Six quizzed over alleged plot against pope’s visit

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  • Police officers at a depot of Westminster cleaning contractors Veolia in London yesterday. Photograph: Paul Hackett/Reuters
  • Pope Benedict XVI arrives as past and present British politicians line up before his speech at Westminster Hall in London yesterday. From left are former prime ministers Gordon Brown and Tony Blair; Cherie Blair; Norma Major; former prime ministers John Major and Margaret Thatcher; foreign secretary William Hague; and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Reuters

irishtimes.com

17 September 2010

MARK HENNESSY London Editor

POPE’S UK VISIT: SIX NORTH African men – five of whom are known to work for Westminster City Council as street-cleaners – were being questioned last night in London by police investigating allegations they were involved in a plot against Pope Benedict on the second day of his state visit to the United Kingdom.

 Five of the men were arrested in a dawn raid in Chiltern Street, Marylebone, central London, just before they went on cleaning duty after intelligence was received. The sixth was detained elsewhere in the city in the afternoon. No weapons, explosives, or any incriminating papers are reported to have been discovered in the raids on their workplace, or in later searches on their homes throughout the city.

 The five, aged between 20 and 50, are employed by Veolia Environmental Services, a private company which supplies street-cleaners on contract to Westminster council. None was detailed yesterday for duty on any of the streets that formed part of the routes followed by the 83-year-old pope during a hectic day of engagements in the city.

The group, some of whom are Algerian nationals, were detained under the UK’s Terrorism Act 2000 on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism. So far, it has not been confirmed whether the arrests of the five were linked to the arrest of the sixth man at 2pm, which was announced just as the pope entered Westminster Abbey.

 The Veolia employees had undergone checks by the Home Office before they were hired, though police were last night checking immigration records. News of their arrest was given to the pope’s security team before he left the Papal Nuncio’s home in Wimbledon in south London for a Mass before 4,000 schoolchildren in Twickenham.

No changes to the itinerary were made. Despite the security alert, the pope’s Popemobile stopped on Millbank in Westminster – en route between the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lambeth Palace and the Palace of Westminster – to give his blessing to a child held on the shoulders of her father.

 The pope was 30 minutes late by the time he arrived for his address in Westminster Hall to 2,000 dignitaries, including four former prime ministers: Conservatives Margaret Thatcher and John Major, and Labour’s Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Fr Federico Lombardi, a spokesman for the Vatican, said: “We are not worried about this at all. It will not change our plans and we are happy with the policing arrangements.” The pope’s security team are not armed on this trip, but they are accompanied by armed British detectives.

“We are totally confident in the police and Scotland Yard. The police have said there is no need to change anything of the programme and security. It was a precautionary, normal measure because of possible problems,” Fr Lombardi went on.

“The pope is not preoccupied – as he said on the plane when he flew here, ‘I will go to the UK with courage and joy’. He will carry on, and he is delighted that so many people have come to see him and are happy to see him,” he said.

The arrests were made in response to information received shortly beforehand. Up to now, MI5 is not understood to have received any intelligence warning of a terrorist plot against the pope, but, sources said, they could not afford to take chances.

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