- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 4, 2006

LONDON — A raid on an East London house where anti-terrorism police shot and wounded a man was prompted by fears that a suspect had built a bomb designed to release a cloud of toxic chemicals, police said yesterday.

Officers, many in protective clothing, continued a detailed search of the row house where two brothers were detained Friday, police said. Police also searched the workplaces of the two Muslim men yesterday.

“We don’t know yet if there is a device, but it is the focus of our searches and of the intelligence we had,” said a police official, who agreed to discuss the case only if not quoted by name because of the sensitivity of the operation. “Intelligence indicated it may have a chemical component, possibly involving a toxic gas.”

The London Sunday Telegraph, citing police and intelligence sources, reported that MI5 domestic intelligence agents suspect that terrorists intended to produce a nerve agent — probably sarin — and release it in a closed space such as in an underground train in an attack similar to the one that killed 12 persons and affected more than 5,000 on the Tokyo subway in 1995.

The plot, the newspaper’s report said, would be timed to be on or close to the anniversary of the suicide bombings last year on the London transport system that killed 52, plus the four bombers, on July 7.

The police official said the two arrested men had criminal records, but had not been previously investigated by anti-terrorism officials. Neither brother was believed to have links to last year’s bombings, the official said.

Attorneys for both men said their clients denied involvement in terrorist activities.

Police have declined to release details about the men, but their attorneys and neighbors in their ethnically mixed neighborhood described them as British-born Muslims and brothers.

A judge gave police authority to hold the men for questioning until Wednesday. Authorities then could apply for an extension.

A 23-year-old man was under guard at Royal London Hospital while being treated for a shoulder wound and was expected to be released from the hospital today, police said. The other man, 20, was in custody at the high-security Paddington Green police station in north London.

Julian Young, an attorney for the younger man, denied his client had any involvement in terrorism.

Kate Roxburgh, an attorney for the injured older man, said her client also denied being involved in terrorism and said he was “lucky to still be alive.”

“He wasn’t asked to freeze, given any warning and didn’t know the people in his house were police officers until after he was shot,” she said.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission said an inquiry into the shooting — standard procedure in Britain — had begun.

Peter Clarke, head of the anti-terrorism branch of London’s Metropolitan Police, said Friday’s raid was ordered in response to information about a “specific threat” that “demanded an intensive investigation and response.”

He said forensic examinations at the house could continue for several days.

About 300 police, some armed and some wearing protective chemical, biological and radiological suits, took part in one of the largest raids in the capital since last July’s transit attacks.

Neighbors voiced anger yesterday at what they called heavy-handed police tactics during the raid on a home where they said a man, a woman and their four teenage children live.

Members of a family that rents a home next door to the raided family said they were detained by officers and charged that one family member was injured. The three men, a woman and an 8-month-old baby were held for 12 hours without charge, they said.

“We are completely innocent and in no way involved in any terrorist activity,” the family said in a statement, issued through a community group.

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