From DEBKAfiles Special Counter-Terror Sources
November 9, 2002
A bureaucratic mix-up in London Friday, November 8, forced British officialdom into the unwilling admission that international terrorists may now wield a nuclear threat and it could be aimed at Britain.
On Thursday, November 7, Tom Ridge, US homeland minister and senior member of the Bush cabinet, said to the center for defense studies at Kings College London: Our transportation networks, power generating plants and industries can be attacked with potentially catastrophic consequences. Our public safety and health infrastrucfures can be quickly overwhelmed producing casualties in the thousands or tens of thousands. This is the inescapable reality of the 21st century.
After the lecture, Ridge went into conference with British Home Minister, David Blunkett. Hours later, Britain had its first major warning of a potential dirty bomb or poison gas attack by fanatical extremists of al Qaeda, who would attempt to strike again.
This is the text of the warning handed out to the British media on Friday, November 8: Maybe they will try to develop a so-called dirty bomb, or some kind of poison gas; maybe they will try to use boats or trains rather than planes. The bottom line is that we simply cannot be sure. We cannot be sure of when or where or how terrorists will strike. But we can be sure they will try.
The furor raised by this release hit the fan in Number 10 Downing Street, spoiling its careful attempts to avoid panicking the country about a nuclear or chemical threat. In no time, a sanitized version of the original handout was released - no mention of dirty bombs or poison gas, no specified targets.
On that same Friday, the head of Interpol, Alfred Noble, in an interview with the Paris La Figaro, warned that Osama bin Laden was alive and that al Qaeda was preparing simultaneous attacks in several countries in addition to the United States. Its plan was to cause not a local but an international catastrophe.
Something worrying is going on, the international policeman admitted.
DEBKAfile and our electronic weekly DEBKA-Net-Weekly have repeatedly reported since soon after the September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington that both the Iraqis and al Qaeda have procured some small type of nuclear or radioactive weapon. It is more advanced than the dirty bomb, which spreads radioactive contamination by means of a conventional bomb.
However, most governments, seriously concerned by the economic slowdown engendered by international terrorism and the global war for its eradication have preferred to play down the information, hoping to avert further irreversible damage to such industries as hotels, transportation, aviation, tourism and consumer trade in general.
Now the bad news is out in the open: the British public has been told the truth, however inadvertently.
According to DEBKAfiles counter- terror sources, potential alerts registered in the second week of November include:
--- Possible nuclear or chemical attacks in North American, West European and Middle East cities. The alert for London pinpoints The City, government offices, the Underground and the Thames River.
--- In pursuit of massive casualties, terrorists may resort to bomb cars or kamikaze pilots. Ships loaded with many tons of explosives of all types some containing nuclear substances may crash into Western harbors such as London, New York, Tel Aviv or Haifa. [Emphasis added]