UK terror cell linked to Brussels and Paris terrorists planned to attack the London Eye
The ISIS terror cell behind the atrocities in Paris and Brussels planned to target the London Eye, it has been claimed.
The UK had been the second country that the terrorists wanted to attack, a source said.
It comes as four men and a woman from Birmingham were arrested, as officers swooped on the suspected British branch of the group behind the attacks in France and Belgium.
The network were targeting the London Eye and other places where crowds gather in the UK,’ a source told The Mirror.
‘Britain was second after France on their list of countries in which to launch an attack.
‘British officers have been expecting an attack in the UK and still do.’
The dramatic developments came after months of secret surveillance following the arrest of ‘man in white’ Mohamed Abrini, a key player in the Paris and Brussels attacks.
He was arrested last week and is said to have made ‘multiple trips’ to Birmingham. Crucial evidence secured from Abrini’s mobile phone is thought to have led to the UK arrests.
Three men aged 26, 40 and 59, and a 29-year-old woman were held in Birmingham on Thursday night.
A 26-year-old man, understood to have flown in on an Easyjet flight from Marrakech, was intercepted on Friday morning at Gatwick.
A source said: ‘He was behaving perfectly normally during the flight. He had a chat with a woman sat next to him and then fell asleep.’
Last night a taxi driver’s home was being searched in connection with the anti-terror raids in Birmingham. A bomb disposal squad was seen earlier at the semi-detached in Small Heath.
Neighbours said a married father-of-four who worked as a taxi driver was arrested on Thursday evening.
The raids will confirm fears that ISIS is active in Britain after it emerged that the cell has been under surveillance for at least four months.
Police said on Friday that no targets had been identified but pictures of a football stadium and shopping centres were on suspects’ phones.
West Midlands Police said officers working with MI5 and Belgian and French authorities swooped in an operation ‘to address any associated threat to the UK following the attacks in Europe’.
The breakthrough in the hunt for those linked to the attacks across the Channel comes less than a week after police in Belgium identified the elusive ‘man in the hat’ caught on CCTV at Brussels airport.
Abrini, who had already been linked to November’s attack on Paris, was arrested in Belgium and has confessed to being the third man.
French intelligence sources say Abrini met Islamist fanatics in Birmingham four months before a series of gun attacks and suicide bombings in the French capital left 130 dead.
They said Abrini, 31, a Belgian of Moroccan origin, visited the West Midlands last July before flying back to France, raising concerns over British support of the terror cell now known to have been behind both attacks on the two European capitals.
While he was still on the run, Interpol president Mireille Ballestrazzi told the BBC’s Panorama that photos of an unspecified football stadium had been found on Abrini’s phone.
Three of the Paris attackers attempted to enter the Stade de France during an international football friendly between France and Germany, before blowing themselves up outside.
Yesterday a security official told the Associated Press that Abrini had made multiple trips to Birmingham last year, meeting with several men suspected of terrorist activity.
Surveillance had been taking place on suspected cell members in the Birmingham area since the Paris attacks, the official said.
A second security official with access to Belgian counter-terrorism data said West Midlands Police had closed in on a ring of suspects linked to Abrini’s phone after his arrest.
Abrini is the second member of the terror cell thought to have been in the UK after it emerged the mastermind behind Paris, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was also in Birmingham and London in the months before the November attacks.
Abaaoud, 28, also of Moroccan origin, was killed in a French police raid a week after the Paris attacks.
He was known to have visited Birmingham in October and had photos of places in the city on his smartphone, including shopping centres and football stadiums, raising concern he may have been visiting jihadis, carrying out reconnaissance on targets – or both.
West Midlands Police said in December that they were taking links between the Paris attackers and Birmingham ‘deadly seriously’ after the photos emerged.
A British security source told NBC News yesterday that the arrests were ‘Paris and Brussels-related’, and that Abrini was the main focus of the British investigation.
It is understood that at least one of those under arrest yesterday is of Moroccan descent.
Abrini is a childhood friend of Salah Abdeslam, 26, who also escaped after the Paris killings but was captured in Brussels days before the attacks on the city’s airport and metro.
Abrini is also accused of having accompanied two suicide bombers to Brussels airport before leaving behind a bomb in a bag and walking back into the city.
He has told investigators that Abdeslam’s arrest on March 18 in Brussels prompted the conspirators to move forward plans for the follow-up attack, which came four days later in the city and killed 32.
A Belgian judge on Thursday ordered Abrini and six other suspects arrested over the attacks in Paris and Brussels to be kept behind bars for another month.
Last night Whitehall officials described the arrests in Britain as ‘significant’.
Police have 48 hours to question three of the suspects and 36 hours to question the two others.