Wed, Jul 20, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Bombings surprised UK intelligence


Less than a month before the London bombings, Britain's top intelligence and law enforcement officials concluded that "at present there is not a group with both the current intent and the capability to attack the UK," according to a confidential report.

The previously undisclosed report was sent to British government agencies, foreign governments and corporations in the middle of last month, about three weeks before a team of four British suicide bombers mounted their July 7 attack on London's public transportation system.

The assessment by the Joint Terrorist Analysis Center prompted the British government to lower its formal threat assessment one level, from "severe defined" to "substantial." The center includes officials from Britain's top intelligence agencies as well as Customs and the Metropolitan Police.

Asked to comment on the document, a senior British official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, "We do not discuss intelligence assessments."

British officials said the reduced threat level had no practical impact on terrorism preventive measures, and the British home secretary has said it did not make Britain more vulnerable to attack. The threat assessment was surprising because it said that terrorist-related activity in Britain was a direct result of violence in Iraq.

"Events in Iraq are continuing to act as motivation and a focus of a range of terrorist related activity in the UK," said the report, a copy of which was made available by a foreign intelligence service and was not disputed by four senior British officials who were asked about it.

Meanwhile, the British government reacted sharply Monday to a private research report saying that Britain was particularly exposed to terrorist attack because of its role in Iraq as an ally of US policy.

Coming 11 days after four bombers struck London, killing 51 people along with themselves, the rapid and concerted reaction from three ranking ministers, including Prime Minister Tony Blair, showed the depth of government sensitivity to suggestions that its own policies invited the capital's bloodiest attack in decades.

"There is no doubt that the situation over Iraq has imposed particular difficulties for the UK, and for the wider coalition against terrorism," said the report from Chatham House. "It gave a boost to the al-Qaeda network's propaganda, recruitment and fund-raising."

The assertion drew a swift response from government ministers, who chronicled attacks by al-Qaeda long before the war in Iraq.

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