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Islamists targetted three Muslim soldiers for kidnap and beheadings while home on leave in UK

February 1, 2007,20867,21157101-2703,00.html

Three on list for kidnap, beheading
Daniel McGrory and Stewart Tendler

MUSLIMS serving in Britain's armed forces, and as civil servants and police, are new targets for Islamists in Britain after detectives foiled an alleged plot to kidnapand behead a soldier home on leave from Iraq.

Security sources said yesterday that a gang of British extremists had drawn up a hitlist of Muslim soldiers who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan to become the first victims in Britain of an al-Qa'ida-style "online" kidnap and beheading.

The terror suspects are believed to have narrowed their choice to a short list of three men to be captured while they were home on leave.

Yesterday, one of the soldiers was understood to be in protective custody after a six-month intelligence operation culminated in a series of pre-dawn raids in Birmingham involving 700 police.

Senior officers said the alleged plan was to force the soldier, under torture, to denounce his role in the military and then behead him on camera.

Like Ken Bigley, the British contractor murdered after being seized in Baghdad in September 2004, the hostage was to have been paraded in an orange boiler suit like the uniforms worn by prisoners at the US's Guantanamo Bay base in Cuba.

The plan was to have been carried out within 72 hours, because the plotters knew the kidnapping would result in an intensive police search, security sources said.

The intention was to announce the precise time of the killing, film the execution and then post it on an extremist website with a warning that other British Muslim "collaborators" would face a similar fate for taking part in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One investigator said Muslims would have been given the clear message: "Don't go out and kill your brothers."

The British army recently launched a recruiting drive in the West Midlands for young male and female Muslims.

The group of extremists allegedly spent months compiling a list of Muslims as potential targets. One they are said to have picked is believed to live close to a number of the raided homes.

As well as servicemen, police believe the kidnappers were planning to abduct Muslim civil servants and others perceived as working for the British military machine. This would have been the first terrorist kidnap and execution in the West.

Experts regard this as a sign that British Muslim militants may be adopting methods more extreme than those in the Middle East. Al-Qa'ida's leaders in Iraq called a halt to filmed beheadings because they alienated many Muslims.

Counter-terrorist investigators are concerned that such a plot could indicate increasing sophistication among extremists. The suspected plotters may have believed that kidnappings posed fewer risks than trying to mount bomb attacks, because the purchase of large amounts of material risked alerting police.

It is understood senior officers decided to make their move after a number of the alleged kidnappers appeared to be gearing themselves up to strike. One officer said: "This was a terrifying plot, which was close to fruition."

Eight suspects were arrested at their homes in Birmingham. A ninth was picked up on a motorway on his way into the city in the afternoon. Most of the suspects were born in Britain; all are of Pakistani origin and under 35.

Police are investigating possible links to terror training camps run by al-Qa'ida in Pakistan. The investigation, codenamed Operation Gamble, began with intelligence in Britain and abroad.

MI5 and officers from every police force in the country have been involved in six months of intelligence and surveillance. The suspects are believed to have travelled round the country staking out potential victims. Several others believed to be involved in the group are still abroad.

Eight homes and four commercial premises, including two bookshops, a cyber cafe and a general store, were raided.


Killing a hostage simpler and more sinister than bombs

clear">Al-Qa'ida's new propaganda plot was designed to terrify Britain, write Russell Jenkins and Daniel McGrory


clear">February 02, 2007

NOT long back from his six-month tour in Iraq, the young Muslim soldier was puzzled when police called at his family home in Birmingham. What they had to say left him speechless with disbelief.

Officers described how a gang from his home town was allegedly plotting to abduct the soldier, aged in his 20s, and then force him on film to "apologise" for what he had done in Iraq.

After this propaganda coup, the gang intended to video themselves executing their hostage. His murder would be seen worldwide on the internet as a warning to other British Muslims regarded by the kidnappers as "traitors".

According to security sources, he was not the only soldier being targeted. At least one other Iraq veteran was given the same warning that he was to be the first hostage in the West to be kidnapped and killed by Islamic extremists.

For the past six months, every police force in the country, backed by the intelligence services and foreign security agencies, has been involved in uncovering what, if proved, would be the most extraordinary terror plot yet uncovered in Britain.

Known as Operation Gamble, the focuses of their attention were a dozen men, most of them British-born, and from a corner of south Birmingham known locally as Muslim Central. All of them were of Pakistani heritage.

