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Spy plane hunts 'terror suspects'

London Telegraph | February 2, 2007
Nick Britten, Richard Alleyne and Nigel Bunyan

Police drafted in a spy plane and extra officers yesterday after it emerged that two suspected terrorists were still being sought.

They are said to be connected to the alleged plot to kidnap and behead a serving British Muslim soldier. Detectives were given another week to interview nine suspects already in custody.

Three appeared in Coventry magistrates' court amid high security whilst six remained at a nearby police station. A police source suggested none had yet been questioned after being arrested in Birmingham on Wednesday.

The suspects, British men of Pakistani descent, can be detained for a maximum of 28 days without charge. But the police must apply for extensions during that period, each time giving the judge an outline of the evidence and questions they want to put.

Eight of the men were arrested in pre-dawn raids and the ninth was picked up on a motorway later in the day. They are being held on suspicion of the "commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism" under the Terrorism Act 2000.

In the search for the two other men, a Britten-Norman Islander plane was flying above Birmingham yesterday. The aircraft can monitor computer and mobile telephone communications and long wave radios. The "spotter planes" are used to trace missing persons, escaped criminals and stolen cars and also for intelligence gathering. Other flights over the city were restricted to allow the plane access.

Specialists from the Operational Support Unit (OSU) in the West Midlands, which specialises in "sharp end" policing such as drug raids, were also drafted in.

Cordons remained up near the scenes of Wednesday's raids at Foxton Rd, Poplar Rd, Jackson Rd and outside the Blade internet cafe in Stratford Rd, which saw a large amount of police activity yesterday.

Police wearing body armour searched the cafe and removed several bags full of computer equipment.

The suspected victim, a 20-year-old soldier, remained in hiding under police guard.

The six-month surveillance operation into the alleged kidnapping ring is said to have cost £10 million and involved 250 police and MI5 officers. It was the first joint operation by the new West Midlands counter-terrorist unit, which involves police working with regional officers from the security service, MI5.

It is believed that they had hoped to keep the men under surveillance for longer to gather more intelligence but were forced to bring the operation forward amid fears of an attack. In the predominantly Muslim suburbs affected by the raid, called Operation Gamble, tensions were beginning to grow yesterday.

As police handed out 5,000 leaflets, translated into Punjabi, Hindi, Bengali and Urdu, in an attempt to keep a lid on simmering anxieties, community leaders attacked the police for "mishandling" the situation.

The leaflets said the force "want to reassure you that the police are not targeting communities or faiths but suspected criminals". Many remained unconvinced.

Chaudray Abdul Khaliq, chairman of Sparkhill community group, said: "The police have brought in so many officers.

"When people see this they think the police are doing it on purpose to Muslims."

Imran Ali, 34, from Alum Rock, said: "Everybody here is angered. There are a few extremists in this area but I cannot believe the men taken are guilty.

"They are respected members of our peaceful community."

A row broke out in Jackson Road after a white woman was heard shouting "terrorists" at Asian youngsters.

The situation was calmed by a local resident, Mohammed Shazad, who warned them not to retaliate.

"TerrorStorm is something that should be seen by everyone, no matter what their stance/affiliation/political bent. " - Rich Rosell, Digitally Obsessed UK
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