U.K. military and civil authorities are intensifying efforts to eliminate the threat of terrorist attacks during the Olympic Games, producing arrests, court hearings and rulings tied to security for the event.
Police have arrested 14 people in the last two weeks throughout the country in two separate counter-terrorism probes as part of a 66-day operation to prevent a terrorist attack during the 17-day Olympics, which begin on July 27.
“Obviously one cannot know how much the security forces are doing and what their tactics are, but there is a real threat,” said David Bentley, an associate fellow in international law at Chatham House. “There is always the problem of when to move. If you move too fast, you might catch two or three but lose the bigger picture.”
Three men from Birmingham, central England, appeared in a London court yesterday and are to be held in custody for three weeks. The men face charges of “engaging in conduct” from May 1 to July 4 “in preparation for an act or acts of terrorism with the intention of committing such acts,” the U.K.’s West Midlands Police said in an e-mailed statement this week.
The men -- Jewel Uddin, 26; Omar Mohammed Khan, 27; and Mohammed Hasseen, 23 -- allegedly manufactured an improvised explosive device and bought firearms, according to a statement.
Three others, previously detained in connection with a separate investigation that produced a series of arrests last week, appeared in court today, according to the Crown Prosecution Service. They also face charges under the Terror Act and are still in custody, U.K. prosecutors said in a statement.
At a separate hearing, a judge yesterday rejected an attempt by residents of a London apartment complex to block installation of a ground-to-air missile system on the roof of their east London building during the Olympics.
The British government’s air-defense plan for London during the competition includes a series of ground-based missile sites across the city and two high-velocity missile sites overlooking the Olympic park as a “last line of defense.”
“They do not need to ask you, do not need to consult you, but can take over your home and put a missile on the roof, a tank on the lawn and soldiers in the front living room,” David Enright, a lawyer representing the residents, said outside the London court yesterday. “We have always believed an Englishman’s home is his castle, not a forward operating base.”
“We are pleased the high court has found in our favor,” according to the ministry’s statement. “We have always said we are planning for the worst case scenario, not the most likely.”
Howe & Co., the firm representing the residents, said today they will drop the lawsuit and take the matter to Parliament.
An additional 9,500 police officers will be deployed in London on the busiest days of the games, the capital’s Metropolitan Police Service said. The U.K. Ministry of Defence is contributing as many as 13,500 personnel for security during that time, ministry spokesman Craig Mowat said in an e-mail. That’s 4,000 more than the number of British soldiers currently in Afghanistan, according to NATO.
In May, when an Islamic cleric known as Abu Qatada was denied bail while he fights extradition to Jordan on terror charges, a U.K. government lawyer said the Olympics will stretch law enforcement resources.
“During the preparation of the Olympics and the Paralympics there will be a very high level of demand on these resources,” Robin Tam said at the May hearing. “As a matter of logical inference, if Abu Qatada were to abscond other resources would have to be diverted find him.”
A man charged with terrorism-related activities challenged a court order banning him from traveling through the Olympic Park in east London this week. The man, identified by authorities as CF, breached the order five times since he was tagged using GPS monitoring in April, according to documents filed at a U.K. court.
The man was deported to Britain from Somaliland, in east Africa, in 2011 and has been under official surveillance since May of last year. He is charged with suspicion of committing, preparing, or instigating terrorist acts.
In a separate incident, police closed a major highway in central England for more than four hours last week for what proved to be a false alarm. Police stopped a bus and shut the road it was traveling on after passengers said they saw vapor escaping from a bag. That turned out to be a “health-improvement aid for smokers.” Sky News initially reported the incident to be a counter-terrorism operation.
“The first thing we must consider is that there is a thing called randomness” said Bentley. “There may be something going on, but a mere small cluster of cases doesn’t prove anything.”