LONDON Britain boosted security in and around London yesterday, deploying tanks and hundreds of troops at Heathrow Airport as police said terrorists might carry out attacks timed to a Muslim holiday.
With fears of terrorism high ahead of a likely war on Iraq, police said they were adding patrols at feared targets in central London in response to a “potential threat to the capital.”
Prime Minister Tony Blair authorized the operation, his Downing Street office said.
Soldiers in combat fatigues and armed with rifles patrolled passenger terminals, and light tanks and armored vehicles were stationed at the airport entrance and outside key buildings.
“From time to time, it is necessary to raise levels of security activity,” Scotland Yard police headquarters said in a statement. “We think it is prudent to do so now.”
Scotland Yard called the move “precautionary” and said it was tied to the possibility that al Qaeda and affiliated terror networks would use the end of the religious festival of Eid al-Adha as a pretext for attacks.
Police did not say how long the operation would last. The holiday began yesterday in Saudi Arabia, and most Muslim communities continue celebrations for several days.
Eid al-Adha, or “Feast of the Sacrifice,” commemorates God’s provision of a ram for Abraham to sacrifice instead of his son and is considered one of Islam’s most important holidays.
The Ministry of Defense said about 450 troops were being deployed, and a police spokesman added that all would be stationed at Heathrow, Britain’s busiest airport.
The soldiers were from the Grenadier Guards regiment and the Household Cavalry, and were using Scimitar light tanks, the ministry said. The units, which sometimes guard Buckingham Palace, are highly trained combat troops.
Scotland Yard also increased the number of police officers at Heathrow from 300 to 1,000, a police source said.
A police spokesman said it was the first time troops had been used to guard Heathrow since 1994, when the Irish Republican Army tried to mortar-bomb the runways.