Italian police smash terror cell plotting attacks on London
POLICE are hunting three members of a suspected Muslim terror cell feared to have planned to attack London landmarks the Olympic site and Canary Wharf.
The trio are being linked to two men who have already been arrested in Italy.
Among the possessions of Hakim Nasiri and Gulistan Ahmadzai when they were held were drawings and photographs of possible targets in London, Italy and France.
The Afghanis’ phone records showed they researched a shopping centre, cinema, spa and restaurant at Canary Wharf in London’s Docklands and the Premier Inn near the Olympic Park. The Ibis hotel and the Sunborn Yacht hotel near the East London Excel exhibition centre were also looked at.
Prosecutors said the arrested pair were pictured posing with rare MS16 semiautomatic rifles.
Police in Bari, Italy, where 23-year-old Nasiri and Ahmadzai, 29, were detained, said the three other suspects linked to the same AfghanPakistani jihadist group have gone into hiding.
A warrant has been issued but only one of the three is thought to be still in Italy.
The others are possibly in their homelands. According to the warrant, the terror cell was established in Puglia, south eastern Italy, “to carry out violent attacks with the purpose of international terrorism, in Italy and abroad”.
After the arrests in Bari, public prosecutor Giuseppe Drago said: “They planned to carry out terror attacks against government and military targets, public institutions, international companies and civilian targets.
“They had weapons as well as photo and video documentation which had been taken during preliminary surveys of potential targets.”
His colleague Roberto Rossi added: “I was clear these were not tourist images.
“They appear to have been scouting sensitive sites.”
Reports in France said the police investigation began in December last year, when officers arrested four Afghans filming in the commercial centre of Bari.
Detectives later discovered images of landmarks throughout Europe.
They also recovered propaganda videos of Taliban “martyrs”, police said.
Scotland Yard last night refused to comment.
POLICE chiefs apologised yesterday after a pretend “suicide bomber” shouted the Muslim phrase “Allahu Akbar” in a mock terror attack on one of Britain’s busiest shopping malls.
The fake terrorist screamed the Arabic for “God is Greatest” before “explosives” were detonated and gunshots rang out at Manchester’s Trafford Centre as part of an operation aimed at testing the response of emergency services.
The operation, planned since last December, was one of Britain’s biggest ever counter-terrorism training exercises and used 800 volunteers.
Pretend victims smeared in fake blood were seen running for their lives while scores more played dead as “terrorists” attempted to seize control of the mall.
But critics claimed the exercise had labelled Muslims as potential terrorists by the use of Allahu Akbar.
Dr Erinma Bell wrote on Twitter: “We need to move away from stereotypes. A terrorist can be anyone.”
Greater Manchester’s Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan said: “It is necessary for agencies including the police to train and prepare using exercises such as this.
“The scenario writers centred the circumstances around previous similar attacks of this nature, mirroring details of past events to make the situation as real life as possible for all of those involved.
“However, on reflection we acknowledge that it was unacceptable to use this religious phrase immediately before the mock suicide bombing, which so vocally linked this exercise to Islam. We recognise and apologise for the offence this has caused.”
Greater Manchester’s Mayor Tony Lloyd, who is also the city’s Police and Crime Commissioner, praised the operation but said it was “frustrating it has been marred by the ill-judged, unnecessary and unacceptable decision by organisers to have those playing the parts of terrorists to shout Allahu Akbar before setting off their fake bombs”.
The Manchester exercise follows similar large-scale simulations in London, Glasgow and Essex. It continues until tonight.