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London 'top terrorist target'

London staged a mock chemical attack in September.
London staged a mock chemical attack in September.

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LONDON, England -- London is at greater risk of being hit by a terror attack from Islamic extremists than any big city in the United States or Western Europe, a report says.

Prime Minister Tony Blair's support for the U.S.-led war on Iraq and Britain's large Muslim population means there is a "serious possibility" of a suicide strike, Control Risks Group, an international risk consultancy, said in a report released Tuesday.

Previously the Muslim extremist threat had been "vague, undefined war against the West," the UK's Press Association quoted Jake Stratton, research director of the Control Risks Group's 2004 RiskMap report, as saying.

"But in the last year Britain has reinforced its position in the eyes of the Islamic world as the major ally of the U.S."

In the report, which analyzed security in 195 countries, analysts raised London's terror risk rating from low to medium.

While the United States has a number of targets spread across the country, London is the only place of key political significance in Britain, making it a "very attractive target for Islamic extremists," Stratton added.

For the rest of Britain, most of Western Europe and the United States, the threat remained low.

The involvement of two British Islamic extremists in a suicide attack in Israel this year suggests militants are already operating in the UK, the study said.

A suicide bombing, triggered from bombs strapped around an individual or from a truck, was the most likely form of attack because it was simple to set up and hard to stop, the report added.

The findings came as Conservatives demanded on Tuesday the government keep the public better informed on the terrorist threat facing Britain.

Shadow homeland security minister Patrick Mercer said Britain was clearly high on terrorists' target list, but ministers were not telling the public what was going on.

"It is time the Government stopped burying its head in the sand, started to treat people like adults rather than panicky children and gave us a clear indication of where the threat lies," he said.

In September, London emergency services staged a mock chemical weapons attack on a subway train below the financial district to test the city's ability to deal with a terrorist strike.

That came a week after Britain's top police officer, Metropolitan Police chief John Stevens, said the nation faced a threat from suicide bombers and that London authorities were on their "highest level of alert'' for any attack.

In August, the London-based World Markets Research Center ranked the United Kingdom 10th on its terror risk list, citing close ties with the United States, key roles on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and sophisticated militant networks.

Outside of Britain, the government has warned of "high threats" of terrorism against Westerners and other targets in the Gulf-Arab nations of Bahrain and Qatar, following a weekend attack in Saudi Arabia (Full story)

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