- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 3, 2006

LONDON — Police yesterday arrested 16 men in two separate anti-terrorism operations just three weeks after uncovering a plot to bring down U.S.-bound airliners over the Atlantic.

Fourteen of the men were held in London in an overnight operation that a police source said focused on suspected training and recruitment of British Muslims for terrorist operations.

Anti-terrorist police in Manchester arrested two men early yesterday and were carrying out three searches, but this was not linked to the London arrests, police there said.

The arrests occurred after the head of London police’s anti-terrorist branch, Peter Clarke, said on Friday that police were keeping tabs on thousands of British Muslims who they suspect may be involved in or support terrorism — higher than previous official estimates.

The British Broadcasting Corp. reported 12 arrests were made at a Chinese restaurant in south London, which police in riot gear raided on Friday night. The BBC said the probe may be linked to purported terrorist-training camps in Britain.

Police said in February they had uncovered evidence of such camps, while other reports have spoken of militants going for adventure training to forge closer ties.

Two of the four Muslim suicide bombers who killed 52 persons on London transport in July last year are believed to have gone on a team-building white-water rafting vacation in Wales weeks before the attacks.

Police said they were searching an East Sussex school in southern England in connection with the London arrests. The rambling independent school for Muslim boys, once a Victorian orphanage, is set in extensive grounds surrounded by woodland.

A report by government school inspectors last December said the school, which had nine pupils at the time, did not provide a satisfactory education.

Police said the 14 men held in London overnight were arrested in a “pre-planned, intelligence-led operation” that followed months of surveillance by police and security services.

The men, suspected of “the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism,” were being held at a central London police station, they said.

They said the operation was not related to the arrests of more than 20 people on Aug. 9-10 over a plot by a group of British Muslims to blow up U.S.-bound airliners using liquid explosives. Nor were they related to last year’s London attacks.

The BBC said the Chinese restaurant was full of people, including children, when police arrived Friday night.

The restaurant’s owner, Mehdi Belyani, told the British news service that up to 60 officers entered the restaurant, which is popular with Muslims.

“They suddenly came inside because they were suspicious of some of the customers. … They talked to them for more than one hour, two hours, and they arrested some of them. So it was obviously surprising for me, my staff, for everyone,” he said.

Eleven British Muslims have been charged with conspiracy to murder over the plot to blow up airliners.

Four persons are accused of lesser offenses and five others are still being questioned, but have not been charged.

Mr. Clarke said that police and intelligence agents were trying to track thousands of people believed to be directly or indirectly involved in terrorism.

“What we’ve learned since September 11 is that the threat is not something that’s simply coming from overseas into the United Kingdom,” Mr. Clarke said. “What we’ve learned, and what we’ve seen all too graphically and all too murderously, is that we have a threat which is being generated here within the United Kingdom.”

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