"What we have witnessed today is a change in terrorist tactics. This is something that happens more and more as splinter cells constantly try to slip under counter-terrorist surveillance." - PROF DAVID CAPITANCHIK
Story in full EYES wide open to the camera and a knife at his throat, his death would have burned a terrible new image into Britain's collective nightmare of Islamic terrorism. That is the bloody outcome intelligence officers believe was averted yesterday with a string of arrests in Birmingham.
The men arrested had been planning to abduct a British soldier and behead him in an internet broadcast, security sources said yesterday. Intelligence analysts said the plot was disturbing proof that Britain's domestic terrorist threat is still evolving.
Moving on from bomb attacks intended to kill and maim as many as possible, extremists are instead trying to spark political panic and social tension with individual acts of murder live on camera.
The new tactics of terror have been drawn directly from Iraq, where several hundred British Muslims have taken part in the bloody insurgency against Western troops and the country's post-war government.
In 2004, Britain was traumatised by the abduction and beheading in Iraq of Ken Bigley, a British engineer who was killed after being taken hostage. Still, the worst atrocities of the Iraqi turmoil have been committed by Muslims against Muslims, and so it could have been in the UK.
The soldier targeted in yesterday's alleged plot was, like them, a British-born Muslim, the plan to kill him apparently calculated to inflame the tensions within British Islam still further.
The nine men being questioned in a Coventry police station last night were said to have fallen under the sway of extremist interpretations of Islam as they grew up in Britain's second-biggest city.
Yet their victim, who was raised in the same area in the same wider community, made an entirely different choice: joining the British Army and serving Queen and country. Last year, he was deployed to Afghanistan, trying to break the grip of the Taleban militia.
Last night, the targeted soldier, an unmarried man in his twenties, was under police protection, and the Ministry of Defence was reviewing security precautions around the 330 or so declared Muslims serving in the British armed forces.
Police and MI5 officers involved in the six-month operation that led to yesterday's arrests believe the plan was to abduct the soldier then issue a series of films of his captivity via the internet, before eventually beheading him.
Pre-dawn raids were launched after intelligence officers at MI5 declared a "threat- to-life" situation, assessing that there was an "intolerable risk" that the plotters were about to act on their plan. Despite that conclusion, the official government assessment of the terror threat to Britain remained last night unchanged at "severe".
Combining broadcasts of a kidnapped soldier with demands for British withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as warnings to other British Muslims, the plotters were said to have been hoping to put enormous pressure on government ministers and traumatise the nation as a whole.
Professor David Capitanchik, an expert on terrorism at Aberdeen University, said: "What we have witnessed today is a change in terrorist tactics. This is something that happens more and more as splinter cells constantly try to slip under counter-terrorist surveillance."
He continued: "The security forces have yet again done a good job in foiling this plot, but if the scale of the threat is as large as we believe it to be, we will yet again need to bulk up the numbers of personnel working in counter-terrorism."
John Reid, the Home Secretary, said yesterday's arrests demonstrated again the "real and serious nature of the terrorist threat we face". He declined to discuss details of the case and later issued a statement warning the media not to prejudice any eventual trial that the arrested men might face.
None of the nine was charged with any crime yesterday and police have 28 days to question them. Assistant Chief Constable David Shaw of West Midlands police, who oversaw yesterday's operation, appeared to signal a lengthy process of questioning and investigation, saying that officers were "at the foothills of what is a very, very major investigation".
About 150,000 of Birmingham's one million population are Muslims. Mr Shaw praised Muslim community leaders in the city for their co-operation and understanding over yesterday's arrests.
But Islamic leaders in the districts where the arrests took place warned that the operation had harmed community cohesion.
"I just wish the police could have been more discreet because, at the moment, it's just suspicion. At the moment, the whole of the community are labelled as terror suspects," said Allah Ditta, of the Alum Rock Islamic Centre.
And Adam Yosef, of the interfaith Saltley Gate Peace Group, said the raids had "affected our relationships between local community and police and between the community itself".
The city's Islamic community also produced the only British Muslim soldier to be killed in Afghanistan. Lance Corporal Jabron Hashmi, 24, a member of the Intelligence Corps, was killed in Afghanistan last July. His death attracted nationwide political and media attention.
It also led al-Ghurabaa, a radical Muslim group, to post images on the internet of the dead man wreathed in flames, accusing him of "terrorism" against his fellow Muslims. Al-Ghurabaa has since been banned, but several figures behind the group remain at large and are said to use internet sites to spread extremist interpretations of Islam.
