Britain raises its terror threat level

UK home secretary: We are heightening vigilance but there's no intel suggesting an attack is imminent.

airport security US dog 248 88 ap (photo credit: )
airport security US dog 248 88 ap
(photo credit: )

Britain raised its terror threat alert to thesecond-highest level Friday, one of several recent moves the countryhas made to increase vigilance against international terrorists after aChristmas Day bombing attempt on a Europe-US flight.

Thethreat level was raised from "substantial" - where it had stood sinceJuly to indicate a strong possibility of a terrorist attack - to"severe," meaning such an attack is considered highly likely.

In making the announcement, Home Secretary Alan Johnson saidthe raised security level means that Britain is heightening itsvigilance. But he stressed that there was no intelligence suggesting anattack is imminent.

"The highest security alert is 'critical,' and that means anattack is imminent, and we are not at that level," he said on Britishtelevision.

Johnson declined to say what intelligence the changewas based on, or whether the move was related to the failed Christmasbombing attempt, when US authorities say a young Nigerian named UmarFarouk Abdulmutallab tried to detonate a bomb hidden in his underwearduring a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. Abdulmutallab, who allegedlyhad links to extremists based in Yemen, had studied as a universitystudent in London.

"It shouldn't be thought to be linked to Detroit, or anywhereelse for that matter," Johnson said. "We never say what theintelligence is."

Hesaid the decision to raise the threat level was made by the UK's JointTerrorism Analysis Center. He said the center kept the security threatlevel under constant review and made its judgments based on a range offactors, including the "intent and capabilities of internationalterrorist groups in the UK and overseas."

Friday's changes came days after Britain suspended directflights to Yemen's capital in response to the growing threat fromal-Qaida-affiliated militants based in that country. Prime MinisterGordon Brown said his government also was creating a new terroristno-fly list, and targeting specific airline passengers for toughersecurity checks.

The measures followed a discussion between Brown and USPresident Barack Obama on Tuesday. They match similar moves made by USauthorities last week to enhance security at airports and on planes, asintelligence officials warned that al-Qaida's branch in Yemen wascontinuing to plot attacks on the United States.

The stepped-up security in the US included more air marshals onflights to and within the US and additional screening at airportsaround the world.

Brown said Britain and other nations face a sharply growingthreat from al-Qaida-affiliated terrorists based in Yemen and an areaof north Africa that includes nations such as Somalia, Nigeria, Sudanand Ethiopia.

Officials and analysts say Britain's new alert level could berelated to the emergence of a steady stream of threat information sincethe thwarted Christmas Day attack.

In Washington, a senior US official said late Friday that theBritish move would have followed a specific threat, but the officialwould not discuss details.

However, the official said the United States did not believethe heightened alert was related to upcoming conferences the Britishgovernment is hosting on Yemen and Afghanistan next week in London.