Paris militant group had links to Britain: Wall Street Journal

LONDON: The militant network behind last month's attacks in Paris had links to people in Britain, the Wall Street Journal said on Friday, citing unidentified Western officials.

Several people suspected of having connections to Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the Islamic State militant and alleged ringleader of the Nov. 13 attacks, are based in Britain, according to two Western officials, the Journal said.

The officials told the Journal those people, including some of Moroccan heritage, were based in the Birmingham area, in central England, about 120 miles (190 km) from London.

There has been no official suggestion in London of any direct links between the group that carried out the attack that killed 130 people and British militants. But Jihadi groups are often loosely arraigned and contacts, including the use of social media, are widespread.

Britain's Mirror newspaper reported that British police are investigating claims a member of the gang that attacked Paris made several phone calls to Birmingham in the run up to the atrocity.

"They were made shortly before the Paris attacks. British police are urgently investigating whether anyone in the UK was involved in those atrocities and also whether there is a linked terror cell based here,” the Mirror cited a source as saying.

Britain suffered by far its worst militant Islamist attack in July, 2005, when 52 people were killed by suicide bombs on underground trains and a bus.

Britain is on its second-highest alert level of "severe", meaning a militant attack is considered highly likely, mainly due to the threat the authorities say is posed by Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq and their encouragement of supporters to carry out attacks in their homelands.

Charles Farr, the Director General of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, said last month that up to 800 Britons had travelled to Iraq and Syria, some to join Islamic State. About 50 percent had returned home while about 70 were believed to have been killed, Farr said.

Britain says seven plots have been foiled in the last year, although not on the same scale as those carried out in Paris, with counter-terrorism officers making on average an arrest every day.