Britain Arrests Nine Terror Suspects

Nine men allegedly involved in a kidnapping and murder plot have been arrested in England. Authorities have not released many details, but sources have reported that the plan was to kidnap, torture and behead a British Muslim soldier.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, in Guatemala, a moldering police archive may hold answers to haunting questions of life and death - a report from Xeni Jardin.

BRAND: First, another foiled terrorism plot in Britain. In Birmingham, police arrested nine men in an alleged kidnapping plot with bizarre overtones.

NPR's Rob Gifford joins us now from London. Hi, Rob.

ROB GIFFORD: Hi, Madeleine.

BRAND: Well, first of all, tell us how these arrests took place and what the men are suspected of?

GIFFORD: Well, what happened was, overnight, police swooped in on eight different venues, residential areas in the city of Birmingham and arrested eight different men and also four commercial properties, including a couple of Islamic bookshops. They arrested those eight men. And then later on in the day, they arrested a ninth man, who was driving on a freeway just outside Birmingham.

And as you say, they are not many details. The police have been very cagey and the details are very sketchy. They don't want to put too many details out there. But a number of sources have told news media here that this is very different from the sort of mass bombing that we saw 18 months ago in London, and that the suspicion is that these men were involved in some kind of kidnap plot to kidnap a British Muslim member of the armed forces and possibly to execute him Iraqi-style - as has been done recently in Iraq - on a video, and to put that on the Internet. But the police have been very cautious, and they haven't confirmed or denied those reports.

BRAND: And there's just been a news conference. Have they said anything about who this victim may have - or suspected victim - may have been?

GIFFORD: Nothing at all. And they're playing their cards very close to their chest. They've spoken of a very dynamic, fluid operation that is still going on and is by no means finished. Those were the words of the assistant chief constable of the West Midlands Police. They have suggested that they've talked about what they're doing in the Muslim community. That's obviously a very sensitive thing that's been going on here over the last 18 months since the July 7th bombings.

And the assistant chief constable talked about how the police have really been trying to get out into the community and proactively, to try and defuse some of the tensions out there because it's believed that all nine of these men are from the Muslim community of Birmingham.

BRAND: Well, tell more about the relations between the Muslim community and the police in Britain. What's going on?

GIFFORD: Well, that really is the crucial issue here. And there was an arrest last year not unlike today's arrest in an area called Forest Gate in London, when a Muslim man was shot by the police. He was not killed. He was badly injured. And it turned out that he had absolutely nothing whatever to do with terrorism or crime of any sort.

So that really inflamed the Muslim community. And that's why the police have now, today, been going so far as to print out leaflets - going door to door in all sorts of different languages from Pakistan and India for the immigrant community to explain what they're doing, to try to defuse some of these tensions in advance.

BRAND: All right, NPR's Rob Gifford in London. Thank you very much.

GIFFORD: Thanks very much, Madeleine.

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