NEIGHBOURS TELL OF DISBELIEF
IN BIRMINGHAM yesterday, the pre-dawn peace was shattered as more than 100 police officers forced their way into properties around the city.
Twelve raids took place in Alum Rock, Sparkhill, Kingstanding and Washwood Heath, and there were nine arrests.
Police targeted a terraced home in Jackson Road in the Alum Rock area and another on nearby Foxton Road.
The man arrested at Jackson Road was named as Amjad Mamood, 29, a father-of-two. Abid Hussain, a neighbour said: "There was a big bang at about 4:30am and then glass smashing. I went outside and there were police everywhere. They went in through the front door to get Amjad and about eight of them went around the back and the side of the house. All I could hear was screaming - the little boys were shouting 'please don't take our father', over and over again.
"They were sobbing. They are only three and seven - they must have been petrified."
One person was believed to have been removed from a house in Ward End Park Road and three men were thought to have been taken from a house on Asquith Road. In the neighbouring district of Sparkhill, a house was raided in Poplar Road as well as the Maktabah Islamic book store and Blade Communications cyber cafe, both on Stratford Road.
Police removed computer equipment from the cafe and an Islamic book warehouse was also being searched on Golden Hillock Road.
Residents living in Poplar Road spoke of their shock at the raids. As helicopters hovered overhead, Ash Mahmood, 17, said: "A family lives in that house. They've got a couple of children who are quite young, maybe age three or four. I haven't seen any of them for at least the last few days. I woke up at 10am and I thought there had been a murder there were police everywhere."
His brother, Asid Mahmood, 21, said: "I don't believe he was involved with terrorism. I saw him at a wedding a couple of weeks ago and he just seemed like any normal guy."
The metal shutters at the Maktabah book shop were closed yesterday. A would-be customer, Sohel Aslan, 37, said: "I was stunned by the raid. It was just an ordinary book shop. They did a lot of good kids' books."
Zarqawi's bloody trademark a vision of global terror
ABU Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, may be dead, but his bloody trademark lives on in the regular beheading of kidnapped hostages.
Zarqawi more than any other individual made the Iraqi insurgency synonymous with the very public and very disturbing murder of those unfortunate enough to fall into his hands, Iraqi and foreigner alike.
While he was personally responsible for dozens of deaths, in Britain his most notorious act was the killing of Ken Bigley. Mr Bigley, from Liverpool, went to Iraq to work as a contractor as part of the lucrative post-war reconstruction effort.
In September 2004, he was taken hostage in Iraq by Zarqawi's followers.
During his captivity, Mr Bigley, clad in an orange boiler suit, was repeatedly filmed pleading for his life. In one broadcast, he made a direct appeal to Tony Blair to withdraw British troops from Iraq and save his life.
Three weeks later, Mr Bigley was dead, and video footage of his throat being slit was circulated on the internet. Zarqawi was the man with the knife.
Mr Bigley had been abducted with two American colleagues, Eugene Armstrong and Jack Hensley. Both were also murdered.
A month after Mr Bigley's death, Margaret Hassan, a British born aid worker, was abducted and shot dead. Before her death, footage of her pleading for her life was also broadcast via the internet.
Mr Bigley and his colleagues were not the first Western contractors to suffer such a death at Zarqawi's hand. In May 2004, Nick Berg, a US citizen was killed in a similar fashion.
Nor were the Iraqi beheadings confined to British and American citizens.
Shortly after Mr Berg's death, Kim Sun-il, a South Korean translator working for a Baghdad company was also kidnapped and decapitated. The disturbing tactic of broadcast killings has also been employed outside Iraq.
In May 2004, Paul Marshall Johnson, a US engineer working in Saudi Arabia was abducted and beheaded by militants with al-Qaeda affiliations.
And what may have been the first broadcast beheading by Islamic extremists took place in Pakistan in 2002, with the killing of Daniel Pearl, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal.
Raided shop wasselling book preaching hate
A SHOP raided by anti-terrorist police had been offering to sell a book written by one of Osama Bin Laden's henchmen encouraging Muslims to attack the West.
The Army of Madinah in Kashmir - written by a former Mujahideen fighter brought up in the UK - preaches hatred against America and Europe.
It was available to buy yesterday on a website purporting to belong to the Maktabah Islamic bookshop in Birmingham.
The author Esa Al-Hindi - also known as Abu Issa al-Britani - was arrested in Pakistan recently in connection with the 9/11 atrocities. He allegedly took part in surveillance work before the attack in New York.
Investigators believe he was also involved in a failed terror plot on London's Heathrow Airport based on intelligence from Pakistan.