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A foiled plot in Britain may signal chilling tactic

By Mark Rice-OxleyCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / February 1, 2007



LONDON

British security officials were claiming Wednesday to have foiled a terrorist plot which would have imported for the first time to Britain the grisly Iraq-style tactic of kidnapping a victim, torturing and beheading him and filming the atrocity for broadcast on the Internet.

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In what police characterized as "the foothills of a major investigation," at least nine arrests were made at a dozen addresses in and around Birmingham, England, including homes, an Islamic bookshop, and a cybercafe,

The suspects were the latest in a succession of hundreds arrested under terrorism legislation introduced seven years ago. Last August, 21 people were arrested in an alleged plot to blow up transatlantic flights.

But experts said this plot's new tactic, if confirmed, would amount to a significant departure in strategy. Thus far, the public has focused its concern on the possibility of suicide bombers seeking to emulate the perpetrators of the July 7, 2005, bombings that killed 52 people. The prospect of being snatched from the street, paraded before video cameras, and decapitated was considered a horror peculiar only to countries like Iraq.

"A plot to kidnap, torture, and execute an individual in the heart of England, and film the gruesome events on a videotape for posting on the Internet, represents a new chilling escalation in tactics by the global jihadi terror groups and carries grave implications for all western nations," says MJ Gohel, a terrorism expert with the London-based Asia-Pacific Foundation.

"In the past, we have witnessed the brutal beheadings of Western hostages in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, but for it to happen in a major British city would send shock waves to millions of people throughout Europe and the world."

Debate about extent of 'fear factor'

Mr. Gohel recalled the episodes in Iraq, when American Nicolas Berg and Briton Ken Bigley were subjected to the grim fate, and added that repeating the tactic in the West would be "a massive cold-blooded propaganda tool for intimidating the public and governments. The brutal torture and beheading of an identified individual can psychologically resonate far louder than say a car bombing of unknown or anonymous victims," Gohel says.

Paul Rogers of Bradford University also underscored the potential for a negative psychological impact. "If such a plot were to be targeted against an individual, then it would be a very new development as far as Britain is concerned, but obviously worrying as far as the fear factor is concerned," he said in an interview with Britain's national Press Association news agency.

But Bob Ayres, a security analyst at Chatham House, a London-based think tank, contends that the fear-factor would be limited.

"The vast majority of the UK population doesn't believe they're high-profile enough to warrant being pulled off the street," he says. For most Britons, he adds, "getting blown up on the Underground on the way to work is much more of a concern."

But while kidnapping may not instill greater fear among the public, Mr. Ayres says, its strategic advantage for radicals is prolonged media exposure. With the release of periodic video statements, captors can keep the media's spotlight on them and their message for months, he says.

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