BIRMINGHAM, England - Police foiled a major kidnapping plot, the first of its kind in Britain, with the arrests yesterday of nine terror suspects who reportedly planned to torture and behead a British Muslim soldier and broadcast the killing on the Internet.
The alleged plot, said by British media to mirror the executions of foreign hostages in Iraq, was in its final stages and uncovered during a six-month surveillance operation by antiterror officers in this city of more than one million in the heart of England. The arrests came in a predawn raid on homes and businesses in several Birmingham neighborhoods, which were mostly Pakistani.
"The threat from terrorism remains very real," said Assistant Chief Constable David Shaw, who would not confirm reports from the BBC and other media outlets that the intended victim was an army soldier to be killed in an "Iraqi-style" execution and broadcast on the Internet.
Britain has been at the heart of several thwarted alleged terror plots, including a scheme by a British Muslim to blow up the New York Stock Exchange and other landmarks, and a plan by Muslim extremists to use liquid explosives to blow up as many as 10 flights between the United States and Britain.
But the Birmingham kidnapping plot raised fears that a new type of terrorism has reached Britain, one that uses individual victims to send a message through kidnappings and publicized beheadings. Although the motive in the new plot was not disclosed, the announcement coincides with other indications that young British Muslims are becoming increasingly angry over Britain's involvement in the American-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The four British Muslims who attacked London's transit system in Europe's first suicide bombings had expressed rage over Britain's role in the wars. Their attack at rush hour on July 7, 2005, killed 52 people.
In the last year, that anger has spilled over to the 330 Muslims who serve in the 180,000-strong British armed forces.
The potential victim of the latest plot was reportedly a British Muslim soldier who was under police protection, British media reported, though the Defense Ministry would not confirm this.
Britain's first Muslim soldier to be killed in Afghanistan last year was from Birmingham, where the death prompted militant Islamist Web sites to denounce Cpl. Jabron Hashmi, 24, as a traitor. One site - that of the extremist British sect al-Ghurabaa - posted an image of the soldier surrounded by flames.
Non-Muslim servicemen are also being targeted.
Last year, a London street vendor was sentenced to six years in prison in a plot to kill a decorated British soldier. Abu Baker Mansha was accused of targeting Cpl. Mark Byles, whose address and other materials were found in Mansha's apartment.
Byles was awarded a military cross for bravery after an attack in which several Iraqi insurgents were killed - exploits covered by British newspapers. One of the articles with Byles' name was circled and found in Mansha's apartment.
Britain's MI5 has said it set up a network of eight new regional offices across the country after the Sept. 11 attacks, including a center in the West Midlands, where Birmingham is situated.
Counterterrorism experts said Islamic extremists had been looking for new ways to rattle the West with their use of the Web to broadcast propaganda and unsettling images such as the beheadings of Western hostages in Iraq.