| Eleven-year-old Zeynab Hamid Taresh, who lost a leg and 17 members of her family during last year's war in Iraq, at a news conference in London. Taresh, in Britain to have an artificial leg fitted, urged the kidnappers of Briton Kenneth Bigley to release him. (Reuters)
London, Sept. 26: A banker 'originally from Goa' is among four men being questioned by police in London about their alleged attempts to buy radioactive material for a dirty bomb 'for use here in the UK or the USA'.
The four, victims of a sting operation mounted by the News of the World, were arrested by police at a hotel in north London after the paper had tipped off Scotland Yard.
Three of them were seize d in a 'pre-planned' operation by officers from the Metropolitan Police anti-terrorist branch at the Hilton Hotel in Brent Cross on Friday.
Three of the men were picked up at the Brent Cross Shopping Centre, while the fourth, probably the banker, was taken into custody at his north London home.
All four were arrested under section 41 of the Terrorism Act, on 'suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism'. A police spokesperson said: 'All four men have been taken into custody at a central London police station for further questioning. Several addresses have been searched. Some searches continue.'
The paper's investigation was done by Mazher Mahmood, a reporter known as the 'fake sheikh' because of his ability to fool people with his Arab dress. The paper sent Mahmood to dig out the dirt after receiving a tip-off that a Saudi sympathetic to 'the Muslim cause' was willing to pay '300,000 for a kilo of powerful, radioactive red mercury.
Red mercury is believed to have been produced by the Russians in their nuclear reactors during the Cold War by irradiating elemental mercury with mercury antimony oxide. The result is said to be a reddish, cheap, highly powerful radioactive material. A piece the size of a cricket ball could make a devastating dirty bomb.
However, the scientific community remains divided on whether red mercury actually exists as none of it has ever been recovered.
Mahmood had pretended to be a 'Muslim extremist' to win the confidence of the gang members. He says he was introduced to the banker and his assistants on a quiet Sunday afternoon at the Broadwalk shopping centre in Edgware, north London.
The banker ' 'originally from Goa and who has spent several years in West Asia' 'was nervous that anti-terrorist detectives might already have him under surveillance.
According to the paper's account, the banker and his assistant from Mozambique faced the reporter over drinks in a cafe. The banker, who has not been named by the paper, said: 'This has become so sensitive now with these terrorist attacks. I don't want to be seen with a guy with a long beard. Because you never know, now all of a sudden arrests are taking place, and especially when we are dealing with this thing...'
The second man then butted in, wanting to nail down their deadly business. He asked the journalist: 'It is the real stuff, is it' What quantity do you have, a kilo'
The banker ' married with two children ' then spoke of the red mercury buyer for the first time: 'It's a Middle Eastern chap in the Gulf. He'll pay '300,000 for a kilo.' He said the buyer was part of 'the Muslim cause'. The banker told Mahmood that the next step was to meet the gang leader ' the Somalian who would take the Red Mercury to the Saudi 'Mr Big'. The banker is alleged to have added: 'He wants it here. He knows what it is. He said it's used for making bombs and it's radioactive, so be very careful!'
The News of the World and especially Pakistani-origin Mahmood are famed for their sting operations.