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London goes on terror alert
Click for complete story Saturday, 22 September 2001 10:09 (ET)
London goes on terror alert
LONDON, Sept. 22 (UPI) -- Anti-terrorist security forces went on full security alert throughout London Saturday amid police warnings that the British capital could be a target for terrorists.
All police leave was canceled and more than 1,500 additional armed officers were sent to stand vigil at strategic points across the city. Officials said hospitals were also alerted to the possibility of an emergency.
Despite the well-publicized readiness, police authorities said they had not identified a specific threat but ordered officers to remain vigilant as a precautionary measure.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens said police reinforcements were also a response to a perceived need for greater security because of seasonal festivities and "the feeling in certain communities that they need protection."
A series of attacks on Muslims in a suspected backlash to the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon led to calls from the British Muslim community leaders for greater protection. More than a million Britons of South Asian origin are Muslim-born, though many among them are secular.
Stevens said police and security services were "keeping a watching brief" with a daily assessment of threats. News media said that police were also monitoring suspected extremists among the Muslim community. "We do and we are looking at every word that's been uttered by people to see if an offense has been committed," the Evening Standard tabloid newspaper quoted Stevens as saying.
Muslim leaders have criticized media coverage of extremists, arguing that it puts their community in a bad light and provoked attacks on their homes, businesses and places of worship.
The backlash has also affected Asians who are not Muslim. Two Sikh city councilors in Birmingham were attacked last weekend after being mistaken for Muslims. The Guardian newspaper said the men were punched by an attacker who said, "I don't like Muslims -- I'm going to kill them and I'm going to kill you."
Ten pigs' heads were left outside the Islamic Center of the South West in Exeter last week, according to reports Saturday. A nursery school with predominantly Muslim children in Kingston, a Surrey town outside southwest London, was forced to close after it was vandalized, daubed with racist graffiti and had a fire escape blocked.
The right wing white supremacist British Nationalist Party has added to the tensions by distributing leaflets that describe Muslims as "the enemy within."
The BNP published a leaflet proclaiming "Islam is all about love and respect" next to a picture of the devastated World Trade Center. The leaflet says that Islam "creates ferocious hatred, spawning psychotic mass murderers abroad, and vicious rioters in our own towns." Prime Minister Tony Blair has urged Britons to differentiate between the terrorists and Muslims living in their midst.
The Guardian said that "incidents in which Muslims have declined to join in -- or protested against -- the public expressions of grief following the bombings have been grist to the BNP's mill."
But like most extreme groups, Britain's Islamist factions have also exploited sentiments to elicit support, said newspaper.
-- Copyright 2001 by United Press International. All rights reserved.
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), September 22, 2001