Wary nations beef up security

Wary governments in Europe, Asia, the Americas and Australia ordered increased patrols in subways, airports and rail stations in the wake of Thursday’s blasts as leaders called emergency meetings to assess the possibility of more violence.

As a result of the bombings, the warning from an Islamic leader in a Portuguese newspaper interview 15 months ago that a London-based group, Al-Qaeda Europe, was on the verge of a major attack is now being taken very seriously.

“Here in London there is a very well-organized group, which calls itself
Al-Qaeda-Europe,” Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, the Syrian head of the
London-based group Al-Muhajiroun, told the Portuguese daily Publico in an interview published April 18 last year.

“I know they are on the verge of launching a big operation.”

Bakri, 46, is suspected of having links with Abu Qatada, the alleged Al-Qaeda leader in Europe.

Speaking a month after the March 11, 2004 Madrid train bombings, Bakri said it was “inevitable” that London would be hit by a large attack “because they are being prepared by various groups.”

In London, jittery commuters went back to work on Friday with police standing guard at rail stations. British Home Secretary Charles Clarke said the bombers had to be caught before they could cause more destruction.

“The number one purpose today is to identify the perpetrators and arrest them” before they can carry out further attacks, he told BBC radio.

A group calling itself the Organization of Al-Qaeda Jihad in Europe, which claimed responsibility for the bombings, immediately threatened similar attacks in Denmark, Italy and other countries with troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The level of alert has been raised in Italy as in all European countries,”
Italian Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu said ahead of a meeting with army, police and intelligence chiefs in Rome.

European Union interior ministers said they would hold an extraordinary meeting in Brussels Wednesday to discuss mooted anti-terror legislation.

France said it would tighten border controls, especially its maritime frontier with Britain, after raising its anti-terror alert to red, the second-highest rating.

French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie deployed military reinforcements to sensitive sites across the country, including train stations and airports.

In Spain, where 191 people were killed in a series of train bombings on
March 11 last year claimed by Al-Qaeda, Interior Minister Jose Antonio Alonso ordered the country into its highest anti-terror protection level.

Security forces patrolled communications centers, stadiums, shopping malls, power stations and water facilities.

In Athens, operators of the Greek capital’s metro have jammed mobile phone networks as a security precaution, effective until Saturday, company sources said.

Transport officials in Berlin raised their security alert to mid-level as
German Interior Minister Otto Schily urged increased vigilance.

Meanwhile security was stepped up at British and US installations, including several British military bases in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

The US military command in Europe (EUCOM), based in the southern German city of Stuttgart, said it had ordered the commanders of its bases to review their security measures.

Israeli officials immediately implemented a security clampdown at their embassy in London as Russian officials bolstered security in the Moscow metro system, which has been the target of several attacks in recent years.

Patrols in the Netherlands were heightened in and around ports that have sea links to Britain, while increased security was also reported in other European nations including Belgium, the Czech Republic, Romania and Serbia.

In Australia, Prime Minister John Howard summoned his top counter-terrorism officials but said there were no plans to boost the national alert level, unchanged since the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.

But extra police and security guards were deployed on public transport in Sydney and Melbourne while the police major-incident centre in Brisbane was placed on standby.

South Korea, another war ally, stepped up security around airports and public facilities and warned the 3,500 South Korean troops stationed in Iraq to maintain heightened vigilance.

Thailand reinforced the police presence at subway stations, bus stops and shopping centres, while insisting the country was safe from international terrorism while Singapore boosted security across its public transport network.

India ordered all states to continue a high alert around all security installations, religious buildings and public transport systems already in place since an attack Tuesday by militants on a disputed holy site in the northern town of Ayodhya.

In the United States, Michael Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security
— a post created after September 11 — raised the threat level to code orange or “high” for trains, subways and buses.

Police and bomb-sniffing dogs fanned out through the New York city transit system while extra patrols were deployed to guard bridges, tunnels and the drinking water supply.

Armed police beefed up their presence on Washington’s metro system. Mayor Anthony Williams said extra security was also put in place for foreign embassies.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also ordered US embassies around the globe to review their security procedures.