LONDON Arrests of 17 men in England over the past few days netted several men planning attacks on U.S. targets in Europe or the financing of worldwide terror operations, according to the anti-terrorist units involved in the arrests.
At the same time British political leaders were seeking private assurances from Washington that British prisoners in or on their way to a detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, would not be sent back for trial in Britain.
If they were, they might have to be tried under a Treason Act passed so long ago 1351 that its use could lead to international ridicule.
Prime Minister Tony Blair is concerned that British courts, even applying stringent anti-terrorist legislation passed since September 11, would find the evidence against the men too flimsy, leading to embarrassing acquittals and the release onto British streets of people described by Mr. Blair as “very dangerous.”
Mr. Blair is also worried about the political fallout from photographs of some prisoners at Guantanamo, who were shown in British newspapers over the weekend kneeling, handcuffed, gagged and wearing blackened eyeglasses.
The Mail, a conservative newspaper, ran one of the pictures under the headline, “Tortured.”
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he had asked British officials at Guantanamo to “establish the circumstances in which these photographs were taken.” Three Britons are believed to be among the prisoners.
“The British government’s position is that prisoners regardless of their technical status should be treated humanely and in accordance with customary international law,” Mr. Straw said.
Washington insists the captives are being treated firmly but correctly. British parliamentarians are seeking a meeting with the U.S. ambassador to express their concerns.
Police meanwhile combed through eight homes in the city of Liecester, where there is a high concentration of Muslims from south Asia, and have made arrests in London in an ongoing dragnet. Those detained are reportedly connected with a suspected terrorist who has already been extradited to France.
Kamal Daoodi had been arrested for conspiracy to blow up the U.S. Embassy in France. Another detainee has told police in France that he and others had been recruiting in Leicester’s “Mosque of Piety,” which preaches radical Islam.
Two men held since September appeared last week behind a thick glass partition in a Liecester court on terrorism charges. Baghdad Meziane, 37, was accused of directing the al Qaeda network and of inciting others to terrorist activities.
Also charged was fellow Algerian Brahim Bermezouga, 30, who in addition to suspected membership in al Qaeda was said to have financed terrorism and to have possessed videos intended to stir racial hatred.
They were sent back to police cells to await trial. British security sources have leaked information that many of those detained were involved in forging credit cards to help finance terror operation in various world centers.
Police are still investigating claims by a former al Qaeda operative about a supposed plot to crash a plane into Britain’s Houses of Parliament.
They are also searching for what may be a sleeper cell in Britain whose existence was mentioned in a notebook found by British journalists in a padlocked compound in Kandahar, Afghanistan
In its 80 pages, written in English early last year with updated notes added, the presumed bomb maker describes details of detonator construction and weight and refers to addresses in the City of London.
Day by day the British connection to terror is being laid bare to the discomfort of the government, which is rapidly expanding agencies charged with dealing with the problem.