Christmas Terror Plot Thwarted As Police Arrest Chip Shop Owner

“One day he never prayed and the next day he was going to pray every day,” his girlfriend said. “I don't know why but it literally happened overnight.”



A Chesterfield, England, counterterrorism unit arrested a chip shop owner suspected of planning a Christmas day terror plot.

Andy Sami Star, the 31-year-old owner of the Mermaid Tradition Fish Bar and three other suspects, ages 22, 36 and 41, were detained by police on Dec. 19 after they conducted raids in Derbyshire and South Yorkshire. A police bomb squad responded to the shop Chesterfield as detectives feared a gang of suspected terrorists had assembled an explosive device. Counterterrorism police also targeted four other properties in Sheffield in coordination with MI5 to thwart an attack.

Neighbors of the fish and chip bar were woken early morning by a series of loud bangs as camouflaged officers with guns forced entry into the shop. Residents and neighbors were evacuated to the nearby Proact Stadium football ground and the area was cordoned off. Star was later taken away from the property, where he worked with his brother and distributed copies of the Quran, according to his friends.

The suspect came to Britain as an asylum seeker 10 years ago and got his British citizenship just three months ago. His girlfriend, Joanne Mallinson, said Star arrived from Iraqi Kurdistan where his family still resides. He was granted an indefinite leave to stay before getting his citizenship.

The couple dated on and off till about six months ago when Star suddenly became obsessed with religion. Until last year, Mallinson said, Star had no interest in Islam. He would celebrate Christmas, drink wine and even wear a Santa hat during holiday trips. However, he suddenly turned into an obsessed Muslim overnight and grew a beard.

“One day he never prayed and the next day he was going to pray every day and he took it seriously,” the 33-year-old said. “I don't know why but it literally happened overnight. He said he wanted to change his life and started praying.”

However, even after his transformation, Star was very much against ISIS, Mallinson said. His new demeanor took a toll on their relationship and they broke up.

“I am not a Muslim and I didn't want to go down that route ...Towards the last few months all he would go on about is Islam,” Mallinson said.

Still, she said she was shocked by the news that Star was arrested for planning a terror attack.

“He was everyone's friend and was always willing to help people, he was very caring. I have been in shock all day,” she said.

Star’s other friends also expressed their dismay at the news.

Jordan Batteson, 25, said, “He was a really nice guy, really friendly. I used to go in there to get my chips. He gave the staff copies of the Quran.”

Even Mallinson’s mother, Norma, said, “He was thoughtful and ever so friendly, I thought they might get married. More recently he would try to preach religion at me.”

“I don't know what happened, he was a nice guy. All I can think is that someone has taken advantage of him. I am sure he is innocent,” said a fried of Star from the Kurdish community. “I don't know the three other guys involved, but they must have used him, taken advantage. I was so shocked when I was told he had been arrested.”

The officers have until Christmas to decide whether to charge the four men. They are being held on suspicion of being concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of a terror plot. Police said the arrests were “pre-planned” and “intelligence-led” as part of ongoing investigations into terrorism.

Counterterrorism teams in Britain are running about 500 live investigations that involve 3,000 individuals at a time. There is also a pool of 20,000 who were subjected to previous inquiries.

Banner/Thumbnail: Cathal McNaughton/Reuters

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