Police arrest ten in anti-terror operation

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The Independent Online

Ten people were arrested yesterday in an anti-terror operation involving 400 police officers, after intelligence reports warned of plans for a possible attack.

Ten people were arrested yesterday in an anti-terror operation involving 400 police officers, after intelligence reports warned of plans for a possible attack.

The operation centred on Greater Manchester where seven of the ten, including a woman, were arrested. The three other men were arrested in Staffordshire, South Yorkshire and the West Midlands. All 10, described by police as North African and Iraqi Kurdish in origin, were held on suspicion of the "commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism". The significance of the arrests remained unclear last night. Sources in Manchester indicated that the raids followed intelligence reports of a possible attack on a high-profile place where many people congregrate - possibly a shopping area or a sports stadium. Other sources suggested those arrested may have been involved only in support activity.

The arrests came less than a month after eight men were detained during a series of raids across south-east England which led to the recovery of 600kg of ammonium nitrate fertiliser, which can be used in bomb making. They also came two weeks after Greater Manchester Police diverted 50 officers from normal duties to provide extra focus on the terror threat. Nearly half of those officers are working for Special Branch. Detailed surveys of land around Manchester airport are known to have been carried out recently to identify areas which could be used for the launch of missiles.

Any one of a number of venues in northern England could have been the potential target yielded by the new intelligence - including the central Manchester shopping area which was bombed by the IRA eight years ago.

But contrary to television news reports yesterday morning, observers say it is unlikely that the conurbation's Trafford Centre shopping mall - which has been the subject of many false claims relating to terror threats - was the target. The centre's 100-strong private security force has not increased in recent weeks.

Intelligence on the possible attack is believed to have materialised in the past two weeks from mobile phone communications monitored by the RAF Menwith Hill listening base in North Yorkshire, GCHQ and the US National Security Agency. Officers are now examining mobile phone records while they hold the 10 under the 2000 Anti-Terrorism Act.

The arrests followed 5.30am raids on several properties in Manchester, including the Dolphin takeaway restaurant in the city's student district.

The shutters were down on the shop window and brown curtains were drawn at the flat above as forensic science officers in protective clothing entered the premises. Six officers guarded the premises, where a blue M-registered Ford Mondeo was parked. No suspected explosives were taken away.

Local people said three Iraqi Kurd brothers, aged in their 20s and 30s, ran the takeway. "It's a surprise for me. I've been here for 18 months and I've known these people all this time as friends and neighbours. I've not seen anything unusual until this morning," said one man.

He said two of the brothers who ran the takeaway had arrived at the shop yesterday afternoon. "One of the brothers said he was the owner and the policeman took them round the side of the building. The brothers looked very shocked. As far as I know, it's the youngest brother that lives in the flat."

Assistant Chief Constable Dave Whatton of Greater Manchester Police, said the operation, which also involved the Metropolitan Police's anti-terrorist branch and the security services, were part of an "on-going operation related to the threat of terrorism".