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'Kidnap plot:' Police get more time

Story Highlights

• Nine people arrested in anti-terrorism operations in central England Wednesday
• Raid involved plot to kidnap a Muslim serving in the British Army, source says
• Victim would have been tortured and beheaded on camera, according to source
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BIRMINGHAM, England (CNN) -- Police have been granted more time to question nine men held over an alleged terrorist plot to carry out an Iraqi-style kidnapping and execution of a British Muslim soldier.

Eight were arrested in a series of dawn raids in Birmingham, central England, on Wednesday morning, with the ninth arrested later on a motorway in the city.

A judge at Coventry Magistrates' Court on Thursday granted police an extra seven days to interview the men about the alleged plot. The suspects were transferred in a heavily armoured police convoy to the court in Coventry, near Birmingham, to attend the hearings in person.

Specialist forensic officers in black suits spent the night searching eight houses in the Sparkhill, Washwood Heath, Kingstanding and Edgbaston areas of Birmingham.

Four commercial premises have also been secured and sealed off. All nine suspects were arrested under the Terrorism Act -- meaning police have a maximum of 28 days to hold them. They are being held at police stations in the West Midlands. (Watch as police seize terror suspects Video)

However, during that time police must apply for extensions -- each time appearing before a judge to outline the evidence and questions they want to put to the men.

A senior security source said the plot involved the torture and beheading of a British Muslim soldier. The attackers allegedly planned to videotape the execution for later publication on the Internet.

British security sources did not identify the soldier, but said he was back in Britain after having served in Afghanistan.

The West Midlands Police said the nine were arrested on "suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism under the Terrorism Act 2000."

'Terrifying potential crime'

"This is a major breakthrough in thwarting what seems to be a genuine and terrifying potential crime," said former Scotland Yard commander, John O'Connor. "These are not the kind of people that take hostages."

Security sources said this new alleged plot style would herald a different tactic from previous attacks by terrorists in Britain, who have used coordinated explosions aimed at killing and injuring the masses.

Instead, it would have mirrored the kidnappings of hostages Ken Bigley and Margaret Hassan -- both Britons murdered by Iraqi insurgents.

A U.S. intelligence official told CNN there were no indications that the alleged plot posed any threat to the United States.

The official said early information suggests that those arrested Wednesday were part of a "small, not very sophisticated cell."

What is of most concern, said the official, is the discovery of another homegrown cell within Britain that has been radicalized to the point of planning an event.

The official said it was "murky" whether any of the people arrested had ties outside Britain.

Unlike those connected to last summer's alleged plot to blow up U.S. planes flying from Britain to the United States, there is no definitive information at this point that links those detained Wednesday to Pakistan or anywhere else, the official said.

Wednesday's arrests are not believed to be linked to the January 23 arrests of five men in terror raids across northern England. (Full story)

Two of those men -- Rizwan Ditta, 29, and Mohammad Bilal, 25, both from Halifax -- were charged Monday under the Terrorism Act 2000. The other three men are still being questioned by the Greater Manchester Police.

"This operation is a reminder of the real and serious nature of the terrorist threat we face," the Home Office said Wednesday.

Security services believe a terrorist attack is highly likely in Britain. An attack on London's public transport in 2005 killed 52 people, and the country is on its second highest alert level.

Last year the head of MI5, Britain's domestic spy service, said that about 30 terrorism plots were being worked on and agents were monitoring around 1,600 suspects.


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Forensic officers spent the night searching eight addresses.

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