Level of terrorist threat is lowered

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The threat level was raised to Level 1 ("critical") after the July 7 bombings which claimed 56 lives, including those of the suicide bombers.It was lowered to Level 2G ("severe general") on 21 July, hours before a second wave of failed attacks. It was immediately reinstated and remained at its highest level until it was lowered on Thursday by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC), made up of intelligence experts and Whitehall officials.

But the separate level of alert, which governs how transport systems and buildings are guarded, remains unchanged after pleas from the Metropolitan Police and Home Office for public vigilance.

The Conservatives criticised the decision to make the downgrading in secret. Patrick Mercer, the shadow minister for homeland security, said: "What I would like to know is why this information has not been relayed to the public. The Metropolitan Police have been loud in their comments about their most powerful weapon against terrorism being the public."

Whitehall officials played down a claim that police believed they had foiled a potential al-Qa'ida gas attack on the Houses of Parliament. A Whitehall source said: "I heard nothing about it and I would have expected to."