Arrested terror suspects 'were targeting shoppers'

A dozen men, mostly Britons of Bangladeshi origin, were arrested yesterday in connection with an alleged plot to carry out synchronised bombings in British cities.

The suspects were held in 5am raids in London, Stoke-on-Trent, Birmingham and Cardiff, after having been tracked meeting each other in different parts of the country. The arrests were made after information was received that the alleged plotters had brought forward their intended attacks and planned to strike crowded shopping streets in the days before Christmas. It is the first time that an alleged terrorist plot has been discovered involving several people of Bangladeshi origin. Aspiring jihadists have been training in Bangladesh after greater scrutiny was introduced for those travelling to Pakistan.

Security sources claimed that the arrests were unconnected with the Stockholm suicide bombing or with intelligence from Pakistan of impending "Mumbai-type" attacks.

Scotland Yard Assistant Commissioner John Yates said that based on the information held by the police, the arrests were essential for public safety. He said: "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."

All the suspects were aged between 17 and 28 and five of them were of Bangladeshi origin. Mr Yates said the operation to search their homes could take days to complete.

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 20s at about 4.45am. One neighbour told how he feared he was being burgled when police smashed their way into the 1970s terrace. The man, who was in his 60s, recalled: "I could hear people's voices, male voices, and then a crashing noise. I thought somebody was breaking in."