A large-scale counterterrorism operation conducted by MI5, Britain’s security apparatus, along with Scotland Yard’s counterterrorism command and West Midlands local police, has resulted in the arrests of seven suspects on terror-related charges. The suspects, six men and one woman, all aged 22-32, are reported to be involved in Islamic extremism and to be British citizens of Pakistani descent.
The operation began Sunday night and lasted well into Monday morning, concentrating on the Moseley, Sparkbrook, Sparkhill, Ward End, and Balsall Heath areas of Birmingham. The six men are being held under Britain’s anti-terror legislation on “suspicion of the commission, preparation, or instigation, of an act of terrorism in the UK.” The woman is being held under Terrorism Act 2000 for failing to disclose information relating to the plot. All of the arrests were made by unarmed officers, indicating that the plot had not materialized to the phase where the suspects would be in possession of weapons or explosives.
Police are refraining from releasing any specific information relating to the plot or its intended target, but the British media have reported that the potential attack would inflict mass casualties on British soil and that the plot was al Qaeda-inspired.
From the West Midlands Assistant Chief Constable for Security, Marcus Beale:
I fully understand that after a counter terrorism operation of this size, the public will want to know more details about what we suspect may have been going on – and what has prompted us to take this action.
For us – once the key issue of public safety has been addressed – and it has been for this operation – the main thing is to do all we can to investigate the matter professionally, thoroughly and fairly.
And in fairness to the suspects – and to any judicial proceedings which may or may not follow – I am sure you can appreciate that this means that I cannot discuss the details of alleged offences in public.
However, I can tell you this was a large-scale operation led by the West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit. The operation has been running for some time and has been subject to regular review. As a result of one of those reviews yesterday we decided that the time was right and moved to make six arrests during the night, with a further one a few hours later. The arrests were made by unarmed officers. All were arrested from either home addresses or nearby. All are from the Birmingham area, and with the exception of the female arrested, all are under terrorism detention.
We worked hard from early this morning to inform communities in the vicinity of the relevant addresses, stakeholders and partners about the action police officers were taking – and the feedback we have received so far has been supportive. I would like to encourage that if anyone has any information or concerns about the arrests, they can in confidence contact the anti-terrorism hotline number on 0800 789321.
In terms of what happens now, we are continuing to search a total of 14 properties. Some computer equipment has already been removed and is being examined. As I’m sure you are aware, that this may take some time.
I would like to make two final points at this stage. Firstly can I ask that speculation about targets or the identity of suspects be kept to a minimum as this is neither fair to them or to any judicial process which may or may not follow.
And finally, I would like to say that the fact that these arrests have occurred whilst the Liberal Democrat Conference in Birmingham is taking place is a complete coincidence.