We will never know how close the fanatical members of a Birmingham-based terror cell came to carrying out their gruesome plot to kidnap and film the beheading of a British soldier. The fact that those involved in such an awful venture were caught and dealt with by the courts should be a matter of quiet satisfaction to the police and security services, whose anti-terrorist activities are sometimes unfairly described as insensitive and over-bearing.
Birmingham in particular and the United Kingdom in general is a safer place today following the imprisonment of Parviz Khan, the ringleader, described by a judge as an extreme and violent fanatic.
But the operation to round up the plotters could have gone horribly wrong following leaks to journalists, from unknown but well informed sources, which led to precise details about the plot appearing in the media even before those arrested in Birmingham arrived at police stations to be questioned.
The leaks, clearly pre-planned, could have put lives at risk and prejudiced a trial. Certainly, details of the enormity of the proposed crime did nothing to calm already volatile community relations in Birmingham. Community leaders, exasperated by past police "terrorism" operations resulting in a failure to bring prosecutions, assumed that this would be another example of dramatic dawn raids, bad newspaper headlines and at some future point the quiet release without charge of all who had been arrested.
They were wrong and the police, this time, were right. But the leaking and hint of triumphalism from what most people took to be Government sources should serve as an important reminder of the tinder-box atmosphere among some members of the Islamic community in Birmingham. The security services have a difficult task to perform, but it is worth taking care to avoid a return to the 1970s when innocent members of the city's Irish community felt they were being treated as suspected terrorists simply because they were Irish.
It undeniable though, as West Midlands Police point out today, that certain community leaders regularly do themselves and those they purport to represent few favours with wild and unsubstantiated claims whenever anti-terrorist operations take place. The murderous world of Mr Parviz Khan and his cronies suggests, sadly, that turning a blind eye to the threat of terrorism in Birmingham would be a fatal mistake.