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Britain to simulate ‘catastrophic incident’

London, March 3 (Reuters): Britain announced plans today to simulate a “catastrophic incident” in London as part of intensified contingency preparations for any terror attack.

Home secretary David Blunkett said the exercise would take place soon but gave no date.

Last month, Prime Minister Tony Blair issued a warning that groups such as the al Qaida will try to attack Britain for its staunch support of the US.

Security services have made several arrests in a series of counter-terrorism swoops in recent months, with the pace quickening after the discovery of traces of the lethal poison ricin in a flat in north London.

“Future planned exercises will cover a catastrophic incident in central London, disruption to the national gas supply and flood defences,” Blunkett said in a statement.

“The programme is expected to cover 11 key capabilities such as mass evacuation and decontamination,” he added.

Blair has said he is bombarded almost daily with new intelligence about threats to UK interests and government officials have said privately it is probably only a matter of time until militants strike.

Last month, London’s Heathrow airport was swamped with police and army troops in response to what officials said was a specific security threat.

Blunkett’s announcement coincided with the BBC quoting a senior government adviser as saying Britain was ill-prepared to deal with a smallpox attack.

Blair’s official spokesman denied the report. “We do have strategic stocks of vaccine that could be rapidly deployed to contain an outbreak,” he told reporters, adding that more had recently been tendered for. Blunkett also said reserve armed forces could now be deployed to help the police and civil authorities deal with a terror attack.

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