Stoke was among those held, along with five men aged 28, 26, 25, 23 and 24 in Cardiff, and three men, aged 17, 28 and 20 in London.
Some had protested in favour of Islam4UK, a successor organisation to al-Muhajiroun, now also banned, which planned a march through Wootton Bassett against the British troops in Afghanistan.
In Cobridge, Stoke, one of those arrested was alleged by neighbours to have distributed extremist material. The man, who lived alone in a small terraced house, was said to be one of several young Muslims who picketed mosques and stood on street corners handing out leaflets promoting holy war.
Also in Cobridge, four terraced houses were raided in Grove Street, all belonging to the same family. Neighbours said the head of the family was a taxi driver and lived in an end-terrace house while his children lived in the other houses.
Wendy Bird, who lives in the street, said: "They are a very nice family, the dad always says hello, he's very polite."
In Shelton, Stoke, a large, town house was empty yesterday after being raided. Neighbours said the family who lived there was well regarded and had not caused trouble before. The father was a former taxi driver with several children, they said.
In Tunstall, Stoke, neighbours said an Asian man in his mid-20s moved in to the terrace bungalow four months ago. Peter Lewis said: "He has never spoken to anyone. He has a lot of people coming and going in the early hours of the morning and you can often hear religious chanting and singing coming from the house."
Three of suspects were arrested in a three-storey terrace in the Riverside area of Cardiff. Officers carried out a thorough search of the seven-bedroom property and were reported to have seized a Mercedes car.
Sources in Iraq have claimed that captured insurgents had said al-Qa'ida was planning a wave of attacks over Christmas, and that the suicide bombing in Stockholm earlier this month was the first. (© Daily Telegraph, London)