LONDON — The police chief for London’s financial district warned Wednesday that terrorists will likely strike the British capital’s biggest business hub, where they have already surveyed targets in the area.
The warning came as police said they have charged another man under anti-terror laws in the botched bombings against London’s transit system on July 21.
Abdul Sharif, 28, of South London, was charged with withholding information that could have helped police apprehend bombing suspect Osman Hussain. Sharif has been in custody since his arrest Aug. 1.
Hussain, also known as Hamdi Issac, fled Britain after the failed bomb attacks and is being held in Rome on international terrorism charges. Britain wants to extradite Issac from Italy.
Nearly five weeks after four suicide bombers attacked London on July 7, killing themselves and 52 other people, police chief James Hart said there was no specific intelligence about a forthcoming attack but insisted the financial district was at risk.
“We are vulnerable, there are people out there who wish us harm and we should be aware of that,” the Hart told The Associated Press. “If you hit the financial center of the United Kingdom, it’s a high-profile thing to do.”
Asked if it was a question of when the financial district would be struck, rather than if, Hart replied: “Yes, I don’t doubt that at all.”
Known as the City, London’s business quarter houses hundreds of banks, insurance companies, law firms and other institutions — including the London Stock Exchange and the Bank of England. It is a leading international center for trading in metals, oil and other commodities.
Aldgate subway station, one of the targets in the July 7 bombings, lies on the eastern edge of the City, a dense network of narrow streets dotted with skyscrapers. The tiny district has its own police force — distinct from the Metropolitan Police, which operates in the rest of the capital — and officers beefed up security there in the 1990s after a string of Irish Republican Army bombings.
“We are always vulnerable as a financial center, as we have been for the last three decades,” Hart said.
Hart also said that “most successful terrorist operatives pre-survey their targets.” Asked if this had happened in the City, he answered: “It has already occurred,” but added that officers had disrupted “hostile surveillance.”
He refused to say whether officers had arrested anyone as a result of these operations, or give further details.
Hart said his officers were also involved in training people working in the City — including company security guards and receptionists — to look for suspicious behavior.
The commissioner, who first spoke of the threat in comments published in Wednesday’s Financial Times, said it was misleading to talk about any particular groups that might be planning an attack.
“There is a range of people who wish us harm,” he said.
Financial centers hunker down
Other international financial centers also have developed contingencies in the case of terrorist strikes since the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
Last summer, U.S. authorities raised the terror alert for financial institutions after uncovering an alleged al-Qaida plot to attack the Citicorp building in New York and the New York Stock Exchange; the International Monetary Fund and World Bank buildings in Washington; and the Prudential Financial Inc.’s headquarters in Newark, N.J. The alert was later lifted.
Following the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, the New York Stock Exchange established an alternative trading floor, while investment firms created new emergency centers, some of them outside the municipal area.
The exchange, with its trading floor just blocks from the destroyed World Trade Center site, was not damaged in the attacks. But infrastructure problems, namely downed phone lines, made it impossible for trading to resume immediately.
Sport steps up security
Organizers of Britain’s Premier League soccer season also announced plans to step up security at games in the new season starting Saturday. The Football Association said it had no information of specific threats, but urged fans to avoid taking bags to games.
“The safety of supporters is our top priority and, in the light of current circumstances, additional safety measures such as increased bag searches are being implemented,” the Football Association said in a statement.
One soccer club, Chelsea, said Wednesday it would not permit fans to enter with backpacks or any other large bags. Women’s handbags will be allowed but would be searched.
Meanwhile, details emerged Wednesday of testimony given to British investigators by one of the suspects in the failed July 21 bomb attacks.
In Rome, Issac told British officers that the explosives in his bag were made of flour and a liquid hair product and were not meant to kill, his Italian lawyer Antonietta Sonnessa said. She said it was intended an attention-grabbing stunt.
The Metropolitan Police refused to comment on Issac’s reported claim.
British police arrested the three other main suspects and charged them with attempted murder, conspiracy to murder, possessing or making explosives and conspiracy to use explosives on July 21. They face life in prison if convicted.
Police have not charged anyone in connection with the July 7 blasts.
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