Tuesday 15 December 2009

Suspected terrorist-linked cell checked out Bridgend shopping centre

A SUSPECTED al-Qaida-inspired cell were caught red-handed checking out potential terrorist targets, including a Bridgend shopping centre, police said today.

Senior officers said the Algerian gang might have been employed to prepare the ground for an atrocity.
City of London Police released chilling footage recorded on one man's mobile phone as he travelled around London.

It showed the man examining Oxford Circus, Mornington Crescent and Camden Town Tube stations.

Extensive footage was also recorded at Liverpool Street railway station and at the Broadgate Circle shopping and restaurant plaza.

Police inquiries later revealed the gang also visited shopping centres in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, Bluewater in Kent and Bridgend.

Five men were arrested in a series of raids in July last year after one man was caught filming and acting suspiciously at Liverpool Street.

Two men were subsequently convicted of a huge mobile phone and luxury goods fraud racket and deported after serving prison sentences.

The footage was released today in response to a surge of criticism of police for stopping and searching people taking photographs at tourist hotspots.

It had been claimed police were misusing terrorism legislation to target tourists, photographers and the media in general in busy public places.

Detective Superintendent Chris Greany, head of counter-terrorism at City of London Police, said the men might have been a fundraising and research arm of an al Qaida-linked group in North Africa.

He said the seized footage was now used to train police and community support officers across England and Wales about the signs of potential terrorist activity.

Mr Greany said: "Hostile reconnaissance footage is a tradable commodity within terrorist circles.
"The actual attack team do not have to expose themselves to the risk of being disrupted."

"We want to set a balance between the challenges of policing and legitimate photography by tourists and the media."

The senior officer added that he would rather be explaining the intrusive tactic of stop and search than explaining how terrorist preparations went unnoticed.

Mr Greany added: "All this activity took place just before they went back to Algeria, so a reasonable assumption is there has been some tasking and they are taking it back.

"Why would you film yourself taking a photograph unless you had to show someone you were doing it?

"Maybe there was a payment from someone who wanted it."

Assistant Commissioner Frank Armstrong said preventing terrorism remained one of the top priorities for all police forces.

He said: "One of our main priorities is clearly counter-terrorism.

"We train our officers and encourage them to do a lot of stop and search.
"But I would argue we have got the politest police force in the country."

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