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60,000 being trained to respond to terror threat

Some 60,000 people, from shopping centre security guards to hotel workers, are being trained to respond to the threat of terrorism, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said today.

Her comments came two days ahead of the publication of a counter-terrorism strategy which ministers are billing as the most comprehensive approach to tackling the threat issued by any government in the world.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown today issued a warning that the public must remain "vigilant at all times" to the threat from al Qaida terrorists, who he said were "intent on inflicting mass casualties without warning, including through suicide bombings".

Writing in The Observer, Mr Brown said: "Today, not only the police and security and intelligence officers and our armed forces, but also the emergency services, local councils, businesses and community groups are involved in state-of-the-art civil contingency planning.

"Tens of thousands of men and women throughout Britain – from security guards to store managers – have now been trained and equipped to deal with an incident and know what to watch for as people go about their daily business in crowded places such as stations, airports, shopping centres and sports grounds."

He said there was a "duty on all of us" to stand up to people who advocate violence and preach hate.

"Terrorism threatens the rights that all in this country should hold dear, including the most fundamental human right of all – the right to life," he said.

"We know that terrorists will keep on trying to strike and that protecting Britain against this threat remains our most important job."

Ms Smith told BBC1's The Politics show that the document being published by the Home Office on Tuesday – known as Contest Two – would provide "a complete strategy to address counter-terror".

She said that ministers were determined to be open about the steps they are taking to prevent people turning to extremism, to track down and detain those involved in terror plots, to protect British citizens and UK interests against attack and to deal with the consequences of any outrage.

"It's the nature of this work that quite often in the past it's been the sort of thing that's happened in secret, behind closed doors," said the Home Secretary.

"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. We need to do it along side the 3,000 police officers now working on counter-terror... and we need to do it with international partners.

"This no longer is something you can do behind closed doors and in secret."

Ms Smith said the document – which builds on the Contest strategy developed by the Home Office in 2003 and detailed in the Countering International Terrorism document in 2006 – would make clear that at the heart of the fight against terror is a defence of the shared values of the British people.

"In this document (we) say that actually, what is at the heart of our counter-terror strategy is promoting the shared values of democracy, of tolerance, of human rights, which the vast majority of people in this country live by," she said.

"When we see those challenged, even if that doesn't over-step the law, well, we think it's important that there is a civil challenge to that."

She added: "Our approach to countering terror has to be based on shared values and that's what, effectively, terrorists are seeking to attack – values like our belief in democracy, in human rights, in tolerance.

"If those things are attacked, that actually creates a space in which it makes it more likely potentially that people can be radicalised and turn to violent extremism, so we do talk about the idea that we need to emphasise those shared values and we need to provide a challenge to those who attack them."

Tuesday's document will reflect security services' judgment that the most serious terror threat to the UK continues to come from international groups linked to or influenced by Osama bin Laden's al Qaida network.

Experts have spent a year preparing the document to take into account lessons learnt from recent terror outrages such as the attacks on hotels in Mumbai last year.

But there is not thought to be any intelligence of groups plotting to target hotels in the UK in the same way.

For the last six years, the Contest strategy has been divided into four strands – Prevent, Pursue, Protect and Prepare – to tackle all aspects of the threat from preventing radicalisation of potential terror recruits to disrupting terror operations, reducing the vulnerability of the UK and UK interests overseas and ensuring the country is ready for the consequences of any attack.

A Home Office spokesman said the new paper would take account of the way the terror threat has evolved and how the authorities are learning lessons from events.

The terrorism threat level, set by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, has since July 2007 been "severe", which means that future terrorist attacks are highly likely but not thought to be imminent.

By 2011, Britain will be spending 3.5 billion a year on counter-terrorism. The number of police deployed on counter-terror work has risen since 2003 from 1,700 to 3,000, while the security service MI5 has doubled in size over the same period.

Between 2001 and 2008, almost 200 people have been convicted of terror-related offences.

 
 
 

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