UPDATE: All were freed without being charged.
Unfortunately, it was almost entirely predictable that something like this would turn up during the Pope’s visit. It is also not unlike a report from a few weeks ago in which jihadists posing as rail workers were to be pre-positioned to wreak havoc during the 2012 Olympics. What remains to be seen, of course, is any affiliation these five may have with larger jihadist groups — in this case, particularly Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Five street cleaners have been arrested over a potential threat to the Pope, Sky News sources say.
Armed counter-terror officers swooped on the central London agency to which they were registered in the early hours of the morning.
The suspects, who are aged 26, 27, 36, 40 and 50, are being held and questioned under the Terrorism Act 2000.
The firm where the arrests were made is now being searched, as well as homes in north and east London.
Sky News crime correspondent Martin Brunt said he understood the men were Algerian nationals employed by the agency to work for Westminster City Council.
He said they were due to clean streets around the House of Commons, where the Pope is due to speak, prompting police to launch the operation to arrest them.
Brunt said: “I was at a briefing last week around the whole issue of the Pope’s security and the point was made then that there was no known threat or intelligence to suggest a plot against the Pope.
“What the police are dealing with today is something that has cropped up in the last 24 hours.”
Dr Leith Penny, Westminster City Council’s director for city management, said: “The UK’s security is obviously of critical importance and can never be taken for granted and so our congratulations must go to the police authorities for their swift action today.
“While police investigations are ongoing and no charges have been brought, we can confirm that the people at the centre of the investigation work for one of our contractors, Veolia Environmental Services, who employ 650 on-street staff to keep Westminster’s streets clean and free from rubbish.
“Veolia and Westminster City Council work closely with the relevant authorities to constantly ensure that all the people working on their behalf are subject to right to work checks as prescribed by the Home Office to assess their eligibility to work in the country.
“We are confident that these checks are robust and we will continue to work with the police and other authorities during this investigation.”
The Pope was told of the arrests this morning, but a spokesman for the Vatican confirmed the itinerary would not change.
“We are calm, the Pope is happy and we go on with the same joy we have had until now,” he said.
A spokesman for Scotland Yard said: “Initial searches have not uncovered any hazardous items.
“Today’s arrests were made after police received information. Following initial inquiries by detectives, a decision was made to arrest the five men….