| A policeman walks along a concrete barrier near Parliament buildings in London on Friday. (AFP)
London, May 23 (Reuters): Britain has erected a concrete barrier round its parliament buildings in the most visible sign that European nations are taking seriously the threat of action by al Qaida after bomb attacks in Morocco and Saudi Arabia.
Dozens of concrete blocks, each about the size of a single bed, were placed around the Palace of Westminster in central London to prevent vehicles loaded with explosives from smashing into the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.
Police said the operation, after nightfall yesterday, was “carried out on a precautionary basis” and was not a response to specific intelligence about terror attacks.
But they acknowledged the move was taken in the light of suicide attacks in Saudi Arabia and Morocco and, coming hot on the heels of Washington’s decision to raise its domestic terror alert status, suggests Britain still fears it may be bombed by Islamic extremists.
“We will continue to take whatever action we believe is necessary to protect and reassure the public,” London’s metropolitan police said in a statement after the blocks had been hauled into place.
“While our message is still ‘alert not alarm’, we would reiterate appeals for the public to remain vigilant.” Britain has long feared it might be attacked because of its unflinching support of the US’ self-proclaimed “war on terror”. British troops fought alongside the Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In a tape broadcast by Arab television channel al Jazeera this week, a top aide to al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden threatened jihad (holy war) against Britain as well as the US, Australia and, oddly, Norway.
Al Qaida has carried out no successful bomb attacks on Western countries since the September 11 attacks in the US, focusing instead on easier targets in Kenya and Bali and, most recently, Saudi Arabia and Morocco. But other countries in Europe, besides Britain, remain vigilant.
“We have always been on high alert and we remain on high alert,” said a security source in Italy, who declined to be named. “We are not taking the terrorist threat lightly.”
A week ago, France raised its terror alert level to “orange”, which it says means a “plausible risk of terrorist action”.
The decision was taken after suicide bombings in the Saudi capital Riyadh and the Moroccan city of Casablanca which together killed 75 people.
Like France, the US has raised its domestic terror alert status to orange — the second-highest level — and experts say tight security in America makes an attack on Europe more likely.
“To the extent that US homeland security makes it less vulnerable... Europe becomes more attractive as a direct target for terrorists,” said Jonathan Stevenson, senior fellow for counter-terrorism at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. The level of vigilance varies among EU states.
In Austria, for example, security officials say they see no direct threat from Islamic militants.