Europeans ask who's next after London blasts
Reuters | July 11, 2005
By Phil Stewart
After deadly rush-hour bombings in Spain and Britain just over a year apart, Italians and other U.S. allies in Europe are asking themselves: who's next? Spain blames al Qaeda for last year's Madrid train bombs and London's police chief has said Thursday's London attacks bore all the hallmarks of the loose Islamist network.
A vocal European proponent of U.S. foreign policy, Italy is a repeated target of Islamic militant threats.
Two different groups claiming affiliation to al Qaeda have warned of attacks on Italy within the past 24 hours alone.
One group calling itself the Organization of al Qaeda - Jihad in the Arabian Peninsula described Rome as "the capital of infidels" in a menacing message on Friday.
"These threats need to be taken seriously," said Vittorfranco Pisano, a retired American army colonel and Rome-based terrorism consultant.
"Italy is the closest ally of the United States in continental Europe and has become far more active in international affairs."
Italy dispatched extra plain-clothes police to guard public transport, heightened security at airports and said more than 13,000 "sensitive sites" were under special guard. But for many Rome residents, an attack seems inevitable.
"It will happen. Rome is an important city, it's home to the Vatican. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, but eventually," said Rita Pesce, waiting for a bus.
BUSH, BLAIR, BERLUSCONI
After the United States and Britain, Italy is the third largest Western member of coalition forces in Iraq, and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi acknowledged that Italy's role in Iraq left it "exposed" to attack.
"Even intelligence (reports) from other countries show the three Bs, Bush, Berlusconi and Blair, are considered the most exposed to this type of risk," he said, referring also to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush.
Denmark has also sent troops to Iraq and found itself threatened along with Italy by the previously unknown "Secret Group of al Qaeda's Jihad in Europe," which also claimed credit for the London blasts.
Denmark's Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said terrorists would inevitably "slip through the net" and warned all European nations were ultimately vulnerable.
Poland, which has about 1,700 troops in Iraq and commands a multinational division, played down the threats.
"I wouldn't succumb to emotions because some group, known or unknown, has mentioned us on the Internet," President Aleksander Kwasniewski told public radio.
Ordinary Spaniards still have painful memories of the March 2004 train bombings in Madrid, which killed 191 people. An Islamic militant group claimed the attack, saying it was punishment for Spain's then involvement in the Iraq war.
Three days later, Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was elected. He withdrew troops from Iraq.
Even France, which won support in the Muslim world for opposing the Iraq war, is warning that it too could be a target.
French security experts say the risk is high because it shares intelligence with Washington and London, and has helped leaders in its North African ex-colonies fight Islamic radicals.
Michel Gaudin, head of France's national police force, said the main threat to France came from the radical Algerian Islamist group GSPC and a network recruiting young French nationals to fight in Iraq.
"We are very vigilant, very watchful, notably over recent positions take by the GSPC Algerian group. We know that the threat of a chemical weapons attack is not unrealistic," Gaudin said on Europe 1 radio.
(Additional reporting by Jon Boyle in Paris, Daniel Espino in Warsaw, Kim McLaughlin in Copenhagen and Sandor Peto in Budapest and Crispian Balmer in Gleneagles, Scotland)