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Police fear suicide bombers will soon target British cities By John Steele, Crime Correspondent (Filed: 19/09/2001)
BRITAIN will become a target for anti-western Islamic violence, including suicide bombings, for the first time following the US terror attacks, police and security forces said yesterday.
Last week's atrocities have spurred a radical re-assessment of the terrorist threat to Britain in the first decade of the 21st century.
Amid speculation about chemical and biological attacks, senior police officers are more immediately concerned by their analysis that hard-line Islamic terrorists will bring bullets and bombs to the streets of London and other cities.
As a result, more resources will be be pumped into investigations by police and MI5 of Islamic terror groups, traditionally seen as a lower priority than the IRA. Given the Real IRA's recent campaign, resources are unlikely to be switched from operations against Irish terrorism.
There is also likely to be a toughening of attitude to the monitoring of asylum seekers from Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern countries to prevent terrorists using peaceable immigrants as cover to enter Britain.
The most significant piece of accepted security wisdom to be overturned in the past week, according to a senior security officer, is the view that - with the exception of strikes by Palestinian groups on Israeli targets - Islamic terrorists do not attack in London.
It has been felt that groups such as the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the GIA of Algeria have preferred to use Britain for fund-raising, communications and a safe haven.
However, a senior security official said: "We've posed a lot of 'what ifs?' since last week and our professional judgment is that the US attacks make it all very different.
"We are all thinking ahead and the view is that, now, 'all bets are off' and there could be attacks from these groups in London and elsewhere, against American and possibly British targets, particularly if Britain supports US military retaliation.
"The possibility of vehicles being driven through gates and blowing up hundreds of people is probably remote, but walking terrorists, suicide bombers in the streets, are much more likely. We don't think it will matter to them if innocent civilians are killed.
"It has been thought they need Britain to raise money, but groups like Osama bin Laden's have enough money."
A recent process of "target hardening" - tightening security at such high-profile areas as Westminster, the City of London and Canary Wharf against the threat of IRA bombs - will provide a defence against attacks by Islamic extremists.
Airports have tight security as a result of the Irish threat. But Islamic terrorists might not focus on largely political, economic and military targets, as the IRA has tended to do.
The ease with which the New York and Washington terrorists evaded detection has shaken the security establishment in Britain, according to the source. At the heart of the debate now being conducted in Government is whether British police and security services would have penetrated and prevented such a conspiracy?
The answer is bleak. Police and security chiefs have woken up to the fact that their knowledge of those involved in clandestine Arab terrorist groupings, such as bin Laden's, is thin, with little penetration by agents.
A veteran of Scotland Yard anti-terrorist operations, said: "We looked at one or two of the groups for raising money through low-level fraud and we've helped the Americans after the African embassy bombings. But, quite frankly, they've not been a high priority. The focus has been on the Irish."
Intelligence has been gathered by Special Branch on some groups, such as Islamic Jihad and the GIA, at times with the help of the Egyptian, Algerian and other Arab governments. The Israeli security service, Mossad, has traditionally provided information on Palestinian terror groups.
However, the senior security source said: "It would be foolish if we were confident that those we had in our sights were the ones we should be looking at. We have to face the possibility that they might be a facade and there are completely unknown people out there.
"The more that is confirmed in the US, the more it seems the hijackers formed their group and did not contact the people watched by the authorities. Not a drop of intelligence leaked out. We have to think here, 'Do we know what the enemy looks like now'?"
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), September 19, 2001