BRITAIN’S top counter terrorist officer resigned yesterday after admitting he endangered an operation to thwart a suspected al-Qaida plot.
Assistant commissioner Bob Quick stood down after a security breach when he was photographed carrying a secret document containing details of the police operation into 10 Downing Street.
Colleagues sprang into action and brought a series of raids involving hundreds of officers across north-west England forward 12 hours because of the blunder.
A total of 12 men were in custody last night as forensic officers began fingertip searches of addresses in Manchester, Liverpool and Clitheroe in Lancashire.
Eleven of those arrested are Pakistani and one is a UK-born British national, police said. At least 10 of the Pakistanis held student visas.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown defended the anti-terror operation, but suggested more work must be done to stop lawless areas of Pakistan acting as safe havens for extremists to plot attacks worldwide.
Speaking during a tour in Carlisle, Mr Brown said: “We are dealing with a very big terrorist plot. We have been following it for some time. There were a number of people who are suspected of it who have been arrested. That police operation was successful.
“We know that there are links between terrorists in Britain and terrorists in Pakistan. That is an important issue for us to follow through and that’s why I will be talking to President Zardari about what Pakistan can do to help us in the future.”
Armed officers swooped on at least 14 addresses, including homes, flats, an internet cafe, a car on the M602 and Liverpool’s John Moores University, during six hours of frantic activity on Wednesday night. Among those held were two security guards working at a branch of Homebase in Clitheroe, a student outside the university library and four men at addresses in the Cheetham Hill area of Manchester.
Whitehall sources said the men had been under surveillance by MI5 and police for weeks but the nature or potential target of the plot remained unclear.
One source said: “There was information of sufficient concern that action needed to be taken. Work is ongoing to get to the bottom of it.”
The official described media reports the alleged plotters may have been sizing up “soft targets” such as Manchester’s Trafford Centre, nightclubs and football grounds such as Old Trafford as “speculation”.
Security staff at the Trafford Centre said they had not been informed of any threat.
Chief Constable Peter Fahy said officers now face a “long process” as they examine materials, undertake forensic tests and interview suspects.
The Greater Manchester Police chief suggested it was not ideal the operation was brought forward, but added officers are used to dealing with “fast-moving situations”.
He said there is a clear link between the suspected plotters and Pakistan, but denied any targets for atrocities had been selected.
Mr Fahy said: “There is no particular threat against any particular location and certainly not the ones mentioned in the media. I would like to say I would have no hesitation, or any of my family, in using any of those locations that have been mentioned.”
Mr Quick’s demise came swiftly after photographs taken with zoom lenses in a split second as he got out of his chauffeur-driven car were circulated on the internet. His blunder led to the Defence Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee, which advises the media on national security matters, issuing a request to news organisations not to print the photograph.
The former Surrey chief constable decided to resign less than 12 hours later after conversations with Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson and Home Secretary Jacqui Smith.
Critics pointed out Mr Quick, 49, will walk away from the Metropolitan Police with a pension of more than £110,000 and is likely to pick up lucrative consultancy work.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved