24 September 1998
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The New York Times
LONDON -- The British police arrested seven people Wednesday in a coordinated raid apparently aimed at associates of Osama bin Laden, the exiled Saudi financier accused of carrying out the bombings of the American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania last month.
A spokeswoman for Scotland Yard declined to name any of the suspects, but she said they had been detained as a result of "a carefully planned ongoing operation led by the Met's anti-terrorism branch." The Met is shorthand for London's Metropolitan Police Force.
The Press Association, Britain's domestic news agency, said it was understood that the operation, code-named Challenge, was aimed at associates of bin Laden, whom American officials suspect was the mastermind behind the embassy bombings, which killed more than 250 people.
The arrests were made under the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1989, but it was not clear whether the police were operating under new liberties granted them to arrest people suspected of plotting terrorist acts elsewhere on British soil.
Legislation expanding police power in such cases was passed here in August in an emergency session of parliament called by Prime Minister Tony Blair after the bombing in the town of Omagh, in Northern Ireland, that killed 29 people. Under those new laws, conspiring to commit terrorist crimes while in Britain is a punishable offense.
The police said that the arrests were part of a joint operation between specialist Metropolitan police officers and agents from MI5, the domestic military intelligence arm that is the equivalent of the American Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The police spokeswoman said that the seven men were picked up at separate addresses in West and Northwest London early Wednesday morning. An eighth address, described only as a "business premises," was also searched.
It was believed that those arrested included a number of Egyptians and at least one Saudi. Agence France-Presse reported that one of those jailed was Adel Adbel Meguid Adbel Bari, who was sentenced to death in absentia for involvement in a bombing plot in Cairo in 1995.
The news agency also quoted Omar Bakri Mohammed, who claims to be a spokesman here for bin Laden, as saying, "They belong to various Islamic movements, but some of them are linked to the International Islamic Front, Osama bin Laden's movement."
London has been a haven for Arab dissidents, and several countries in the Middle East, as well as France, have complained that guerrilla groups are taking advantage of British law.
The sweep was conducted by unarmed officers, and no injuries were reported. The seven were being questioned at a London police station.
Asked whether the British agencies had been in touch with the FBI, a Scotland Yard spokeswoman said, "As a matter of routine, the Metropolitan Police Service liases regularly with international law enforcement agencies."
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