U.K. arrests 4 more terror suspects

Jan. 18, 2002 at 9:41 AM

LONDON, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- Anti-terrorist police Friday arrested four people in the northern city of Leicester in the latest phase of a continuing operation to round up suspects believed to be involved with terrorist activities.

The arrests of two men and two women, aged 28 to 31, on immigration charges followed the arrests of 13 people in London and Leicester on Thursday. Eleven people were arrested during the day Thursday and two more were detained during the evening, one of them in London.

All 17 people are now in custody in Leicester and are being questioned by agents from the security forces as well as immigration authorities, police sources said. The sources said they would not rule further arrests.

Nine of the men arrested during Thursday's operation were held on suspicion of terrorism, and the rest of the suspects face charges related to immigration offenses.

The arrests were made in a joint operation involving units from Leicestershire police, the London Metropolitan police anti-terrorist branch and the immigration service. Officials had no immediate comment on reports by a French radio station, Europe 1, that the arrests were linked to investigations into planned attacks by Islamic militants in France.

However, police sources said the arrests were part of a pan-European investigation into anti-Western terrorists activities.

Police said the latest arrests were not directly linked to the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States and were not made at the request of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as in the cases of other terror suspects.

Meanwhile, the first two men to be charged in Britain with membership of Osama bin Laden's al Qaida network were remanded in custody in Leicester after they appeared before magistrates Thursday.

Baghdad Meziane, 37, was charged with directing al Qaida, inciting an act of terrorism overseas, membership of al Qaida, and four charges relating to the financing of terrorism.

Brahim Benmerzouga, 30, was charged with membership of al Qaida, four charges relating to the financing of terrorism, possession of an article for the purposes of terrorism and possession of racially inflammatory material with a view to distribution.

The arrests were the latest reported in the government's drive against terrorism following the passage of tough new legislation.

As the campaign drew tabloid headlines in Leicestershire, a police spokesman urged people in the area to remain calm. "People in parts of Leicester may see additional police activity and experience some disruption to their normal lifestyle over the next couple of days," a spokesman said. "We hope they will bear with us and continue to show us the support that we have been receiving."

He said there was "no evidence to suggest any terrorist threat against Leicestershire."

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