Four held after 'sting' uncovers alleged dirty bomb conspiracy

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The Independent Online

Four men have been arrested on suspicion of terrorist offences following a sting operation organised by a Sunday newspaper, police said last night.

Four men have been arrested on suspicion of terrorist offences following a sting operation organised by a Sunday newspaper, police said last night.

Three men were seized in a "pre-planned" operation by officers from the Metropolitan Police's anti-terrorist branch at a hotel in Brent Cross, north London on Friday. The fourth man was arrested later at his north London home.

The sting was set up after a News of the World reporter, posing as a "Muslim extremist", infiltrated a gang which was allegedly trying to buy radioactive material for an unnamed Saudi Arabian man.

The newspaper's investigations editor, Mazher Mahmood, went undercover after claiming to have received a tip-off that a Saudi sympathetic to "the Muslim cause" was willing to pay £300,000 for a kilogram of powerful, radioactive "Red Mercury". The chemical is said to have been developed by Soviet scientists for "briefcase nuclear bombs", but, said the newspaper, "scientists are divided over whether any actually exists".

The News of the World said: "We sent in our investigations editor Mazher Mahmood who, working undercover, convinced the gang he knew where to get hold of Red Mercury." Mahmood, known as "The Fake Sheikh" as he has often worn Saudi robes when working undercover, was allegedly told that the chemical would be used either "here in the UK or the USA".

A series of meetings were then held with the gang members including a merchant banker "who was on the look out for nuclear bomb-making material for a client in the Middle East", the newspaper claims. It called in Scotland Yard before the penultimate meeting. A final meeting was arranged at the Holiday Inn in Brent Cross on Friday. Police marksmen and surveillance teams surrounded the hotel and the gang was arrested.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: "Acting on information received from the News of the World on 24 September, officers from the Met's anti-terrorist branch arrested three men ... under section 41 of the Terrorism Act ... All four men have been taken into custody at a central London police station."

Mahmood has gained a high profile after a series of investigations. After his story on an alleged plot to kidnap Victoria Beckham and her sons in November 2002, five men were arrested. But it emerged the newspaper's informant, Florim Gashi, was paid £10,000 by the newspaper and the case against the alleged kidnappers collapsed.