Blair: 'We must be prepared for the terrorists to strike'

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair vowed to fight the "new menace" of terror and called on Britons to be as "resolute" as terrorists were "fanatical" at the Labour Party's spring conference in Manchester yesterday.

"This is the new menace of our time. We will not defeat it by hoping it will leave us alone or by hiding away," he said, reacting to the attacks in Spain. "This is terrorism waged without limit, without any care for the grief of the innocent, and it is terrorism that is designed to strike at the very heart of our way of life - our democracy, our freedom ... We must be prepared for them to strike whenever and however they can.

"We will match their determination with our own; we will be as resolute as they are fanatical, as strong in defence as they are hell bent on doing evil."

It emerged last night that Mr Blair has convened Whitehall's emergency nerve centre as Britain braces itself for a possible terrorist strike. Officials were called to the Cobra command post as soon as the scale of the Madrid attacks became clear.

British Transport Police also began a review of security on the rail network and prepared to launch a publicity drive to calm public fears. Security officials fear the Madrid bombings could inspire a similar rush-hour attack in Britain.

One anti-terrorist official said Madrid was "a lesson for us all. Despite all the precautions taken by the Spanish authorities, the terrorists were still able to get through and hit an easy target. This will not be lost on organisations such as al-Qa'ida - a group which resorts to suicide bombing."

David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, is expected to receive a full security briefing tomorrow on Britain's defences against a terrorist attack. Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, also held talks with his opposite number in Germany, Joschka Fischer, on European co-operation against the threat.

Transport police accepted that "100 per cent security" on an open network was "clearly not possible". They face an immense task in protecting 11,000 miles of railway and more than 2,500 stations. Including the Tube, the system is used by five million passengers a day. On the Underground, a portable scanning device is already secretly being used to detect potential suicide bombers.