| Policemen search bins in Birmingham. (AP)
Birmingham, Jan. 31 (Reuters): Police in central England arrested nine people in a major security swoop today which a defence source said involved a plot to kidnap and possibly kill a Muslim British soldier.
Detectives said eight suspected conspirators were arrested in dawn raids across the city of Birmingham on “suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism”. A ninth suspect was arrested later on a nearby motorway.
Twelve addresses in Birmingham, one of Britain’s most ethnically diverse city with a large Muslim population, were sealed off by uniformed officers and searched.
“This remains a dynamic, fluid operation and it is by no means finished,” said assistant chief constable David Shaw of West Midlands police. “We are literally right at the foothills of what is a very, very major investigation for us.”
Britain has been on its second highest alert level since four Britons killed 52 people on London’s transport system in July 2005 in Western Europe’s first Islamist suicide bombings.
Experts said the suspected plot was a departure from the mass-fatality attacks on transport networks and showed Britain was on the frontline of al Qaida-style attacks.
“It certainly seems to confirm Britain is particularly vulnerable to al Qaida-style attacks because of the historic links to Pakistan and the Pakistani community here,” said Shane Brighton, a terrorism expert at Chatham House.
“The suggestion is that there is a higher level of risk in the UK from those Pakistani-linked groups than there is elsewhere in Europe. We may well be on the forefront of this.”
Media reports, citing unnamed sources, said police and domestic spy service MI5 had stopped a major terrorist plot in the latter stages of planning, or near fruition.
Sky TV quoted sources as saying the intent was to mimic the abductions and beheadings of westerners carried out by Iraqi militants and post a video of the act on the Web.
A defence source confirmed the suspected target was a Muslim serving in the British military. The police said the plot would not have caused mass casualties, but would have involved a new terrorism tactic.