July 11, 2005

Bomb false alarms keep European cities on edge

By Shasta Darlington

ROME (Reuters) - Bomb threats have left European cities on
edge after blasts in London that killed at least 52 people last
week, with residents wondering where the next attack will hit
and trying to cope with nerve-rattling false alarms.

Londoners, still recovering from Thursday's bombing of
three underground stations and a double-decker bus, have had to
grapple with a series of threats and evacuations.

On Monday, Whitehall, a street that houses many government
offices, was evacuated and sealed off for over 30 minutes as
police investigated a "suspect package." King's Cross station
was also closed briefly due to a security alert.

But London is not alone.

Italy and Denmark -- like Britain, key allies in the
U.S.-led military operation in Iraq -- have also been the
target of bomb scares and menacing Internet messages that
threaten to become a daily fixture.

"Of course we're afraid, but what can we do? We still have
to go to work, we still have to use the Metro to get there,"
said Adriano Lardera, 64, as he walked out of Milan's crowded
Duomo metro station by the city's cathedral.

"Life goes on. And if it happens, it happens."

"There is no reason for particular alarmism," said Foreign
Minister Gianfranco Fini after a reporter asked if he thought
Italy would be next. "But there is even less reason not to act
with conviction and determination."

In recent days, Rome has had to evacuate a terminal at its
international airport, a street near the interior minister's
home and the main offices of a major bank. Officials in
Copenhagen have meanwhile emptied train and underground
stations three times to examine suspicious luggage.

All the incidents have proven to be false alarms, but they
have left Europeans twitchy and afraid. Even fairly commonplace
power failures and train delays have sparked moments of panic.

Shortly after the London attacks, a group claiming links to
al Qaeda said it was responsible for the bombs and threatened
to target Italy and Denmark next if they didn't withdraw

The Internet message and similar claims by two other
little-known Islamist groups are being treated with caution but
security measures across Europe have been stepped up.

Public transport has come under particular scrutiny, with
uniformed officers and plainclothes police patrolling train,
subway and bus stations.

Spain, another U.S. ally, withdrew its troops from Iraq
after bombs ripped through four trains in Madrid, killing 191
people, in March 2004.

Commuters and consumers are trying to come to terms with
their new reality.

"I was thinking about the attacks today. I considered if I
should take the train," Helle Bovbjerg, 34 told Danish daily
Ekstra Bladet.

"There is a certain shock effect, but you have to live life
like before. Otherwise you would go crazy." (Additional
reporting by Clara Ferreira-Marques in Milan, Kim McLaughlin in
Copenhagen and London bureau)