Eight people were arrested in dawn raids across Birmingham by police investigating an alleged plot to kidnap and behead a British Muslim soldier
Security sources claimed to have thwarted a plan to abduct the soldier who would then have been filmed pleading for his life before being executed.
The kidnapping could have resembled operations carried out by insurgents in Iraq, according to the sources, who allege that a young soldier with experience serving in Afghanistan had been identified as the target.
If the reports are true, this would be a major departure from previous Islamist attacks in the West, which have been characterised by co-ordinated explosions aimed at causing high numbers of casualties.
West Midlands Police, which led today's raids, refused to confirm claims that the alleged target had already been placed under protective custody.
It is understood that anti-terror officers had been conducting a surveillance operation for several months.
John Reid, the Home Secretary, this morning confirmed that an operation was ongoing but declined to elaborate on the nature of the suspected plot.
Local people reported seeing dozens of police in the streets in the early hours of this morning.
Baswant Kant, who lives in Stratford Road, near the junction with Poplar Road, where one of the raids took place said: "There were about 55 police officers who turned up in white vans. They went into shops and restaurants along the road. A lot of people got arrested."
West Midlands police said the eight were held "on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism under the Terrorism Act 2000".
The operation was led by the Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit, and also received support from Metropolitan Police officers. A number of addresses in Birmingham have been closed off and are now being searched.
"Whilst this operation poses no specific threat to the West Midlands, as a precautionary measure we will have an enhanced police presence at these locations," the police said in a statement.
"We would ask for the continued support and co-operation of the public.
"Our message to people living in the West Midlands is to remain vigilant. Public safety is our absolute priority."
Vijay Jakkula, who lives on Poplar Road, in Sparkhill, south east Birmingham, where one of the police raids took place, said the area was predominantly Muslim.
"There are quite a few mosques around here but it is a friendly area," he said.
Today’s arrests come after police detained a total of five people in anti-terror raids in Manchester and Halifax, West Yorkshire, last week.
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