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Attack fears grow: London on alert

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Soldiers had not been deployed at Heathrow since 1994

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LONDON, England -- Britain has boosted security in and around London -- deploying tanks and hundreds of troops at Heathrow Airport amid fears that terrorists could launch attacks timed to a Muslim holiday.

The move came as CIA Director George Tenet warned that intelligence indicated al Qaeda was planning attacks in the United States and the Arabian Peninsula.

Police in London said they were adding patrols at possible targets in central London in response to "a potential threat to the capital."

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair authorised the operation, his office said.

About 450 troops were guarding the airport, with other soldiers working alongside police in central London.

It is the first time the UK army has been deployed on home security duties in such numbers for nine years.

The soldiers were from the Grenadier Guards regiment and the Household Cavalry, and were using Scimitar light tanks.

The units, which sometimes guard Buckingham Palace, are highly trained combat troops.

Scotland Yard also increased the number of police officers at Heathrow from 300 to 1,000, a police source told The Associated Press.

The government and Scotland Yard said the "precautionary" move was linked to fears that al Qaeda could use the end of the Muslim festival of Eid as a trigger for an attack on London.

Soldiers, dressed in combat fatigues and carrying rifles, patrolled on foot in teams of two or three around the terminal buildings.

Armoured vehicles were visible at the main entrance to the airport and parked outside terminals.

In a statement Scotland Yard said: "From time to time it is necessary to raise levels of security activity. We think it is prudent to do so now.

"The current strengthening of security is precautionary and is related to action being taken in other countries and the possibility that the end of the religious festival of Eid may erroneously be used by al Qaeda and associated networks to mount attacks.

"The use of troops is part of a long-standing contingency, authorised by the government, for example during the Provisional IRA campaign.

"To avoid prejudicing ongoing operations we do not intend to give any further details of security arrangements, other than to say that this action is in line with the policy of taking whatever action we believe necessary to protect the public."

Officers also searched vehicles near the village of Wraysbury in Berkshire, under a Heathrow flight path a few miles from the airport.

Chris Yates, of Jane's Airport Review, told AP the beefed-up security could be an effort to head off a surface-to-air missile attack like that aimed at a jet carrying Israeli tourists in Kenya last year.

In that case, some 270 passengers and crew escape with their lives when two missiles narrowly missed an Israeli jet taking off from Mombasa airport.

A devastating suicide bombing was carried out at the same time on a hotel used

by Israeli tourists in Mombassa. Fifteen people were killed. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for both attacks.

The UK Ministry of Defence said the troops had been drafted in from training exercises and would remain at Heathrow "for as long as the Metropolitan Police requires our assistance."

The move follows a statement authorised by Home Secretary David Blunkett on November 7 last year which warned of "ever more dramatic and devastating" terror attacks.

Last week the U.S. national terror alert was raised from yellow to orange following a "high risk" intelligence warning of a terrorist attack.

Passengers at Heathrow's Terminal Four said the army's deployment was a welcome measure and would not put them off travelling.


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