Britain on 'heightened readiness' over terror

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The Independent Online

Britain is in a state of "heightened readiness" after plans for terror strikes in the the UK and the US were uncovered following the arrest of a senior al-Qa'ida suspect.

Britain is in a state of "heightened readiness" after plans for terror strikes in the the UK and the US were uncovered following the arrest of a senior al-Qa'ida suspect.

Emails about attacks on both countries were on a computer belonging to Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, wanted for the 1998 twin US embassy bombings in Africa.

News of their existence comes as the US goes on a state of high alert following warnings of attacks on "iconic" financial institutions in New York City, Washington, Newark and New Jersey.

But the Home Office indicated that the emails did not constitute a specific threat.

"We are maintaining a state of heightened readiness in the UK," a spokeswoman said.

"We are taking every feasible precaution to protect British citizens here and abroad and, as ever, we keep the threat level under constant review."

Ghailani was taken in a 12-hour gun battle with Pakistani intelligence officers in the eastern city of Gujrat eight days ago.

Another computer, disks, two AK-47 assault rifles, plastic chemicals and a large amount of foreign currency were also taken from his home.

Information minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said: "We got a few emails from Ghailani's computer about attacks in the US and UK."

Ghailani is sharing "vital" information, Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayyat added.

A second suspect, a "very wanted man" believed to be a computer and communications expert, has also been seized by the Pakistani authorities.

The computer engineer was sending coded messages to al-Qa'ida suspects, according to one intelligence official.

Mr Ahmed would not reveal whether the information from Ghailani or the computer expert had prompted US Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge's warning.

Employees of some of the most famous financial institutions in the US have been urged to report for work despite the "credible" threat from al-Qa'ida.

Intelligence gathered over the weekend pointed to a car or truck bomb, the US authorities said.

Potential targets were named as the Citigroup building and New York Stock Exchange, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank buildings in Washington and the Prudential building in Newark.

Security has been increased after the US government said that the new intelligence indicated meticulous planning.

Mr Ridge said the government's colour-coded threat level for financial institutions in just these three cities would be raised to orange, or high alert, but would remain at yellow, or elevated, elsewhere.

"This is not the usual chatter. This is multiple sources that involve extraordinary detail," he said.

A senior intelligence official described "excruciating detail" and meticulous planning "indicative of al-Qa'ida".

The official said the intelligence included security in and around the target buildings; the flow of pedestrians; the best places for reconnaissance; how to make contact with employees who work in the buildings; the construction of the buildings; traffic patterns; locations of hospitals and police departments; and which days of the week present less security.

Shadow home secretary David Davis called on Prime Minister Tony Blair to "spell out the exact threat to the UK".

He said: "The British Government should take this risk extremely seriously. We find it very worrying that the Americans seem to be at a much more advanced stage than us in contingency planning and police presence. They also share much more information with their public than our Government.

"Mr Blair needs to spell out the exact threat to the UK so that we are in a clear position as to where we stand. It is astonishing that we are getting more information about the risk to Britain from the Americans than from our own Government.

"The raw truth is that local authorities are under-resourced and Britain does not have one person solely responsible for the job of keeping us safe against terrorists. The sooner we have a Minister for Homeland Security, the better."