LONDON -- Police arrested five men and one woman on suspicion of preparation, instigation, or commission of acts of terrorism in the east, west, and north parts of the city early Thursday.
Authorities say the anti-terrorism operation was executed under the Terrorism Act 2000 and included searches of one business and eight residential homes, but that the arrests aren't related to the upcoming Olympic games.
John Smallshaw, a resident of Stratford, the London neighborhood where the Olympics are due to start July 27, was sleeping when police made an arrest across the street from his home.
“There were five loud bangs in very quick succession," he said. "So I jumped up - I live on the 21st floor of a tower block - I looked out the window and on the ground floor opposite ... there were a row of about eight policemen in uniform and it appeared the house had had its door blown off and there were several police vans in evidence.”
He continued looking on as police made at least two arrests.
“Two policemen brought a young man out and put him inside a waiting ambulance. After that they brought out another young man who was handcuffed with his hands behind his back and put him in a police car and drove him off. And then I went and made a coffee.”
Police officials also say a 24-year-old man was shot with a stun gun during his arrest but that he did not require hospital treatment, and that the sweep isn't linked to the upcoming international events.
But Margaret Gilmore, a homeland security expert at the London-based Royal United Services Institute, says she would not be surprised to see a surge in arrests as the games approach.
“In the run-up to the Olympic Games there is really no appetite for taking any risk over terrorism, and therefore they're going to remove anyone they're suspicious of or send a very strong message, pointing a finger and saying, 'Look, we've been watching you, we're suspicious, we're not going to put you under surveillance or really push for the evidence, but take this message with you,'” she said.
Britain’s terrorism threat level is unchanged from "substantial," which means a terrorist attack is a "strong possibility," two rungs lower than the highest risk level, “critical,” which means an attack is “expected imminently.”
“The authorities have not increased our state of alert, which remains by our standards at a relatively low level," said Gilmore. "And if there was significant intelligence they would do so. So they haven't done that.”
Seven years ago this week 52 people were killed in London in a string of coordinated suicide attacks.