Britain's Homegrown Problem

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With 24 people in custody in Britain and five more at large, the British police have been careful to point out that the latest foiled terrorist plot wasn't the work of any one community, but a small group of criminals. According to reports, some of the suspects rounded up last night have connections to Pakistan — one senior Pakistan official told TIME that nine men have been arrested in Pakistan over the past few days in connection to the plot. And French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said in a press conference today that the "team of terrorists appears to be of Pakistani origin." But other reports indicate that the suspects were British-born with some ties to Pakistan. Either way, only a year after the July 7 bombings, Britons are once again reminded that al-Qaeda-inspired extremists could be living right next door.

Indeed, if not for the crime tape stretched across the driveway and the four policemen standing guard, the red-and-white house in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire would blend right in with the rest of the homes on the leafy, quiet street. The house is one of several that were raided by British police Wednesday night. Whether any of the resulting 24 arrests came from this property, the police won't confirm, although local politicians are calling the raids a blow to the close-knit multi-ethnic community. While neighbors say the house's occupants seemed nice enough, they don't know much about them: some say three brothers live there; others claim it's a married couple. The only reasonable reaction to the possibility that terrorists could be living next door is surprise.

"We always knew there were homegrown terrorists," says Michael Clarke, professor of defense studies at King's College London. "But the assumption was that they were going to commit their terrorist acts somewhere else, like Afghanistan or the West Bank. But July 7 created the idea that we've got them, they're suicide bombers´┐Żwhich was a first for Britain´┐Żand they're attacking us." That reality hit home again last month, when a video of Shehzad Tanweer, one of the four July 7 suicide bombers, was released on the eve of the bombings' one-year anniversary. In it, he promises that attacks like the one on London's public transport network that killed 52 would become stronger, his Yorkshire accent a bitter reminder that he and his cohorts were British citizens, three of them born here. Those who knew the July 7 bombers described them as "ordinary" guys who had never caused any trouble before.

The five men charged with planning the failed July 21 operation — where four small explosions shut down the London transport system — also lived and worked in Britain. "The enemy within is the most daunting, because you don't have people crossing borders, which would make them easier to detect, since they're already integrated and often in very tight communities" says Will Geddes, managing director of ICP Group, an international security consultancy. "The more extreme groups tend to isolate themselves. I hate to draw this analogy, but it's a bit like with pedophile rings. They remain in their own isolated community, in a similar way to terrorists, in the way that you could have two cells that are literally a street apart but won't necessarily know of each other's existence."

The challenge in containing and eventually squashing homegrown terror is to identify those groups without alienating the people who live and work alongside them. Earlier this week, Britain's most senior Muslim police officer complained that tougher anti-terrorism tactics were discriminating against the country's Muslims, further increasing tensions that have been rising since 9/11. "There is a real risk of criminalizing minority communities," said Tarique Ghaffur, Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner. "The impact of [tough counter-terrorism tactics] will be that just at the time we need the confidence and trust of these communities, they may retreat inside themselves." As more details start to emerge about the suspects in custody, that's something Britons may have to grapple with in the coming days.