Britain Arrests 8 Pakistanis in Connection to Bombing Plot
Over Half a Ton of Ammonium Nitrate Fertilizer Found Near Heathrow
By Glenn Frankel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, March 30, 2004; 1:46 PM
LONDON, March 30 -- Police arrested eight men of Pakistani origin
early Tuesday morning and seized more than half a ton of potential
explosives from a self-storage container less than five miles from
Heathrow international airport.
In what officials described as the largest anti-terrorist operation
here since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington,
more than 700 police and officers of the MI5 internal security service
raided 24 homes and business premises in a ring of London suburbs and
nearby areas. The eight men arrested, who range in age from 17 to 32
and are all British citizens, were taken for questioning Tuesday
evening at two high-security police stations and held on suspicion of
being involved in terrorism, according to a senior police official.
This city has been on alert since the Madrid train bombings on March
11 in which about 190 people were killed and hundreds more injured.
The police official, Peter Clarke, head of Scotland Yard's
anti-terrorist branch, told a press conference there was no connection
between Tuesday's operation and the Madrid attacks, but he would not
disclose what if any specific locations investigators believe might
have been targeted.
One of those arrested, an 18-year-old man, was picked up at a hotel
room at a Holiday Inn at Gatwick Airport, just south of the city.
Police discovered ammonium nitrate fertilizer in a large plastic
storage bag in a self-service facility in Hanwell in west London, less
than a mile from the M4 motorway, about a 15-minute drive from
Heathrow. They did not disclose whether they had found other
materials, such as dynamite or triggers that would be needed to set
off the fertilizer, which was the major ingredient in several
high-profile car bombings, including the World Trade Center bombing in
New York in 1993, the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 and the attack on
the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1998.
The fertilizer was also used in a series of 1996 bombings by the Irish
Republican Army in central London and the city of Manchester.
Clarke insisted that police were not singling out Muslims for
suspicion. "As we have said on many occasions in the past, we in the
police service know that the overwhelming majority of the Muslim
community are law abiding and completely reject all forms of
***," he told reporters. "We have a responsibility to all
communities to investigate suspected terrorist activity."
Britain has been the chief ally of the United States in President
Bush's declared war on terrorism, and officials from Prime Minister
Tony Blair on down have long warned that the country ranks high on the
target list of the al Qaeda network of Islamic radicals. David
Blunkett, the cabinet secretary who oversees police affairs, said in a
statement that the raids were "a timely reminder that the [United
Kingdom] and its interests abroad remain a target."
"We have always been clear with the people in the U.K. that we face a
real and serious threat and have never disguised the fact that this
threat could manifest itself in any number of ways," said Blunkett.
A senior Muslim community leader warned that the arrests did not
necessarily mean police had uncovered a genuine terrorist plot. Iqbal
Secranie, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, noted
that police had arrested more than 500 people on suspicion of
terrorism between Sept. 11, 2001, and the end of December, yet so far
only five had been convicted of a terrorist offense.
"In light of what we know, we'd call for caution from all sides," said
Secranie in a statement, adding if those arrested Tuesday were
eventually convicted of terrorism, "there will be no sympathy for them
from the Muslim community."
? 2004 The Washington Post Company