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Britain Arrests 13 Suspected of Plotting Terrorist Acts

Police conduct raids around England. Home Office says no specific threat had been made.

August 04, 2004|Janet Stobart | Times Staff Writer

LONDON — Police arrested 13 men across the country Tuesday night as part of Britain's battle against terrorism.

The men are suspected of involvement in "the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism," according to Scotland Yard. Under Britain's Terrorism Act of 2000, police can hold terrorism suspects up to a week before charging them.

The statement described the arrests, in northwest London and in southeastern and northern England, as "part of a preplanned, ongoing intelligence-led operation" conducted by anti-terrorist officers.

It said the officers were supported by police from the counties of Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire in southeastern England and Lancashire in the north.

Press and television reports said police also searched properties in London, Luton and Bushey in the south, and Blackburn in the north.

A witness, Ruth Lazell of Blackburn, told the BBC that she "heard a man shouting and went outside to see what was going on." A policeman told her to go back into her house, she said.

She later saw officers force a man to the ground and pull another man from a gold Mercedes-Benz and handcuff him, she said.

Forensic officers examined the car, another bystander said.

Another witness told reporters that she saw several officers, some in flak jackets, as well as men wearing white paper suits, their hands and feet covered in plastic bags, who were driven away by police.

The suspects, who police said were in their 20s and 30s, were being held in a central London police station for interrogation by anti-terrorism officers.

Police said the operation was "part of continuing and extensive inquiries by police and the Security Service into alleged international terrorism."

More than 570 people have been arrested under the Terrorism Act since September 2001, according to a parliamentary report by Home Secretary David Blunkett. The report said 97 of those arrested had been charged and 14 convicted.

Earlier Tuesday, Prime Minister Tony Blair came under pressure from the opposition Conservatives to clarify the terrorist threat to Britain. The demand came after a security alert in the United States this week and after documents seized from computer files of an Al Qaeda suspect arrested in Pakistan revealed potential targets.

The British Home Office said there had been no specific threat, but it called the threat of terrorism in Britain "real and serious," the BBC reported Tuesday.

Last week, the government launched a $15-million campaign to raise public awareness and help prepare for terrorism emergencies, particularly in major cities.

Distribution of pamphlets offering advice and TV and radio advertisement campaigns began Monday.

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