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Britons captured in Afghanistan may have targeted UK troops

Two Britons believed to be of Pakistani origin were being questioned in Helmand last night after being captured by the SAS in a raid in western Afghanistan. It is claimed that the two – a man and a woman – may have arrived in the country to carry out attacks against British targets on behalf of the Taliban.

The pair were arrested at a hotel in Herat after being tracked by the intelligence services, which had been monitoring the activities of about a dozen British Muslims who had been travelling to Afghanistan with increasing frequency.

It is believed that the two, who were born in Pakistan and hold dual nationality, may have been temporarily "lost" by those tracking them after recently leaving the UK. They had arrived in Afghanistan via a third country and the decision to activate the Special Forces came after information was received from Afghan officials that they had booked into the Herat hotel.

The arrests were carried out days before the security control of Lashkar Gah, the Helmand provincial capital and the centre of UK operations in the country, was handed over to the government of Hamid Karzai after being deemed to be one of the safest parts of the country. Herat, too, was "transitioned" to Afghan control yesterday, part of the West's exit strategy from the war.

Security officials refused to comment on whether the two Britons were involved in planning attacks against British forces in Helmand. There were unverified reports that the Britons had planned to travel to the Afghan capital, Kabul, and also that they had been in contact with Iranian nationals.

They were flown to Camp Bastion, the huge British base now shared with the Americans, which was built in 2006 after the deployment to Helmand. Officials of the National Directorate of Security said the targets the two may have been considering were specifically British rather than linked to the Afghan government, although they could not provide further details.