Surveillance Plane Takes to Skies Over London in Terror Alert

Bloomberg 02/13/03

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A Royal Air Force Nimrod surveillance plane was on duty over London as the U.K. began the third day of an anti-terrorism alert that included the deployment of troops and armored vehicles at the city's Heathrow airport.

The operation was ordered after credible, ``homegrown'' intelligence contacts said extremists tied to al-Qaeda had smuggled Sam-7, shoulder-held missiles into the U.K., the Guardian newspaper reported, citing unidentified people familiar with the investigation. The weapon was used Nov. 28 in an unsuccessful attempt to bring down an Israeli jet in Kenya in an attack coordinated with a hotel bombing that killed 13.

The area west of Heathrow, under the flight paths, was searched and roadblocks set up. Closing Heathrow had been considered, John Stevens, head of the U.K. capital's Metropolitan Police, told reporters. The use of troops on the city's streets hasn't been ruled out, he said. The U.K. alert coincides with the U.S. deployment of anti-aircraft missile launchers near the White House and stepped up air patrols over Washington.

The BAE Systems Plc Nimrod is being used for communication between military units on the ground, the Ministry of Defense said. The 450 troops are patrolling along with anti-terrorist police officers.

Other Airports

Security was tightened at the U.K.'s other major airports, with armed police patrolling Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham International, Stansted and Gatwick airports, the Guardian said.

``It's important people realize that the threat that preoccupies not just this country but other countries throughout the world is the threat of disorder and chaos,'' U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair told reporters today. ``On each occasion we will make a judgment based on advice from the security services; it's important we take every precaution we can to keep people safe.''

Blair personally authorized the use of troops after word of a ``specific threat'' of terrorist attack.

The U.S. and U.K. alerts came as an audio tape purported to be from al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was broadcast Tuesday by Qatar's al-Jazeera satellite television channel. The voice on the tape encouraged terrorist acts in support of Iraq.

Blair is the closest U.S. ally against Iraq, which faces possible U.S.-led military action after being accused of failing to comply with United Nations orders to give up weapons of mass destruction.
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