Guardian : Security leak by senior Scotland Yard commander Bob Quick prompts arrests in suspected al-Qaida plot

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Security leak by senior Scotland Yard commander Bob Quick prompts arrests in suspected al-Qaida plot

Owen Bowcott and Vikram Dodd | April 8, 2009

Counter-terrorist police arrested 10 young men across the north-west tonight in an operation hastily brought forward following an embarrassing security leak by a senior Scotland Yard commander.

The men, detained at John Moores University in Liverpool, an internet cafe and a house in the Cheetham Hill area of Manchester, as well as at addresses in Lancashire, are suspected of involvement in an al-Qaida plot aimed at attacking the UK.

At least one is believed to be a student, the others were born in Pakistan.

The arrests were triggered after Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick, head of Scotland Yard's specialist operations wing, was photographed this morning clutching sensitive documents as he arrived in Downing Street. Clearly visible on top of a large bundle of papers under his arm was a white document marked "secret" that carried an outline for briefing on a current counter-terrorism operation. He was on his way to attend a cabinet security committee.

Realising the existence of the ­photos of the ­document – which included the names of several senior officers, sensitive locations and details about the nature of the overseas threat – a "D notice" was imposed by the government to restrict the media from revealing the contents of the picture.

Quick had been due to meet Gordon Brown and the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, to discuss police reform. He was also addressing the meeting in his role as lead for counter-terrorism and for the Association of Chief Police Officers.

Tonight Quick apologised to the Metropolitan commissioner Sir Paul ­Stephenson. A Scotland Yard spokesman said: "Assistant Commissioner Quick accepts he made a mistake on leaving a sensitive document on open view and deeply regrets it. He has apologised to the commissioner and colleagues."

The arrests were led by Greater Manchester police, the force which coordinates anti-terrorist operations in the region. "Ten men have been arrested as part of a counter-terrorism operation across the north-west of England," a statement from the force said. "Officers from the North West Counter-Terrorism Unit, supported by Merseyside police, Greater Manchester police and Lancashire constabulary, carried out a series of raids."

According to initial accounts a taser stun gun was used by armed police to subdue some of the suspects who were arrested at John Moores University. Ruth Jones, a third-year student at the university, told the Guardian that she was preparing to leave for the day when an announcement was made over the tannoy system warning students to stay away from the windows.

"I went upstairs at that point to find a friend and looked out the window to see police with guns standing over two young guys, who looked like they were in their twenties," she said.

A duty manager working near the campus told BBC radio that police had dealt with the situation "very calmly". He said that he saw the "evacuation of the suspects, and then police dispersed the small crowd that had gathered".

Two students were in the university library when the arrests took place and said a "distressed voice" came over the tannoy asking others to stay away from the windows for their own safety.

One, named as Craig, told the BBC: "There was shouting by the police telling them [the suspects] to get on the floor. Everybody was panicking."

Another witness, Nicholas Higgins, told Sky News that security officers had told students to stay away from windows because of fears that there might be a bomb. "I saw the lads [being arrested] lying on the floor," he said. "They were surrounded by police. The police had guns with them."

The arrests were due to happen in ­several days' time, but because of the leak were carried out in daylight, in direct ­contravention of the usual practice of arresting people while they sleep.

Two of those arrested are believed to be British citizens, another two are naturalised but born in Pakistan.

Britain's threat level today remained unchanged at severe general, meaning that officials believed that there was a high risk of attack.