Man arrested on suspicion of terror offences after uranium found at Heathrow

Oringinally published by Robert Mendick in the Telegraph.

A businessman has been arrested on suspicion of terrorism over an alleged attempt to import radioactive uranium into the UK. 

The British citizen was detained by counter-terrorism police after the discovery of traces of uranium at Heathrow Airport just after Christmas, in a consignment of scrap metal intended for an Iranian registered business based in the UK.

He was questioned under section nine of the Terrorism Act 2006, which created an offence “of making or possessing a radioactive device or possessing radioactive material with the intention of using it” in the commission or preparation of an act of terrorism.

The use of the section is incredibly rare.

On Sunday, police insisted they had found no evidence of a plot and said that the incident was not believed to be linked to any direct threat to the public. In a statement issued, counter-terrorism police said the discovery of uranium “within a cargo package” at Heathrow Airport on Dec 29 remained “clearly of concern”. However, they insisted no material had been found at the arrested man’s home that could pose a threat to the public.

 Officers arrested the man at an address in Cheshire on Saturday morning and released him on Sunday on bail until April, following questioning at a police station in the north-west.  

Commander Richard Smith, who leads the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command, said: “The discovery of what was a very small amount of uranium within a package at Heathrow Airport is clearly of concern, but it shows the effectiveness of the procedures and checks in place with our partners to detect this type of material.

“Our priority since launching our investigation has been to ensure that there is no linked direct threat to the public. To this end, we are following every possible line of enquiry available to us, which has led us to making this arrest over the weekend.”

The senior officer played down any public fears of an imminent threat.

“I want to be clear that despite making this arrest, and based on what we currently know, this incident still does not appear to be linked to any direct threat to the public,” said Cdr Smith. “However, detectives are continuing with their enquiries to ensure this is definitely the case.”

Police said officers were called in after Border Force officials at Heathrow discovered the cargo contaminated with a “very small amount of uranium” during a routine screening using sophisticated radioactive scanning equipment.

The identity of the businessman remains unclear, but it is suggested he is involved in a company importing scrap metal.

It is understood to have been contained within metal bars which originated in Pakistan and had been placed in the hold of an Oman Air passenger jet at Muscat Airport en route to London.

Senior sources inside the police said the arrest was necessary for officers to rule out any wrongdoing, but remained insistent there was no threat posed by the discovery of the minute traces of uranium. 

Sources said it remained most likely that the metal bars were accidentally contaminated, rather than part of a terrorist plot that posed a threat to the UK.

“The focus of the investigation is really to make sure there is no malign intent linked to this,” said a source. “Clearly, the amount of uranium detected was very small but given the nature of the material, the arrest was necessary.”

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