In the wake of a secretive anti-terrorism operation in Birmingham, British authorities provided a first look Friday at accusations against six men charged in connection with an alleged Iraq-style plot to kidnap and kill a British Muslim soldier.
Prosecutors charged Parviz Khan, 36, with several terrorism offenses related "to his intention to kidnap and kill a member of the British armed forces." Five other men were charged with offenses including providing equipment and finances for an act of terrorism and failing to report knowledge of the plot, said Susan Hemming, head of the Crown Prosecution Service's counter-terrorism division.
Five of the men appeared in a London court Friday after being charged late Thursday, and were jailed pending a hearing Feb. 23. A sixth was charged Friday and will appear in court today.
"Nine days ago I told you that we were in the foothills of a major investigation," said Assistant Chief Constable David Shaw of the West Midlands Police. "We have made extraordinary progress in that time
The statements marked the first time authorities have confirmed that the alleged plot involved kidnapping and killing a British Muslim soldier. The suspects allegedly began plotting Nov. 1 to target a soldier and videotape his slaying, possibly beheading him, then post images of the victim's begging and agony on the Internet in the style of terrorist networks in Iraq, security officials say.
Police identified at least one potential victim, a soldier recently returned from service overseas, and took steps to protect him, officials have said.
"It is vital that we do not fail to acknowledge the stark realization of what was being planned in our midst," Shaw told a news conference.
The grisly scenario outlined by investigators worsens fears that extremist networks are developing new strategies for high-impact but relatively simple attacks centered on kidnapping or hostage taking rather than bombings.
In recent months, British SWAT teams have conducted two exercises to prepare for possible hostage situations, including one that simulated a group of terrorists barricaded with captive children, reminiscent of the deadly school siege in Beslan, Russia, in 2004, a security official said.
"Those drills were based on intelligence that points at hostage-taking scenarios," the security official said. "Perhaps it's partly because bomb-making materials are harder for the networks to come by without authorities noticing. Hostages have been a concern for some time."
The raids at 12 locations in the city's large Pakistani immigrant neighborhoods Jan. 31 angered some Muslim groups.
Investigators, who had the Birmingham suspects under surveillance for months, initially arrested nine men, but they released three this week without charges.
One of them, a teacher named Abu Bakr, accused authorities in an interview with the BBC of using "police state" methods against Muslims. He said they never questioned him about specific crimes.
"This is going to affect me for the rest of my life," said Bakr, an employee at the Maktabah Islamic bookshop, which was searched by police.
The shop was founded by a former British inmate at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"My parents told me they have aged 10 years after this.... Who is going to replace that?" he said.
The fact that only Khan has been charged with the most serious offenses of attempted kidnapping and murder suggests that police may still be working to turn raw intelligence into hard proof. Unlike in other countries, telephone wiretaps cannot be introduced as evidence in British courts.
The other suspects who appeared in court for a pretrial hearing Friday were Mohammed Irfan, 30; Zahoor Iqbal, 29; Hamid Elasmar, 43; and Amjad Mahmood, 31. They were charged Friday morning in Coventry, where they were held before being driven to London for their pretrial hearing before Deputy Chief Magistrate Daphne Wickham. The sixth man, Basiru Gassama, 29, was charged Friday night and is to appear in court today.
The suspects include a teacher, a greengrocer and an unemployed father of four, according to media reports.
Two of the searches last week targeted commercial properties, one of which was called Khan General Stores.
Investigators are looking for connections to interrelated plots in recent years overseen by extremist networks in Pakistan, security officials said.
In the 2005 transit bombings in London and in last year's alleged foiled plot to bomb U.S.-bound commercial jets, police say Pakistani Britons traveled to Pakistan to receive training and direction from masterminds connected to Al Qaeda.
Rotella reported from Paris and Stobart from London.