Police are holding three suspected terrorists after a weekend arson attack at the London home of the publisher of a novel about the Prophet Mohamed's child bride.
Two men were arrested by armed police outside the house in Islington, north London, and a third was detained outside a nearby Underground station. The fire was quickly put out after the fire brigade smashed the front door. The publisher, Martin Rynja, 44, was unhurt.
Scotland Yard described the operation as being "intelligence-led", implying that the gang were being followed by undercover police.
Mr Rynja is director of Gibson Square, an independent publishing house which earlier this month announced it planned to release The Jewel of the Medina in Britain. He could not be contacted yesterday, and is thought to be under police protection.
The novel, by the American author Sherry Jones, was pulled by publishers in the US over fears it would anger Muslims, while a publisher in Serbia withdrew it from the shelves after protests from Islamic leaders, who said it insulted Mohamed and his family.
Neighbours of Mr Rynja said armed police, assisted by fire-fighters, broke into his home at around 2.30 am. Kevin Austin, 44, said he was woken up by police banging on his front door. "All we heard was someone outside shouting 'Get on the ground. Get on the ground,' loudly and forcefully," he said.
"Then they shouted 'Stop struggling,' and we heard a van door closing and several cars speeding off. Then we were told to get out of the house. We only got as far as the front door when the police told us to get back inside."
Another resident said he saw the two arrested men being put into forensic suits to protect evidence, before being bundled into a black van.
The three men, aged 22, 30 and 40, were arrested on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism, and are being questioned at a London police station. Officers also searched four properties in north-east London – two in Walthamstow, one in Ilford and one in Forest Gate.
Announcing the publication of The Jewel of the Medina earlier this month, Mr Rynja said he felt such books were important in a liberal democracy. "If a novel of quality and skill that casts light on a beautiful subject we know too little of in the West, but have a genuine interest in, cannot be published here, it would truly mean that the clock has been turned back to the dark ages. The Jewel of the Medina has become an important barometer of our time," he said.
In an interview with a German newspaper, the author dismissed the idea that her work – which focuses on the relationship between Mohamed and his wife, Aisha – would provoke a violent response. "To claim that Muslims will answer my book with violence is pure nonsense," she said.
Her agent, Natasha Kern, said: "There are many misconceptions about this book floating around the internet, including that it is a romance novel or that it focuses on sexual content. Nothing could be further from the truth."