Some had apparently followed the well-trodden path of travelling to Pakistan, where they were put in touch with extremist groups that could offer their own brand of terror training. Al-Qa'ida and its affiliates needed some new tactic to terrify their enemies in Britain.

The July 7, 2005, attacks on the London transport system had seen the first homegrown suicide bombers to strike in the West.

Subsequent bomb plots were foiled, not least because the police got wise to would-be terrorists trying to buy the materials they needed for bombs.

Kidnapping a British Muslim was seen as simpler and far more sinister. There were plenty of websites instructing new recruits on how to stalk then seize their victim. These sites stressed the need for publicity.

One password-protected al-Qa'ida-affiliated forum posted in June last year said: "It is preferable if you photograph or video the operation so that it can have a bigger set of viewers and can be used by the media."

It also advised that a large cell was not required and that anyone who could handle a camcorder could produce what experts have come to call "the theatre of terror".

Will Geddes, head of the security firm ICP Group, said this alleged plot bore the hallmarks of a training document known as the al-Battar manual, which was intercepted in 2005.

"It was then translated and showed to be a guide to how small terror groups should go about recognising targets, seizing hostages, holding them and then executing them," he said.

"It is now known that these books were distributed to many groups associated with al-Qa'ida."

A senior security official said: "This plot appealed to the extremists for several reasons. We can't give personal protection to every one of the 300 or so Muslims who are in the services, so it leaves them vulnerable.

"It also embarrasses the Government that this operation is a direct consequence of the war in Iraq.

"It will also spread panic among other Muslims working for the Government in any way connected to military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan that they could be at risk."

Operation Gamble was to be the first real test for an elite group of counter-terrorist detectives based in the West Midlands - one of four units set up around the country after the July 7 bombings. Homes, businesses, bookshops and cars were bugged and the alleged conspirators were tailed.

Police knew that they dare not let the alleged gang kidnap their victims, but officers had to gather as much evidence as they could about this "Baghdad-style" hostage-taking.

Prime Minister Tony Blair was briefed about the plot, as was Home Secretary John Reid.

A warning was given to police chiefs that at least some of the group were becoming increasingly agitated. They were reportedly arguing among themselves about when to strike, and police decided to act.

Just before 4am on Wednesday, London time (3pm AEDT), more than 700 officers, some of them armed, were involved in the synchronised sweep of eight homes and four businesses.

There was a sense of shock in the Pakistani and Kashmiri community as word spread that one of those arrested was Amjad Mahmood, 29, a well-known figure behind the counter of his grocery store. A second man was understood to be the 38-year-old owner of a pizza takeaway store, whose family had arrived from Kashmir 20 years ago.

Police raided Mr Mahmood's terraced home only yards from Khan's general store, which advertises English and continental groceries, but serves the local Asian populace. Mr Mahmood's brother, Ziah Khan, protested his brother's innocence, describing him as a hard-working small-businessman whose life revolved around the shop. He has two sons, aged three and seven.

Mr Khan described the moment when officers arrived. "About eight of them went around the back of the house. All I could hear was screaming. The little boys were shouting, 'Please don't take our father', over and over. They must have been petrified."

Shamir Hussain, who runs the Ludlow Road mosque, where the family worships, also spoke of Mr Mahmood as a "peaceful, happy man". "I know his father well," he said. "He attends the mosque, but his son is not really religious. The family originate from Pakistan and have been in Britain for some 20 years. When you go into the shop, they are always smiling and always very friendly people."

Officers later stood guard outside a grimy terraced house in Asquith Road. Neighbours described how officers drew up in three vans shortly after 5am. "They knocked through the door and took away an Asian man in his 20s," a neighbour said.

Police moved swiftly to quell growing resentment of what Asian residents regarded as heavy-handed policing. They have distributed 5000 leaflets to explain their actions.

Senior officers contacted Muslim religious and political leaders as soon as they could.

Sensitive to criticism of previous arrests under the Terrorism Act, when large numbers have been rounded up only to be released without charge, the police needed to assure locals this was a credible plot.

Mr Hussain said: "People are asking, 'How can something like this happen? What has gone wrong?' No one any more can trust their own children. People are very worried.

"They ask, 'Where is my son going and what are they doing?', which is all very damaging for our society. For the first time, I feel worried.

"Nothing like this has happened before on my doorstep. It is tearing families apart. It creates distrust when you have to challenge your own son and say to him: 'Where are you? What are you doing tonight and what are you watching on the internet?"'

Yesterday, the main targets of the alleged kidnappers were in protective custody with their immediate families. Police have not said how long they will have to remain so.

The Times

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