The Showtime cable channel is developing a potential television series about the inner workings and personal lives of a fictional group of Islamic terrorists, a network spokesman said this week. The program, titled The Cell, is conceived as the behind-the-scenes story of European and American converts to Islam who are planning terror attacks in the United States, and would be aimed for a debut on Showtime next year, he said. He stressed that The Cell was one of numerous pilots in development at the Viacom Inc.-owned network and that only a handful will ever make it onto Showtime's schedule. Israeli-born actor Oded Fehr, who appeared in the movie adventure The Mummy, has been cast in the lead role as the group's leader and Michael Ealy (Barbershop) will play a conflicted militant. A number of prime-time shows, including the Fox espionage thriller 24, have featured story lines involving terror plots. Others, including The Sopranos and The Wire on HBO, and the NBC miniseries Kingpin, have centered on the lives of gangsters and drug dealers. But The Cell would be the first on US television to feature international terrorists as the main protagonists. A two-hour television movie titled The Hamburg Cell, a fictionalised story about two of the real-life Sept. 11 hijackers, aired on British television, drawing criticism from relatives of some victims of the actual attacks. Showtime's spokesman declined comment on whether the project has generated any controversy at the network. But the network's entertainment president, Robert Greenblatt, told the New York Post that producers would go beyond a superficial depiction of the characters. "We're trying to look into the minds of these (terrorists) and the issues driving them, beyond a black-and-white portrayal," he was quoted as saying. "The leaders of the cell look like nice, normal people you would encounter in everyday life and never know were quietly putting together a power base." He added: "Our only hesitation was sensitivity to the subject matter, which was very scary. Several plot points have already come to pass." According to the Post, one scene cut from the original script depicted a captured serviceman being beheaded on videotape. K I think it speaks for itself. Anybody think the idea has merit?