Britain to review security amid fears of Mumbai-style attacks


London : Britain will carry out a review of its security preparedness to face Mumbai-style synchronised and multiple attacks – a possibility not ruled out by the country’s counter-terrorism experts.

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Homeland security experts are now examining India’s response to the Mumbai strikes to compare notes on how would Britain fare when dealing with a similar situation.

The Independent has reported that MPs will carry out the review amid awareness among British security agencies that “home-grown Muslim extremists may attempt to carry out copycat assaults on ‘soft targets’ in the UK, modelled on what took place in India”.

Several military and terrorism experts have aired their views in the British media about the possibility of a terror attack. Their fears are accentuated by their suspicion of the presence of terrorist sympathisers in Britain.

The immediate call of the experts is for Britain to increase the strength of its forces specialised in dealing with terrorist situations. They have asked the government to consider setting up a “battalion strength” of about 500 military and police as a quick reaction force in the event of an attack.

Patrick Mercer, chairman of the Commons Counter-Terrorism Sub-committee, said: “What can happen in Mumbai can happen in Manchester or Birmingham. Events in Mumbai demonstrate the great urgency of such a review. There is little doubt that we need to examine whether our counter-terrorist forces are capable of dealing with this kind of attack. This is a style of attack which is very difficult to cope with and, with the Olympics coming up, we need a thorough review.”

Peter Clarke, former head of Scotland Yard’s Counter-Terrorism Command, described how there has already been a plot to carry out the type of attack experienced in Mumbai.

“Is it possible that Britain could suffer carnage on the scale of what happened in Mumbai? Could hotels, restaurants, railway stations and community centres be raked with machine-gun fire? It’s more than likely that is what one terrorist wanted to do,” he said.

Clarke was referring to the 2005 incident involving Kazi Nuru Rehman, identified as the leader of an East London terrorist cell. Known to the security forces as having been trained in Pakistan, Rehman was arrested while trying to buy sophisticated weapons just after the London bombings that July.

The experts now say terrorists do not even need such expensive weaponry to carry out an assignment in Britain, where arms are available aplenty in the underworld market.

Robert Emerson, a security analyst, said: “There is a lot of talk about ‘dirty bombs’ being used by terrorists, but what Mumbai showed was you don’t need that kind of technology to have a lethal impact. All you have to do is look at underworld shootings to see how plentiful guns are in this country. I don’t think we have a system in place at the moment to cope with such multiple attacks in this country.”

British security experts have toured India to study the preparedness of the latter’s special forces.

One of them, Tobias Feakin, director of the Royal United Services Institute’s homeland security and resilience department, said: “The problem in Mumbai was that there were just too many different law enforcement agencies involved and there was a lack of co-ordination. The command and control would be much more structured here.

“But the sensible thing to do would be to look at what is going on abroad and see what lessons can be learned. We need to stay one step ahead of the terrorists to maintain safety for citizens.”