Top US firms on alert for bombers

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UNITED STATES corporations around the world were studying ways to lower the profiles of their foreign operations last night after Tuesday's bomb blast at a Planet Hollywood restaurant in Cape Town.

In response to confirmation that the bomb was probably linked to Washington's cruise missile strikes in Sudan and Afghanistan, both Boeing, the aircraft manufacturer, and Intel, which makes computer chips, are among companies that have urged employees either to postpone trips abroad or to take extra precautions while travelling overseas. The Walt Disney company, arguably America's most visible corporation around the world, said it had cancelled a series of events planned for this weekend in Dubai. McDonald's, another worldwide symbol of the US, is also believed to have stepped up its security.

Tighter security was also introduced at Planet Hollywood branches in London and across the globe. Nine Britons - including five members of one family - were among the 27 injured in the Cape Town explosion in which one person was killed.

Tony Giddings, 38, his wife Mandy, 35, father Brian, 65, and their children Laura, 8, and Jacob, 3, were all said to be seriously ill in hospital last night. The family, from Hampshire, was on holiday in Cape Town. Four other British people, resident in South Africa, were also seriously injured, but have asked for no publicity.

Two FBI agents were expected to arrive in Cape Town late last night from the US task force set up in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, to investigate the American embassy bombings, which claimed 257 lives in Kenya and Tanzania this month.

While there is no palpable sense of alarm among the American public, extraordinary steps have been taken to tighten security at airports, public monuments and government buildings. Concrete barriers ring the Washington Monument near the White House and Swat teams patrol outside entrances to the Pentagon. Disney confirmed it had bolstered security at its theme parks.

"This has really opened the floodgates for attacks against Americans," said Charlie LeBlanc, managing director of Air Routing International, which advises corporations on security for executives travelling abroad. "We're telling people to blend in at their destination as much as they can." That means removing US airline tags and discarding obviously American clothing.

The South African Security Minister, Sydney Mufamadi, said yesterday he believed it was likely the attack was in retaliation for the US missile strikes that followed the bombings of the American embassies.

The fact that a pipe bomb was used in the attack has raised suspicions that a local group may have been responsible rather than an international Muslim network. "These pipe bombs ... are a very common phenomenon in the Western Cape," said Parks Mankahlana, a spokesman for President Nelson Mandela.

Michael Farr, executive director of the South African Tourism Board, sought to reassure Britons planning to visit the country in the near future.

He said: "This was a terrorist attack on US interests and a symbol of the USA, not on South Africa or visitors to South Africa.

"They could have chosen to bomb Planet Hollywood in London or McDonald's in Lusaka. Unfortunately for us, they chose Cape Town."

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