British intelligence officials decided to interrupt last month’s plot to allegedly kidnap, torture and behead a British soldier on British soil when they say a chilling, direct order from Pakistan was intercepted.
"If you can’t find a Muslim, any squaddie (soldier) will do," are the words that triggered fast action by authorities who said the plotters intended to kidnap, torture and behead a British soldier and then release a video tape of their actions, Intelligence officials tell ABC News.
Britain’s foreign intelligence service, MI-5, intercepted the message from Pakistan about six weeks ago, according to intelligence sources, who believed the attack was to take place less than a month after the message was received. Shortly after the message was transmitted, British authorities say they observed members of the alleged terror cell staking out at least one military base, looking for a victim.
British authorities were alarmed by how quickly the alleged plotters prepared themselves to strike after receiving the message, counter-terrorism sources tell ABC News. With over 300 terror suspects reportedly under investigation, police and intelligence officials in England are concerned they may not be able to act in time to thwart fast-developing plots like this one.
European and American officials alike worry of a shift in terrorist tactics away from complex coordinated attacks designed to cause mass casualties, towards smaller acts like the alleged beheading plot they interrupted last month. Such attacks are simpler to plan and faster to execute – and harder to stop, those officials fear.
British officials swooped down to interrupt the alleged beheading plot on Jan. 31 in a series of 12 coordinated raids. By that point, the alleged terrorists had already picked out their victim, officials say: a British soldier who was a Muslim and had served in Afghanistan.
At the time of the raids, authorities were already on high alert, having narrowly averted an August 2006 plot to blow up several commercial airliners en route from London to the United States. In November, the MI-5 Chief Eliza Manningham-Buller said that the service had about 1,600 people under investigation in connection with various terrorist plots. Manningham-Buller also said that British authorities had interrupted five major plots since July 2005 transit bombings which killed 52 people and injured more than 750 others.