Police may receive shoot-to-kill orders

ARMED police officers could be given more aggressive shoot-to-kill orders, telling them to fire at the heads of suicide bombers, it emerged yesterday.

Under a plan known as Operation Kratos, armed Met officers could in extreme circumstances be ordered to shoot suspected suicide bombers in the head.

Details of the potential new Metropolitan Police tactics meant to stop suicide bombers emerged yesterday as the government began to outline the proposals in Tony Blair's tougher stance on deporting Muslim preachers who support terrorism.

Normal firearms rules mean officers fire at the chests of targets, with the intention of stopping and incapacitating, but not directly aiming to kill.

But the Met has been advised by Israeli security officials that this is not adequate, since even after several shots they can still be capable of triggering an explosive device.

Shooting at the chest also runs the risk of triggering explosives strapped to a terrorist's body.

Shots to the head, by contrast, kill immediately, almost instantly causing the nervous system to shut down, preventing any detonation.

Security sources fear that up to 50 more British-born terrorists are at large in "sleeper" cells and drastic new tactics will be needed to combat the menace. One source said: "We must reach them before they are given the necessary materials to cause carnage."

The discovery of explosives in one of the properties raided in Leeds, used as a base for the London bombers, has heightened fears that there may be a large supply of explosives available. Security sources said it suggested a possible lorry or car bomb may be planned next.

Despite the move towards a more aggressive firearms policy, the Met has formally decided not to implement another set of powers allowing random stop-and-search operations to be conducted in London.

Under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, the Met's commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, has the power to issue an order permitting such searches if he thinks that it may help to catch other bombers.

Mr Blair delivered more details yesterday of his strategies to crack down on Islamic fundamentalism - both in new anti-terrorism legislation and in reviewing the existing powers in the Home Office. Several ideas are already in train.

There will be a new warning system which alerts the Home Secretary if anyone is seeking entry to Britain who has been deported by another country. The lack of such system, critics say, has led London to become a hotbed of fanaticism.

Asylum-seekers will also be liable to be thrown out of Britain if they commit an offence after being granted indefinite leave to remain. At present, anyone with such a status is not likely to be deported.

In a sign of the haste with which the moves are being considered, Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, said he would report back to Cabinet next week on his progress.

On Monday, Mr Clarke will meet his Conservative and Liberal Democrat counterparts to agree not only the content, but the pace of future legislation. On Tuesday, Mr Blair will discuss plans with Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy, the Tory and Liberal Democrat leaders.

Such a rare degree of consultation is designed to pre-empt a repeat of the Home Secretary's house-arrest proposals for terror suspects in March, which the Tories nearly succeeded in defeating in the Commons.

Much of the discussion will involve how to interpret existing rules, which are sweeping but have seldom been tested either by ministers or the police. Mr Blair's official spokesman said a "radical Pakistani cleric" was banned from Britain last summer, after preaching jihad in a Glasgow mosque.

On Monday, the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill will receive its third Commons reading and become law.

While protecting Muslims against racist attacks, it would also allow police in England to prosecute anyone who speaks of a jihad on British people.

• The trial of the controversial Islamic preacher Abu Hamza will take place next year, an Old Bailey judge decided yesterday.

Hamza, 47, the former imam of Finsbury Park mosque in north London, is accused of soliciting murder of no n-Muslims. He was remanded in custody to face trial on 9 January.

He faces nine charges under the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861 alleging he solicited others at public meetings to murder non-believers, including Jews.

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