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UK police quiz 12 terror suspects


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LONDON, England -- Anti-terrorist police in Britain are questioning 12 men held on suspicion of being involved in terrorist activities following coordinated arrests in a dramatic series of daylight raids.

Police swooped in a planned operation at four locations Tuesday as part of inquiries into what they said was "alleged international terrorism."

Thirteen men, aged between 19 and 32, were seized "on suspicion of being concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism" under the Terrorism Act 2000. One was later released.

Journalist Susan Jameson, reporting from London's top-security Paddington Green police station, told CNN it was "a major and concerted operation by police."

The men being questioned Wednesday at Paddington Green by members of Scotland Yard's anti-terrorism branch.

The arrests Tuesday came in north west London, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Lancashire.

Police told CNN that a 13th man arrested Tuesday in north London was "de-arrested shortly afterwards and released without further police action."

Search warrants were being executed at homes in the same areas, and the searches "are expected to take some time to complete," according to Scotland Yard.

The Metropolitan police statement did not disclose the nationalities of the men arrested, nor did it provide details of their alleged terrorist activities.

Police declined to specify the men's nationalities, but the BBC said they were all of South Asian descent and some were thought to be British citizens.

The Metropolitan police would not comment on speculation the arrests were linked to information from authorities in Pakistan.

The U.S. is on heightened alert following the discovery of documents in Pakistan which apparently mention potential targets for attack both in the US and Britain.

Police would only say that the investigation leading to the British arrests had been under way for some time.

The suspects were being interviewed Wednesday by officers from the Metropolitan Police's Anti-Terrorist Branch.

In a statement Scotland Yard said that the raids were part of a "pre-planned, on-going intelligence-led operation."

The statement added: "Yesterday's operation was part of continuing and extensive inquiries by police and the security services into alleged international terrorism."

The arrests came as Prime Minister Tony Blair came under pressure to spell out the level of the terrorism threat in Britain, as a massive security operation continued in U.S. cities. (Full story)

British TV pictures showed officers in fluorescent jackets searching a gold-colored Mercedes in the first public indication of the wide-ranging raids.

Eyewitnesses in Blackburn told the corporation they had seen the arrests of two young men.

Ruth Lazell lives across the street from where one of Tuesday's raids took place, which she described as a large-scale operation.

"I came to the front window and saw quite a lot of armed police officers with guns pointing at two young Asian lads that were on the floor," Lazell told CNN Wednesday.

"Then some other officers came over with blue plastic suits on, put both suspects' arms into plastic bags. Their feet were then put into plastic bags and they were put in a white suit... and led away to an unmarked police car."

Resident Pearl Bernasconi told PA News she was alerted to the police activity by the build-up of traffic outside her home.

The grandmother said the road was closed for more than two hours, and she spotted armed police, forensic experts, and then two cars speed up to a cordon.

"They must have been official cars because shortly after they drove off at speed with forensic men, and my granddaughter seemed to think two men -- one in each of the cars -- were wrapped in silver foil in the middle of the back."

Police will have up to two weeks to hold the men before deciding whether to charge them, but courts grant that permission only a few days at a time.

Suspects arrested in previous anti-terrorism raids have often been released without charge before the two weeks expire.

Critics -- particularly among Muslim groups -- say that indicates police have been too quick to make arrests, a charge they deny.

Just three months ago, the UK Home Office said that fewer than one-in-five of those arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 had been charged with offences under the legislation.

By May this year, 562 people had been arrested under the Act since September 11 2001, Home Secretary David Blunkett said in a written parliamentary answer.

He said 97 had been charged with offences under the Act and that, of those, 14 were convicted. A total of 280 people were released without charge and with no further action being taken, he said.


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