Terrorism arrests in Birmingham and at Gatwick Airport 'linked to attacks on Brussels and Paris'
Published 15/04/2016 | 15:23
Five people have been arrested by British anti-terror police as part of an operation with Belgian and French authorities following attacks in Europe.
Counter-terror officers in the West Midlands said they were working with MI5 and international partners to "address any associated threat to the UK" after militants struck in Brussels and Paris.
Whitehall sources described the arrests as “significant”.
Four people - three men aged 26, 40 and 59 and a 29-year-old woman - were arrested in Birmingham on Thursday night, while a 26-year-old man was arrested at Gatwick Airport early on Friday morning.
They were held on suspicion of being involved in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.
Assistant Chief Constable Marcus Beale, the head of counter-terrorism for the West Midlands, said: "This action forms part of an extensive investigation by West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit (WMCTU), together with the wider counter terrorism network, MI5 and international partners including Belgian and French authorities to address any associated threat to the UK following the attacks in Europe.
"The arrests were pre-planned and intelligence-led. There was no risk to the public at any time and there is no information to suggest an attack in the UK was being planned."
The five arrested people are being held in the West Midlands, where they are being questioned by officers.
Police are also searching several properties in the city as part of the investigation.
A key line of inquiry is whether the group is connected to Mohamed Abrini, a prime suspect in both the Brussels terror attacks last month and the November Paris atrocities.
Abrini is known to have visited contacts in Birmingham last year as well as visiting London and Manchester.
The British arrests came less than a week after Abrini himself was finally detained by Belgian police.
Abrini, who was known by the nickname Brioche because he once worked in a bakery, is believed to be the so-called “man in the hat” who was seen on CCTV with the two suicide bombers moments before the Brussels airport bombing.
It raises the prospect that the operation in Birmingham was a result of further details gleaned from evidence seized in Abrini’s arrest or from his questioning.
West Midlands Police were already investigating possible connections to the Paris cell after reports last year that one of them may have visited the city.
It was first reported to have been Paris mastermind Abdelhamid Abaaoud but it is now believed the connection was Abrini.
The focus on Abrini’s movements intensified after the Brussels attacks and it was feared the network may have also been plotting attacks on British soil.
The cell had "discussed launching attacks in Britain" as well as at the Euro 2016 football tournament in France, which begins in June.
Investigators managed to extract new information from a laptop discarded in a bin by Ibrahim El Bakraoui, one of the Brussels airport bombers.
The computer files showed the bomber discussed attacks in "other European countries" besides Belgium, starting with France. "Great Britain is also mentioned as a potential target," a European intelligence source said.
It was also reported that investigators obtained a taped conversation between Najim Laachraoui, the suspected bomb maker for the Paris and Brussels attacks, and a "foreign contact" in which Britain is also mentioned.