60,000-strong 'army of shopkeepers' to fight terrorist threat
BRITAIN'S terror alert was "severe" and an attack on the country was "highly likely", the Home Secretary warned yesterday.
Speaking in advance of tomorrow's publication of a new anti-terrorism strategy that will involve training 60,000 shop and hotel staff to deal with an incident, Jacqui Smith said: "An attack on this country is highly likely. It could happen without warning."
The Home Office document, which is expected to make public the greatest amount of detail yet released on the UK's anti-terrorism preparations, will say that the biggest threat remains from militant groups linked to al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.
Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, used a newspaper article yesterday to warn of the global danger posed by al-Qaeda's "murderous agents of hate".
The UK's security information has been updated since last year's bomb attacks on hotels in Mumbai, India, and is said to be the most comprehensive of any government in the world.
Ms Smith said: "What we're completely clear about is that, if we're going to address the threat from terrorism, we need to do that alongside the 60,000 people that we're now training up to respond to a terrorist threat, in everywhere from our shopping centres to our hotels.
"This is no longer something you can do behind closed doors and in secret."
The UK has some 3,000 counter-terrorism police, up from 1,700 in 2003, with a budget that will reach 3.5 billion by 2011. The domestic security service, MI5, has doubled in size in the past six years.
Almost 200 people were convicted of terrorist-related offences between 2001 and 2008.
Ms Smith, whose attempt to extend detention without charge for terrorist suspects from 28 to 42 days was blocked by the House of Lords last year, said the UK was now better prepared to identify and foil threats. The terrorism alert level has not changed since July 2007, meaning attacks are highly likely but not expected imminently.
The document updates a strategy dating from 2003, known as "prevent, pursue, protect and prepare". This has concentrated on preventing radicalisation of potential terrorist recruits and improving the UK's readiness for an attack.
The new strategy will target militants who seek to undermine the UK's "shared values", Ms Smith said. However, she was unable to say whether extremists who shouted abuse at British soldiers returning from Iraq in Luton two weeks ago would have fallen foul of the new rules.
Chris Grayling, for the Conservatives, said: "The horrific recent events in Mumbai have highlighted the need for a different strategy in counter-terrorism.
"No part of the UK is free from threat – and we know that terrorists want soft targets. My big concern is that the government is still not doing enough to tackle the problem of individuals and groups in the UK who are fostering the hatred and extremism."
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
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Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east