Security services have thwarted a planned attack on London similar to the March 11 train bombings in Madrid by Islamic extremists, the British capital’s police chief said on Thursday.
“Thank God to date, and we have had to work extremely hard, we’ve thwarted attacks,” Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens told the BBC.
Asked if his force had stopped a strike on the scale of the Spanish attack, he added: “Yes, I can’t discuss it because of court proceedings — but yes we have stopped a Madrid.”
The morning rush-hour bombings on commuter trains killed 191 people in the most devastating attack in modern Spanish history, just three days before a general election. The attackers claimed to represent al-Qaida in Europe.
'Hundreds' arrested over various plots
Stevens said “a number” of attacks had been thwarted in London and “hundreds” of terrorist suspects were being processed in British courts, according to extracts on the BBC Web site.
He would not give any details.
Like other senior public figures here, he reiterated that Britain was a prime target for radicals: “The risk of an attack to London has not changed. An attack is still inevitable.”
Only last month, the head of Britain’s security service MI5, Eliza Manningham-Buller, also warned: “There might be major attacks like Madrid earlier this year.”
Britain is considered a target for Islamic radicals due to its coalition with the United States in Iraq.
Although there has been no attack on British soil, the threat was illustrated a year ago with a suicide bombing at a British consulate in Turkey that killed 17 people including the consul general.
Scares and Sept. 11
Critics, however, accuse both British and U.S. authorities of scaremongering, in part to bolster their power.
Britain has arrested more than 600 terrorism suspects since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States — but has charged fewer than 100 and convicted only 15.
Also on Thursday, Britain and the United States announced a new agreement to develop counterterrorism technology together.
The accord, signed by Britain’s Home Secretary David Blunkett and U.S. Homeland Security Deputy Secretary James Loy, will allow greater information exchange on security issues.