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Internet cafes used by terror suspects raided

London Evening Standard | August 13 2006

Police are examining hundreds of computers after raiding Internet cafes allegedly used by the terror suspects.

Officers stormed two Internet cafes in Walthamstow simultaneously, taking away scores of hard drives and floppy disks, which Scotland Yard's IT experts are scrutinising for evidence of the suspects' alleged terror links.

The swoops followed dawn raids in and around east London, High Wycombe and Birmingham in which 24 people were arrested.

At least two Internet cafes in the Reading area have also had thousands of pounds worth of computer equipment taken away for examination and another in Slough is under investigation.

Security sources alleged that the would-be bombers had links to Pakistan and said anti-terror police had acted yesterday after intercepting a message to "go now" from a facilitator there. It has been suggested that the same man may have also wired money to Britain to finance the plot.

Both premises in Walthamstow, which also provide cheap international calls, are less than a 10-minute drive from the six homes raided in the neighbourhood.

Other Internet cafes in the area were not raided, suggesting that police had intelligence relating to suspects using the two Somali-owned businesses to communicate with alleged co-conspirators.

A member of staff at Haji Telecoms described the moment when plain-clothes officers burst into the cafe‚ with a warrant to confiscate the shop's equipment.

He said: "They came in about 2pm. I saw the warrant form had our address and shop's name on it. They waited for my manager and at that time they told two customers to get out."

"First there were a couple of plain-clothes officers and they showed me a warrant to search the premises. I asked them to wait for my boss and they could not do anything until my manager came in."

Three lab technicians then joined the officers as they took away 27 Dell PC hard drives and two floppy disks. They left the monitors and keyboards behind. Officers told staff to pull down the shop's shutters as employees of other businesses in the parade looked on.

The cafe, in Lea Bridge Road, began trading five years ago and offers Internet access for 50p an hour.

The seized equipment was put in an unmarked van and police said it may be returned by the end of the week. In the meantime the business has been rendered useless and the member of staff, who did not want to be named, said it could lose more than £2,000. "They would not say when they are going to bring them back," he said. "I have no business. All my customers are coming in and going away. They said it was for security purposes."

He said the cafe‚ had a multicultural clientele and he did not know any of the suspects arrested in the terror raids.

"I was shocked by this," he said. "You ask my customers and they will vouch for us that we are good people. They asked me if I know all the names of the customers. The customers just come in and use the computers and that is it."

The second Internet cafe‚ in the area to have its hard drives confiscated was the Hamar Jadid centre in Markhouse Street.

Plainclothes officers took more than 30 minutes to inspect the modest-looking premises. The shop is a few hundreds yard away from the homes raided in Queens Street and Albert Street.

By Friday night, the owner of the cafe‚ had shut up and gone home. A shopkeeper from a neighbouring business described the scenes earlier in the day.

He said: "At around 3pm a van pulled up and 10 or so people got out and marched into Hamar Jadid. They looked like bailiffs first of all and I had no idea they were the police. I was concerned because I often speak to the owner and I wouldn't want him to have business problems.

"Half an hour later they came out with plastic bags with hard drives in them. They cleaned him out. I know he is a good man and it is unfair that he cannot run his business until these computers are given back. How is he supposed to watch every single person and what website they are looking at?"

A police spokesman refused to comment on the raids on the Internet cafes.

But Peter Clarke, head of the Yard's anti-terrorist branch said that the investigation leading up to raid had used unprecedented levels of surveillance. He said: "We have been looking at meetings, movement, travel, spending and the aspirations of a large group of people." - London Evening Standard

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