Scotland Yard arrested five Algerian men at dawn Friday, Sept. 17 following intelligence of a potential terrorist threat to Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to London. The Counter-Terror Command ordered the arrests at business premises in central London and homes in Muslim areas of East and North London where searches continue. The five suspects aged from 26 to 50 are not British nationals and were employed by a private street cleaning service. They are suspected of “the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism Act 2000. A papal spokesman said the pontiff was calm and his UK schedule would remain unchanged.
No further information is available from official sources in London. The reports indicate that the five Algerians reached their London rendezvous overnight to prepare for their operation – apparently to assassinate the pope. There, they may have been given their weapons or explosives. The UK Counter-Terror Command appears to have acted in the nick of time to prevent the attack shortly after receiving intelligence.
After the arrests the security arrangements for his visit were reviewed, particularly with regard to crowd access and his continued use of the Popemobile which is bulletproof. English and Scottish police spent months planning the security arrangements for the pope’s visit, including safe transport and crowd control.
The Pope spent the day visiting Catholic schools in London and is scheduled to address two houses of parliament later Friday.
Security controls and heavily armed guards patrol the streets around Westminster, Buckingham Palace, 10 Downing Street and Whitehall.
Earlier Friday, Jonathan Evans, head of MI5, the British domestic security service, warned that the UK faces a wave of terrorist attacks from a new generation of al Qaeda and Irish Republican militants.
In his first public speech in three years, he said it is only “a matter of time” before Britain is the victim of an attack from extremists based in Somalia. After briefing the British premier David Cameron, the MI5 chief said there remains “a serious risk of a lethal attack taking place.”
He called for anti-terror controls and measures to be kept in place as he had “no reason to believe the position would significantly improve in the immediate future.”