Police praise Muslim soldiers who acted as 'bait' for beheading gang

MATTHEW HICKLEY, BEN TAYLOR and DAVID WILLIAMS
Daily Mail
Friday, February 2, 2007

Two British Muslim soldiers targeted by the alleged beheading gang were used in an extraordinary "sting" operation to snare their assassins, it has emerged.

The courageous pair agreed to act like "tethered goats" in an attempt to catch the extremists plotting to kidnap them.

The soldiers - who are not thought to have told their families that they were potential targets - were placed under unprecedented surveillance for weeks as officers waited for the terrorists to strike.

And as they tried to carry out their ordinary duties, the pair were aware that if the gang attempted to stage their abduction they could be attacked and bundled into a waiting vehicle at any time.

To prevent this, the security forces mounted a sophisticated surveillance operation.

In an operation reminiscent of a spy drama, their every move was monitored by a team of crack MI5 agents - linked to the soldiers by the latest in modern technology.

Details of the astonishing operation emerged last night as police were granted permission to carry on questioning nine men arrested on Wednesday in raids across Birmingham.

The suspects are alleged to have plotted an Iraq style kidnapping of a Muslim serviceman who has recently returned from Iraq or Afghanistan.

The idea was to kill him and post images of his bloody end on the Internet after forcing him to beg for his life and denounce Tony Blair.

Yesterday senior military sources told how they had been alerted to the possible abduction by police several weeks ago after the list of potential victims was narrowed down to just two.

But instead of taking the possible targets into protective custody, the men agreed to act as bait to try to smoke out their would-be attackers.

Their actions drew strong praise from senior security sources who said the soldiers showed "serious nerve" in the way they cooperated.

Incredibly, the two men carried on with their daily routines but were secretly shadowed around the clock by police and intelligence personnel, using high-technology tracking and bugging techniques. Surveillance teams kept a constant watch, looking for any sign of the plotters.

The two men were fitted with discreet tracking devices, with similar beacons attached to their cars, and armed response teams were on permanent standby to stage a rescue mission in case a kidnap plot was sprung.

It is not clear, however, if the men were even allowed to tell their families.

A senior military source said yesterday: "We have been aware of the operation for a while, and working closely with West Midlands Police."

One insider added: "It was a brave thing to do. Effectively they agreed to act as bait - like tethered goats - without any way of knowing how real the danger was. They had to trust the police."

There has already been speculation that the men's bravery being recognised with a medal or other award, although Army chiefs are anxious to keep their identities under wraps.

A major review of personal security procedures is under way across the armed forces in the wake of Wednesday's arrests.

The 330 Muslims serving in the UK military - including some 250 Army soldiers - have been ordered to take particular care over their own security.

The Mail can also reveal that three of the nine are known to have visited Pakistan in the past year - one spending four months there - and investigators are trying to establish exactly who they met.

British officials have asked the Pakistani authorities for assistance in recent days on the background and movements of four of those now being questioned.

Another suspect is even said to have visited Afghanistan in 2004.

There have been also been claims that videos of beheadings have been found - although police sources were unable to confirm that last night.

Investigators say a "clear pattern" has emerged in the way young disaffected British Muslims linked to UK terror investigations in recent months have travelled to Pakistan where they have met with fundamentalist leaders, clerics and pro-Al Qaeda radicals.

Among the techniques taught is surveillance on a potential kidnap victim.

Police have a maximum of 28 days in which to decide whether to charge or release the nine. But it emerged last night that officers have not even started questioning them properly.

One source described the amount of items recovered during the initial searches as "enormous" and much of it needs to be sifted through before detectives can start asking relevant questions.

Yesterday West Midlands Police sought to defuse potential community tensions by distributing 5,000 leaflets translated into Punjabi, Hindi, Bengali and Urdu.

Officers are anxious to head off a repeat of last June's disastrous raid on a house in Forest Gate, East London, during which a Muslim man was shot. Police had been searching for a "chemical device" but nothing was ever found. Relatives of the suspects continued to stress their innocence last night.

The brother of a school teacher arrested at his home in Kingstanding, North Birmingham, told the Mail: "I am his brother. I don't want to talk about it other than to say that he is innocent. That's all I've got to say."

Asked what the children would think at the school where his brother teaches, he said: "That's up to them."

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