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UK: Five held for plot to harm Pope

September 17, 2010 19:47 IST

Five people, suspected to be Arabs, were arrested in London on Friday over an alleged plot to harm Pope Benedict XVI, now on a state visit to the UK. The five men, in the age group of 26-50, were picked up by Scotland Yard on Friday morning in central London and were being questioned by counter-terror detectives.

Searches are underway at their properties across the capital but the Pope's schedule in the city is currently continuing as planned. The five were arrested on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism under the Terrorism Act 2000.

The men are not British nationals, the BBC reported. Some reports claimed they could be of Arab origin.

In a statement from Scotland Yard, the Metropolitan Police said that the five men had been arrested in an operation launched by officers from the force's Counter-Terrorism Command. The five men are 26, 27, 36, 40 and 50 years old, it police said. Initial searches have not uncovered any hazardous items, it said.

In the statement, the force said: "Friday's arrests were made after police received information following initial inquiries by detectives. A decision was made to arrest the five men.

"Following Friday's arrests policing arrangements for the papal visit were reviewed and we are satisfied our current policing plan remains appropriate. The itinerary has not changed. There is no change to the UK threat level."

Pope's security was reviewed following the arrests but so far it has not been altered and he went ahead with a service and appearance in Twickenham, west London.

Pope's press spokesman Father Frederico Lombardi said the Vatican was "totally confident" in Scotland Yard and the ability of its officers, the BBC said. A ring of steel costing up to 1.5 million pounds has been put in place to protect the Pope throughout his four-day visit to Britain. He travels in a 15-strong cavalcade of vehicles from city to city and elite marksmen, some on rooftops, are guarding his every step.

As he visited St Mary's University College in Twickenham, everyone - including monks and nuns - went through security scanners. The arrests came after the wife of the Commons Speaker joined the chorus of secularist attacks on the Pope as her husband prepares to welcome him to Parliament. Sally Bercow left her husband John red-faced hours before he will have to welcome Benedict XVI to the House of Commons this afternoon.

H S Rao in London
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