Image: U.S. Embassy in London's Grosvenor Square
Suzanne Plunkett  /  Reuters
Pedestrians are seen walking past the U.S. Embassy in London's Grosvenor Square in this Oct. 2008 photo. The embassy was a target of a group of alleged terror plotters arrested in Britain last week, the U.S. State Department said.
msnbc.com news services
updated 12/28/2010 5:00:43 AM ET 2010-12-28T10:00:43

The U.S. Embassy in London was a target of a group of men arrested last week in Britain and charged with conspiracy to cause explosions and preparing acts of terrorism, the U.S. State Department said on Monday.

Twelve men were arrested on December 20 in what British police said were counter-terrorism raids essential to protect the public from the threat of attack.

Three were later released without charges, leaving nine who appeared in court on Monday to face the charges.

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Asked if he was aware of reports the suspects indicated that the U.S. Embassy in London was on their target list, State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters: "I am aware and ... obviously our folks in London are aware of this."

Video: Christmas terror plot targeted London landmarks (on this page)

In response to a follow-up question during a telephone briefing with reporters, Toner said: "You asked me if we were aware that we were on the targeting list and I confirmed that."

The nine men in the alleged plot are: Gurukanth Desai, 28, Omar Sharif Latif, 26, and Abdul Malik Miah, 24, from Cardiff, Mohammed Moksudur Rahman Chowdhury, 20, and Shah Mohammed Lutfar Rahman, 28, from London, and Nazam Hussain, 25, Usman Khan, 19, Mohibur Rahman, 26, and Abul Bosher Mohammed Shahjahan, 26, from Stoke-on-Trent.

The court jailed them until their next court appearance.

The decision to charge them was announced early Monday, with police saying that the conspiracy started Oct. 1 and continued until Dec. 20, the day of the arrests.

The men are also accused of downloading and researching materials and methods for acts of terrorism, and carrying out reconnaissance missions and testing incendiary material.

Heightened anxiety
The men were arrested last week in London, Cardiff and Stoke-on-Trent in central England in the largest British anti-terror raid in two years. The arrests came at a time of heightened anxiety about terror plots in Europe.

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U.K. officials have previously said that possible targets included the Houses of Parliament in London and shopping areas elsewhere in the U.K. Others on the potential target list included the London Stock Exchange as well as political and religious figures, the BBC reported, citing court proceedings.

A spokeswoman for Britain's Crown Prosecution Service said she could provide no comment or confirmation of what was said in court Monday, a national holiday in Britain.

Although the arrests occurred on Dec. 21, in the run-up to Christmas, a security official told The Associated Press last week that this latest conspiracy didn't appear to be timed for the holidays. It also wasn't linked to a larger European plot uncovered in the fall involving a Mumbai-style shooting spree in cities across Britain, France or Germany, or to last week's suicide bombing in Sweden, he said.

He spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.

The suspects are expected back in court Jan. 14 on a variety of terror-related charges including conspiracy to cause explosions.

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Europe has been the target of numerous terror plots by Islamist militants. The deadliest was the 2004 Madrid train bombings, when shrapnel-filled bombs exploded, killing 191 people and wounding about 1,800.

Britain's terror alert has remained unchanged at "severe" while Germany upped its terror alert Nov. 17 in response to an increased threat from Islamic extremists.

Since the 2005 suicide bombing attacks on London's transportation network that killed 52 commuters, there have been a number of other alleged terror plots in Britain.

Past plots
In April 2009, 12 men were detained over an alleged al-Qaida bomb plot in the northern city of Manchester. All were subsequently released without charge and ordered to leave Britain. One of them, Abid Naseer, was later re-arrested at the request of the U.S., which says he was involved a plot to bomb the New York City subway. He is in jail awaiting extradition.

In 2006, U.S. and British intelligence officials thwarted one of the most dramatic plots yet made public, a plan to explode nearly a dozen trans-Atlantic airliners.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Christmas terror plot targeted London landmarks

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