Anti-terror police today arrested four men from Luton, England, on suspicion of being involved in the “commission, preparation and instigation of acts of terrorism.”
The pre-planned arrests of the four men in their 30s, conducted in a joint operation by the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command (SO15) and the Eastern Counter Terrorism and Intelligence Unit, come at a time of heightened alert over fears of jihadi activity on British soil.
Seven addresses and several vehicles were being searched in Luton after those arrested were taken into custody for questioning at a London police station.
Police said the men arrested in the dawn raids are not believed to have been preparing to travel to Syria, but the operation is part of a long-running investigation into alleged terrorists in Luton. A spokesman explained:
“Today’s activity is part of an ongoing proactive investigation concerning individuals in the Luton area. It is not connected to the recent attacks in Paris.”
Two of those arrested are said to live with their wives and children, while a third is believed to be a single man living on his own, reports the Daily Mail.
A neighbour described hearing the anti-terror police officers launching the raids, saying:
“The first I knew something was wrong was when I heard shouting at 6 o’clock.
“It was, ‘Let us in, let us in!’ Then I heard the sound of the door being smashed down and I could feel the walls of my home shaking. It was frightening.”
The focus of police attention in the operation, Luton, is an area with one of the highest proportions of non-UK born residents. Government figures released in August estimate that in 2014 just over a third of people in the Bedfordshire town were born overseas (338.1 per 1,000 residents).
For some time now the town has been synonymous with Islamic extremism. A leaked 2008 British intelligence report identified Luton as home to one of the main concentrations of extremists in the UK.
In 2009, soldiers from the Royal Anglian Regiment marching through Luton were verbally attacked by a group of Muslim men calling them murderers, rapists and baby killers, five of whom were later convicted of being abusive. This event is said to have been one of the catalysts for the birth of the English Defence League.
The town has even been the subject of two BBC Three documentaries about the tensions between residents — Young, British And Angry, about the English Defence League, and My Hometown Fanatics which also looked at The Al-Muhajiroun group that abused the marching soldiers.
Today’s arrests followed a joint meeting between police and the domestic security service, MI5. The government recently stated that in the last year alone seven plots to attack British targets have been prevented by security services.
In support of those efforts the government plans to recruit a further 1,900 intelligence officers to deal with the threat posed by Islamic State fighters.