British Police: London's Financial District a Likely Terrorist Target

LONDON (AP) - Terrorists will likely strike London's financial district and have already surveyed the area for possible targets, a British police chief was quoted as telling a newspaper Wednesday.

Known as the City of London, the capital's financial quarter packs hundreds of banks, insurance companies, law firms and other institutions - including the London Stock Exchange and the Bank of England - into a small network of narrow streets. Aldgate subway station, one of the targets of the July 7 bombings that killed 56 people including the four attackers, lies on its eastern edge.

James Hart, commissioner of the City of London Police, was quoted as telling the Financial Times that there had been "hostile reconnaissance" of the area on several occasions since the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.

"Every successful terrorist group pre-surveys its target. There's no doubt we've been subject to that surveillance, and that sort of thing has been successfully disrupted," Hart reportedly said, without elaborating.

Police have made no arrests as a result of operations to disrupt surveillance activities, but they have sent information to Britain's intelligence agencies, he said, without giving details.

Security in the City was beefed up in the 1990s after a string of IRA bombings, but Hart suggested more terrorist strikes were likely. "Look at the number of time we were hit by the IRA. I think (another attack) is a question of when rather than if," he said.

Possible targets included "anywhere where the maximum damage can be inflicted on the financial systems of the City of London and (where you can) associate that with mass murder and maximum disruption," Hart said.

Amid growing calls in the wake of the London bombings to charge some clerics under incitement and treason laws, one of the most radical firebrand leaders left Britain for the Middle East.

Sheik Omar Bakri, who earned a reputation for extremism during his 20 years in Britain, announced Tuesday that he was in Lebanon. Bakri said he was visiting relatives, but planned to return to Britain within six weeks.

Asked whether Bakri would be barred from returning, a Home Office spokeswoman said Wednesday that she couldn't comment on specific cases. But she added that Home Secretary Charles Clarke had wide-ranging powers to exclude people from the country if he found their "presence is not conducive to the public good" because they threaten public order or national security.

Clarke said last week that, after a consultation period, he wanted to widen the criteria for excluding people to cover those who foment, justify or glorify terrorism or who foster hatred that could lead to violence between communities in Britain.

The spokeswoman refused to say how long the consultation would take, but The Guardian newspaper reported Wednesday that it could take as little as two weeks and that Clarke could implement the new powers immediately afterward and bar Bakri from entering Britain.

Also as part of the crackdown following the July 7 attacks and the July 21 failed bombings in London, the British government is considering setting up secretive courts to make it easier to prosecute terror suspects.

Currently, terror suspects can be held for two weeks without charge; after they are charged, police can no longer question them. Police have asked the government to extend this period to three months.

On Tuesday, British investigators questioned a suspected bomber detained in Rome and suspected of involvement in the July 21 attacks. Three other suspected bombers were being held in Britain.

Antonietta Sonnessa, lawyer for Hamdi Issac, said Wednesday that during the interrogation her client told investigators that the explosives in his bag were made of flour and a liquid hair product and were not meant to kill.

Sonnessa said it had been an attention-grabbing stunt and was not intended to cause harm.

In Egypt, authorities on Tuesday released Egyptian chemist Magdy el-Nashar, who had been sought by Britain in connection with the deadly July 7 explosions on London's Underground and on a bus. Egyptian officials said he was let go because no evidence was found linking him to the attack or to al-Qaida.