12 held in anti-terror swoop

A dozen men, most of them Britons of Bangladeshi origin, were arrested today in connection with an alleged plot to carry out synchonised bombings in a number of British cities.

The suspects were held in raids just after 5am at London, Stoke-on-Trent, Birmingham and Cardiff after months of surveillance by MI5 and police during which they had been tracked meeting each other in different parts of the country.

The decision to carry out the arrests was taken after information was received that the alleged plotters had brought forward intended attacks and planned to strike in crowded areas, like shopping streets, in the days before Christmas.

Security sources claimed that the arrests were unconnected with the suicide bombing carried out in the Swedish capital, Stockholm, by Taimur Abdulwahab al-Abdaly, who had been living in Luton. There were also no links, they said, with intelligence coming from Pakistan of impending “Mumbai-type” attacks in western Europe.

This was, however, the first time that an alleged terrorist plot has been discovered with a large number of people of Bangladeshi origin involved. The intelligence services say that groups of aspiring jihadists have been going to Bangladesh for training after greater scrutiny on those travelling to Pakistsan.

Further arrests are expected to follow. Scotland Yard Assistant Commissioner John Yates said “"We are also searching a large number of premises and I expect that these searches will take some time to complete. "The operation is in its early stages so I am unable to go into any detail at this time as I do not wish to say anything that may prejudice any future legal proceedings. However, what I would say is that with the current threat level in the UK at severe and with the information we have, I believe today's arrests were absolutely necessary in order to keep the public safe.”

Home Secretary Theresa May said "For obvious reasons it is not appropriate for me to comment further at this early stage of what could be a complex and lengthy investigation. We know we face a real and serious threat from terrorism and I would like to thank the police and security service for working to keep our country safe."

Residents in Rialto Place, Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent, said police raided the home of man aged in his mid-20s at about 4.45am. One neighbour, who asked not to be identified, told how he feared he was being burgled when police smashed their way into the 1970s terrace.

The woman, aged in his 60s, recalled: "I could hear people's voices, male voices, and then a crashing noise. I thought somebody was breaking in." Local people said the three-bedroomed house had been occupied by an Asian family who moved out around three months ago. A man of Asian appearance then moved into the property, where he was said to be visited regularly by other men in the early hours.

A woman living nearby said the man wore Islamic-style robes and was often seen outside the house talking on a mobile phone. "He had visitors a lot at night but he never spoke to anyone to say hello," she said.