As the police investigation into the terror plot unfolded yesterday, the main focus of attention was on two brothers who lived in a semi-detached ex-council house in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. Their home in Walton Drive was raided by police in the early hours. Officers simultaneously sealed off surrounding roads and evacuated local residents.
As word of their arrest spread, residents spoke of how the pair, both in their early 20s, seemed to shun local mosques and become insular after frequenting a local Islamic bookshop.
Phil Redfern, 26, a local builder and former acquaintance, said: «They used to come out and play football, but as they got older they got very secluded. There’s a lot of Islamic bookstores popping up all over the place. Its different, the preaching down there.»
Neighbours said the pair regularly visited an Islamic bookshop on nearby Totteridge Drive, a blue-shuttered shop next to a grocer.
Zaffar Iqbal, a worker in the bookshop, said he knew the men’s father, but did not know the brothers. He said the parent had emigrated from the Kashmiri region of Pakistan and initially worked in a clothing factory in the town. He dismissed any suggestion that the brothers may have been radicalised at his shop. «This is not a munitions supplier, this is a bookshop,» he said.
Another neighbour, Ashiq Rasul, also defended the brothers. «They are good mates of mine, practising Muslims. Teachings in the mosque have taught them to not to speak back to their elders and commit any violent acts on innocent people. [One] has a baby girl and loves his wife to bits. He cares for his child. These guys would never do any terrorism.»
Half a mile away, other residents were seeking to come to terms with the arrest of another local man. They told how Don Stewart-Whyte became a changed figure a year ago when he converted to Islam. He lived quietly in Hepplewhite Close with his widowed mother. But former acquaintances said he had become less inclined to acknowledge his former friends and neighbours.
«He grew a long beard and had shaved his head,» one said. «The people he was hanging around with were different. Now he’s with people who are religious. He doesn’t speak to anyone around here since his conversion. We don’t know what he does nowadays.»
Another neighbour said Mr Stewart-Whyte had become «very enthusiastic» about his new faith. «He just said ‘salaam’ one day and I was so surprised,» said the neighbour, an Asian woman who declined to be named. «He said, ‘I’m a Muslim.'»
A total of five addresses were raided in High Wycombe, and an area of forest land at King’s Wood in the town was sealed off and searched by police. One neighbour of another unnamed suspect in Micklefield Road said the householder had caused some resentment by housing asylum seekers in his property until four months ago. Peter Whitelock, 77, who coordinates Neighbourhood Watch in the area, said: «There were people coming to the house at night-time, around midnight, almost every night.»
There was similar confusion after police raids on four houses in north-east London, spread over more than six hours. The raids began on Wednesday evening in Forest Road, Walthamstow, with police ramming open doors. No 386, a shabby, sandy-coloured two-storey terrace house, was empty. It had been sold about a month ago. But a local resident, John Weir, said that after the sale he had seen two men of north African appearance visiting the premises.
Another raid followed in nearby Folkestone Road at the home of Marylin Savant and her husband Ibrahim. On the electoral register are their sons Oliver and Adam, although neither of them lives there. Oliver, 25, was arrested elsewhere soon afterwards, but one family member said the experience had been terrifying for them all.
«Oliver is a just an ordinary family man who is expecting a new baby,» said a relative. «He is a Muslim, he goes to the mosque but he is not the member of any organisation.»
The relative said none of them had any idea why the arrest might have taken place and that Oliver’s parents were blameless. «They are just two normal people. She is a bookkeeper and her computer was taken away. They are very upset and traumatised.» Mrs Savant is believed to be of English origin while her husband was born in Iran.
A neighbour said Oliver, a former shopworker, had started growing a beard and wearing long white robes after converting to Islam in his teens. Another neighbour, Paul Kleinman, 66, a retired fireman, said he had known Oliver all his life. He said: «He was a very polite young man. I’ve known him since the day he was born. His dad invited me in for a drink. Oliver started putting on Muslim robes and growing his beard long a few years back.»
A friend of Oliver’s from Henry Maynard primary school said he had been a good footballer and was well known and liked in the area. The friend, who asked not to be named, said: «He loved football, he used to play at a club just around the corner and everyone liked him; he was a really nice guy.»
Two more arrests occurred soon afterwards in Stoke Newington. Two Bangladeshi men were arrested in their upstairs flat. «He had lived there for many years and was a very nice chap,» a neighbour said of one of them.
«He was attacked by some youths and hit on the head with an iron bar a couple of years ago and he went into a coma. I think he’s still recovering.»
Further east, in Stratford, another man was arrested in the street by officers who had been keeping him under close surveillance. His arrest is believed to be linked to a flat in Carnarvon Road, Stratford, which was being searched by anti-terrorist officers last night.
Though anti-terrorist squad officers have been keen to keep the identities of those arrested secret, the lack of information only served to heighten speculation in several cities.
In the Alum Rock area of Birmingham, two men were arrested in Belcher Road as detectives raided the offices of ACS Management Group. A 30-year-old builder who did not wish to be named said: «I heard some commotion so looked out of my back window and saw at least 20 police officers chasing a group of men over gardens of the houses to the rear of the shop.»
Neighbours reported seeing a lorry twice a week delivering unmarked packages. «There are a number of smartly dressed Asian and Somalian men who seemed to come and go at the property,» one said.
«I know everybody round here and the people who used to come in and out of there were from all over the place, they often had London accents.»
He said the owners of the shop had erected a metal gate to restrict access to the garages at the rear and the business had changed names three times in the past year despite being staffed by the same people.
«The two Asian men who lived there had been there for years but kept themselves to themselves,» he said.