U.S. raises alert level after London bombs
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States raised its
terrorism alert level to “high” from “elevated” for buses,
subways and trains on Thursday after bombings in central London
killed at least 37 people at the height of the rush hour.
After an initially muted response to what British Prime
Minister Tony Blair said was an apparent terrorist attack, U.S.
officials stepped up mass transit security, acting several
hours after the four London blasts.
“We feel that, at least in the short term, we should raise
the (alert) level here because, obviously, we’re concerned
about the possibility of a copycat attack,” Homeland Security
Secretary Michael Chertoff told a news conference.
The United States has been on alert for possible attacks
against its own people since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New
York and the Pentagon, which prompted President Bush to declare
a war against terrorism worldwide.
Chertoff said he had no specific, credible information of
an imminent attack but that al Qaeda and its affiliates
remained bent on targeting Europe and the United States. He did
not say who he thought was behind the London blasts.
Bush, in Scotland for a Group of Eight summit, said he told
officials to be extra vigilant as Americans headed to work.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush agreed to
heighten the alert level at about 9:30 a.m. (1330 GMT) — more
than five hours after the blasts.
At least two Americans were among the 700 people injured in
London but there were no reports of U.S. fatalities, a State
Department official said.
The Union Jack, the British flag, was hung at half staff
outside the State Department as a sign of respect for the close
ally, which is a staunch backer of the campaign against
terrorism and of the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared: “Before long, I
suspect that those responsible for these acts will encounter
British steel. Their kind of steel has an uncommon strength. It
does not break … The British people are determined and
resolute. And I know the people of the United States are proud
to stand at their side.”
Initial reaction in U.S. cities was more one of sympathy
than alarm. Outside the British Embassy in Washington a man
held up a placard that read, “Today we are all British.” Arab
and Muslim Americans offered their condolences.
Bush intelligence chief and the FBI pledged to help Britain
deal with the attacks and find out who was responsible.
After initially saying the U.S. alert level was unchanged,
the Department of Homeland Security hiked it to high, or
orange, the second-highest category of five, for railway and
subway systems, as well as intra-city bus lines. Airline
traffic was unaffected.
“This is not an occasion for undue anxiety. It’s an
occasion for a sense of sympathy and solidarity for our allies
over in Britain,” Chertoff told the news conference.
In major cities bomb-sniffing dogs and security sweeps were
seen at some subway platforms, while police cars patrolled
outside stations and officers searched buses.
Officials in New York said security was at the highest
level since the 2001 attacks, which killed nearly 3,000.
Washington police said security had been increased around
some key buildings and a spokesman said a Joint Operations
Command Center, only activated for large-scale demonstrations,
parades, or emergency situations, was in force.
In Chicago, Mayor Richard Daley said he had “heightened
security throughout the city,” and Miami Police Chief John
Timoney put his staff on alert soon after he saw the blasts on
television at 6 a.m. (1000 GMT).
Amtrak, the national passenger railroad, said it raised its
security threat level “strictly as a precaution.” U.S. freight
railroads urged employees to be vigilant and rail transport of
hazardous materials through Washington was temporarily halted.
The U.S. reaction was a step higher than after the March
11, 2004, train bombings in Spain that killed almost 200. Those
attacks did not lead to a raising of the color-coded terror
threat but transportation systems across the country were
advised to be on higher alert.
The last time the Department of Homeland Security raised
the threat level was in November 2004 for the financial
services sector in New York, New Jersey, and Washington. It
went to high from elevated for three months.