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1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
LONDON — The British authorities raised the terrorism alert level on Friday for airports, rail stations and other transportation hubs, but left unchanged the threat level for the rest of the country, security officials said.

Britain’s elevated terror alert level led to increased police presence at places like the St. Pancras train station in London, Friday.

The officials said that the measures were intended as precautions and that there was no specific intelligence warning of an imminent attack, though the BBC reported that it had seen a government letter to aviation officials suggesting that Al Qaeda “may be considering an attack.”

The specific threat assessment for transportation hubs was increased on Friday from “substantial” to “severe,” the officials said. The threat level for Britain as a whole has been at “severe” for a year, according to Scotland Yard.

The police would not confirm whether the threat levels had been raised, but television images showed police officers wearing flak jackets and armed with automatic weapons patrolling airport check-in halls, accompanied by dogs trained to sniff out explosives.

The British authorities use a twin-track security alert system, setting a national level that is usually made public while also assessing threats to specific areas, which are usually kept secret.

The first word of a possible heightened alert came Thursday night when television stations reported that leave had been canceled for transportation police officers.

News reports said the airports where security had been increased included two in the London area: Heathrow and Luton. It was not clear whether that alert was linked to a suicide bombing in Sweden last month by a Swede of Iraqi descent who had been living in Luton, north of the capital.

The newest alarm added to a catalog of counterterrorism measures in many parts of Europe.

In late December, after a series of coordinated raids in three cities, the police said they had charged nine of the 12 men they arrested, and released three without charge.

The nine men, including five who British news reports said were of Bangladeshi origin, were accused of offenses that included reconnoitering targets, reportedly including the American Embassy and the London Stock Exchange; conspiring to cause explosions; and testing incendiary material. They are to appear again in court next Friday.

In recent months, security authorities in several countries have said they are on the lookout for what they have termed a “Mumbai-style” attack, referring to the assault in 2008 in which 10 men rampaged through the Indian city, killing 163 people.

While the police have not made public the evidence on which their worries are based, the concerns echo a continuing drumbeat of alarms, beginning in October when the State Department in Washington warned about a planned attack in a European city.

On Dec. 14, the police in Germany moved against two Salafist networks accused of promoting the imposition of an Islamic state.

Then, at the end of December, the police in Denmark and Sweden rounded up a group of men they accused of plotting a revenge attack against a Danish newspaper that published satirical cartoons lampooning the Prophet Muhammad in 2005.