- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 3, 2004

From combined dispatches

LONDON — Police said they arrested 13 persons yesterday in anti-terrorism raids around Britain.

London’s Metropolitan Police said the afternoon and evening arrests were “part of a pre-planned, ongoing intelligence-led operation.”

A police statement said the men had been arrested “on suspicion of being concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.”

Otherwise, Britain mounted a low-key response to threats of an al Qaeda terrorist attack, which contrasted with the high-profile approach in the United States that involved closing major roads in Washington, New York and elsewhere.

“We are maintaining a state of heightened readiness in the [United Kingdom],” a British Home Office spokeswoman said, adding only that every feasible precaution was being taken to protect the nation.

Terrorism analysts said the British approach reflects decades of dealing with attacks by Irish Republican Army militants — a period when Britain discovered that high-profile public warnings accomplished little more than to increase public jitters.

On Sunday, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge listed five specific targets in New York, New Jersey and Washington under possible threat from Osama bin Laden’s group. Britain’s Home Office has refused to name British targets.

Critics demanded that Prime Minister Tony Blair — currently on vacation in the Caribbean — let the public know if, and how, they might be in peril.

“Mr. Blair needs to spell out the exact threat to the U.K. so that we are in a clear position as to where we stand,” said David Davis, home-affairs spokesman for the main opposition Conservative Party.

“It is astonishing that we are getting more information about the risk to Britain from the Americans than from our own government.”

While armed guards have been deployed this week around some U.S.-owned banks and buildings considered under threat, British security authorities have been at pains to be more discreet.

London’s main financial district, known as “the City,” has been under close protection ever since the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, but security remains low-key.

“There is no increase in the level of threat over here, nor is there any specific threat to London,” a London police spokesman said, while Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch refused even to discuss their security.

Separately, Italy is taking seriously a threat by a group demanding Rome withdraw troops from Iraq and has reviewed security for religious sites after attacks on Christian churches there, security sources said yesterday.

The group, Hafs al-Masri Brigade, which claimed credit for the Madrid train bombing, also threatened England, Bulgaria and other nations with forces in Iraq.

“The situation was, is, and will remain very serious,” a security source said after a meeting Monday night of top Italian police and secret services chiefs.

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