Britain arrests 6 in plotting terrorist attacks
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LONDON -- Police on Thursday arrested five men and a woman in London suspected of preparing terrorist strikes against targets in Britain.
Scotland Yard said in a brief statement that the suspects, between the ages of 18 and 30, were "part of a preplanned intelligence-led operation" that was "not linked" to the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games set to begin in the British capital late this month.
But in a sign of a country on edge as the Olympics approach, authorities in central England shut down a major highway for several hours, scrambled emergency vehicles and detained nearly 50 occupants of a bus after the driver reported "smoke" rising near one passenger. It turned out to be vapor from an electronic cigarette, police said.
In the London sweep, police searched eight homes in east, west and north London and one business premises in east London, according to the statement. One 24-year-old man arrested at a home was hit with a stun gun but not hospitalized, police said. Another suspect was arrested in the street in West London, officials said.
BBC and other media outlets reported that the arrests were in response to a possible plot involving Islamic extremists. According to the Guardian, three of those arrested were brothers from the east London area of Stratford, the main site of the Olympic Games.
Although the government security service MI5 said there is no immediate terror threat to Britain, the present official risk level is graded as substantial. That means a threat is not imminent, but a strong possibility. Security services across the country are on heightened alert in the run-up to the Olympics, which start July 27.
In a speech last month outlining preparations, MI5 chief Jonathan Evans said security forces are primed to forestall any sign of threats. "Investment in counterterrorism over recent years has worked," Mr. Evans said. "The U.K. counterterrorist machinery is identifying, disrupting and suppressing terrorism before it succeeds.
"There is no such thing as guaranteed security," he conceded, but said the Olympics will not be "an easy target. I think we shall see a successful and memorable Games this summer."
Revealing the state of security alertness, armed police and military personnel Thursday morning closed a major toll road about 120 miles northwest of London, causing traffic chaos on the M6 motorway, in what turned out to be a false alarm.
Scores of anti-terror personnel with about 20 ambulances, fire trucks and armed-response vans answered an emergency call from the driver of a bus en route to London, who stopped his vehicle and reported a passenger handling a smoking liquid. Fearing a chemical explosion, police stopped motorists from entering the toll road, a bypass that avoids the main free highways surrounding Birmingham, ordering them to shut windows and turn off air conditioners.
Passenger Jenny Lister told the BBC that, after a couple of hours waiting in the parked bus with no idea of what was going on, "we noticed there was armed police surrounding the coach, and we were asked to get off one by one, slowly, and they were aiming at us, and we had to walk slowly. Everyone was getting pretty scared."
Several hours later, authorities reopened the road after police in chemical suits and sniffer dogs had searched the bus and frisked the 48 passengers. After an initial statement that an investigation was ongoing, police said they were not treating the event as a "counterterrorism incident."
First Published July 6, 2012 1:09 am