February 12, 2003
LONDON -- Britain boosted security in and around London on Tuesday, deploying tanks and hundreds of troops at Heathrow Airport as police said terrorists could launch attacks timed to a Muslim holiday.
With fears of terrorism high ahead of a possible war on Iraq, police said they were adding patrols at possible targets in central London in response to "a potential threat to the capital."
Prime Minister Tony Blair authorized the operation, his Downing Street office said.
Soldiers carrying rifles patrolled passenger terminals, and light tanks and armored vehicles were stationed at the airport entrance and outside key buildings.
"From time to time, it is necessary to raise levels of security activity," Scotland Yard police headquarters said in a statement. "We think it is prudent to do so now.
"To avoid prejudicing ongoing operations we do not intend to give any further details of security arrangements, other than to say that this action is in line with the policy of taking whatever action we believe necessary to protect the public," the statement said.
Scotland Yard called the move "precautionary" and said it was tied to the possibility that al-Qaida and affiliated terror networks could use the end of the religious festival of Eid al-Adha as a pretext for attacks.
Police did not say how long the operation would last.
The holiday began Tuesday in Saudi Arabia and most Muslim communities continue celebrations for several more days.
Eid al-Adha, or "Feast of the Sacrifice," commemorates God's provision of a ram for Abraham to sacrifice instead of his son, and is considered one of Islam's most important holidays.
The Ministry of Defense said about 450 troops were being deployed and a police spokesman added that all would be stationed at Heathrow, Britain's busiest airport.
"It does make you feel good, knowing people are out there protecting your safety," Chandana Tatia, 23, said as she prepared to catch a flight to India.
The soldiers were from the Grenadier Guards regiment and the Household Cavalry and were using Scimitar light tanks, the ministry said. The units, which sometimes guard Buckingham Palace, are highly trained combat troops.
Scotland Yard also reportedly increased the number of police officers at Heathrow from 300 to 1,000.
A police spokesman said it was the first time troops had been used to guard Heathrow since 1994, when the Irish Republican Army tried to mortar-bomb the runways.
Officers reportedly searched vehicles near the village of Wraysbury in Berkshire, under a Heathrow flight path a few miles from the airport.