June 2002

MI5 lists 350 terror targets in Britain

Times Online, 6 juin 2002
By Michael Evans, Defence Editor

[Posted 06/06/2002]

Al-Qaeda suicide missions prompt urgent security review.

A SECRET list of hundreds of potential terrorist targets including key government buildings and installations vital for Britain’s economy has been drawn up by MI5, The Times can disclose.

The key buildings and installations, including oil refineries, nuclear power stations and vital communications centres, have had their security profiles urgently reassessed because of the threat posed by al-Qaeda.

The threat of suicide bombers, which Britain has never encountered during the years of IRA terrorism, has made many of these potential targets almost impossible to insure.

More than 350 sites have been placed on the “critical national infrastructure” list, and MI5, which is responsible for giving protective security advice for all the buildings and installations, has been involved in re-examining the potential threat they might face, following the attacks in New York and Washington on September 11.

Yesterday on a visit to London, Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, gave warning: “We live in a dangerous and untidy world. This is not an easy time for the world.”

He also urged all the countries in Nato to sharpen their responses in order to be able to tackle not just the military but also the political aspects of the ongoing campaign against terror.

Al-Qaeda cells, he said, were known to be in 50 or 60 countries, including America.

As part of Britain’s effort to counter the potential threat from the al-Qaeda terrorist network, experts from MI5’s protective security branch, which has built up years of experience from dealing with the threat from Irish terrorism, have been visiting key sites such as communications and transport centres, which are vital to the smooth running of the country.

Their task has been to ensure that security measures have been stepped up to take into account the perceived greater risks of terrorist action by fanatical Muslim extremist groups prepared to use suicide bombers. Britain has not had to face the suicide bomber, but this is now seen as the most likely method of attack if al-Qaeda seeks to attack British sites in retaliation for the Government’s support for America in the War on Terror in Afghanistan.

Since September 11, the heightened risk of terrorist attack has increased the potential insurance burden for major companies on the critical national infrastructure list, underlining the urgency to seek advice from the Government’s security experts at MI5 to ensure that all possible counter-terrorist steps are taken.

The buildings on the official list covered by MI5’s area of responsibility are understood to include the country’s 15 nuclear power stations, the main National Grid sites, oil installations, petrochemical facilities, key defence companies and research centres such as the chemical defence agency at Porton Down in Wiltshire and the atomic weapons establishment at Aldermaston in West Berkshire.

Although military barracks and bases have armed protection, they are also seen as potentially vulnerable to terrorist attack. Such sites would include the nuclear submarine bases at Faslane on the Clyde.

The major new concern about suicide attacks has not previously been a focus for the security authorities because the IRA and other Irish republican terrorist organisations have always planned their bomb plots with an inbuilt escape route.

By contrast, terrorist networks such as al-Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden, resort to suicide as one of the principal methods of guaranteeing a successful attack.

The most devastating cases were the hijacked airliner attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, which killed more than 3,000 people, and the terrorist strike in October 2000 on USS Cole, the American warship moored in Aden, causing the death of 17 sailors.

Following intelligence of a possible al-Qaeda attack on nuclear power plants in the United States, the British Government has taken extra security measures at the country’s 15 nuclear power stations. They include the plants at Sizewell in Suffolk, Hinkley Point in Somerset, Dungeness in Kent, Trawsfynydd in Gwynedd, and Heysham in Lancashire. Another key nuclear site requiring maximum counter-terrorist systems is the British Nuclear Fuels reprocessing plant at Sellafield in Cumbria.

The security assessment has taken into account attacks from the air as well as threats from suicide bombers driving trucks or other vehicles. In London, there are also numerous buildings whose security would need to have been reassessed since September 11, including government ministries, the Stock Exchange and the Bank of England.

All businesses with headquarters housed in skyscrapers, such as the Canary Wharf premises in Docklands, have had to revise their security arrangements because of the potential threat posed by terrorists hijacking airliners. Although they carried out immediate evacuation rehearsals after September 11, companies concerned about their vulnerability have been able to call on MI5 for advice.

Apart from the obvious measures such as security guards, closed-circuit television cameras and reinforced windows, the security experts have taken into account the location of a building, and its position in relation to motorways, airports and approach routes.

Although every effort is being taken to improve security at the 350-plus sites on the “critical national infrastructure list”, there is no intelligence of any specific terrorist threat against any of them.

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