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January 19, 2002
0950 IST

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British police arrest 17 terror suspects

H S Rao in London

The British police launched their biggest drive against terrorists in Britain by arresting 17 suspects even as two Algerian asylum-seekers, accused of fundraising for Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network appeared in court in London.

Detectives in Leicester, central England, arrested four more people on Friday, adding to the 12 detained on Thursday and another in London.

Police sealed off Leicester magistrates' court on Thursday as Algerian Baghdad Meziane, 37, was charged with being a director of operations for bin Laden's terrorist outfit.

Another Algerian Brahim Benmerzouga, 30, was accused of helping to finance operations and owning equipment that could have been used in bomb attacks.

Both were remanded in custody until January 24.

The two men had been held by immigration officials after being arrested at their family homes in Leicester on September 25.

A five-month Europe-wide investigation identified Leicester as a centre since 1998 for bin Laden's plan to bomb the US embassy in Paris and targets in other European cities.

Only hours before they became the first Al Qaeda suspects accused of operating in Britain, anti-terrorist branch police arrested 17 other men in the city with possible links to the terrorist group.

Security chiefs believe that bin Laden's chief recruiting officer - Djamal Beghal - used Leicester as a base before his arrest last July.

Beghal, 37, a French Algerian, is alleged to have recruited Richard Reid, the London-born shoe bomber, and Zacharias Moussaoui, who lived in Brixton and is accused of being the twentieth hijacker.

Among the 17 arrested, two men and two women aged between 28 and 31 were charged under the Immigration Act 1971, the police said.

Scotland Yard and metropolitan police officers were still out in force on Friday morning outside a number of raided premises in the Highfields area of the city.

Manzoor Moghal, of Leicester's Federation of Muslim Organisation, said the men arrested were believed to be from outside the area and not part of the local Muslim community.

The new Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act, which was passed on to the statute book on December 17, gives Home Secretary David Blunkett the power to detain certain terrorist suspects without trial.

America's War on Terror: The Complete Coverage
The Attack on US Cities: The Complete Coverage

The Terrorism Weblog: Latest Stories from Around the World

External Link:
For further coverage, please visit www.saja.org/roundupsept11.html

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