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Monday, November 24, 2003

UK hunts Al Qaida cells targeting Jews

JPost: British security services are searching for two cells of al-Qaida terrorists who are believed to be targeting synagogues, Jewish schools, and community centers, according to a report in the London Sunday Times.

The cells have been studying security arrangements at these institutions and are thought to have made "dummy runs" in preparation for possible suicide car bombings, the newspaper said.

The cells are believed to involve 10 terrorists from North Africa and Saudi Arabia. They are also understood to be studying commercial targets, including shopping centers and major banks in Britain.

The revelations about the activities of the terrorist cells follow last Thursday's attacks in Istanbul that targeted British interests – the British Consulate and HSBC Bank – in which 27 people were killed.

Among the dead were British consul-general Roger Short and his personal assistant, Lisa Hallworth.

According to the Times, warnings of a prospective al-Qaida attack were raised by the director-general of Britain's MI5 intelligence agency, Eliza Manningham-Buller.

She told the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee that al-Qaida "sleepers" are conducting surveillance on potential targets. Manningham-Buller said many of the sleepers are so deeply integrated into the British Muslim community that they are almost impossible to detect, and some are British citizens.

The disclosure came as Home Secretary David Blunkett confirmed on Saturday that attempts to carry out violent attacks in Britain had been foiled.

"These are the kind of things that counterterrorist [operations] are designed to foil and [the security services] are doing this all the time," he said.

Security officials confirmed before last week's Istanbul bombings that Britain is on its highest state of alert since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States. There are seven levels of security alert and Britain is now on the second-highest level. The highest level is reserved for when there is specific knowledge of an imminent attack.

In another development, the Sunday Telegraph reported that terrorists in London tried to buy half a ton of toxic chemicals, which could have the potential to kill thousands of people.

The plot was uncovered when staff at Amersham Plc, a medical diagnostics and biosciences company, became suspicious about the quantity of its products being ordered through an obscure London post office box address.