UK on 'severe' terror alert
Britain raised its terror threat alert to the second-highest level Friday, one of several recent moves the country has made to increase vigilance against international terrorists after a Christmas Day bombing attempt on a Europe-US flight.
The threat level was raised from "substantial" where it had stood since July to indicate a strong possibility of a terrorist attack to "severe," meaning such an attack is considered highly likely.
In making the announcement, Home Secretary Alan Johnson said the raised security level means that Britain is heightening its vigilance. But he stressed that there was no intelligence suggesting an attack is imminent.
"The highest security alert is 'critical,' and that means an attack is imminent, and we are not at that level," he said on British television.
Johnson declined to say what intelligence the change was based on, or whether the move was related to the failed Christmas bombing attempt, when US authorities say a young Nigerian named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to detonate a bomb hidden in his underwear during a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. Abdulmutallab, who allegedly had links to extremists based in Yemen, had studied as a university student in London.
"It shouldn't be thought to be linked to Detroit, or anywhere else for that matter," Johnson said. "We never say what the intelligence is."
He said the decision to raise the threat level was made by the UK's Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre. He said the centre kept the security threat level under constant review and made its judgments based on a range of factors, including the "intent and capabilities of international terrorist groups in the UK and overseas."
Friday's changes came days after Britain suspended direct flights to Yemen's capital in response to the growing threat from al-Qaeda-affiliated militants based in that country. Prime Minister Gordon Brown said his government also was creating a new terrorist no-fly list, and targeting specific airline passengers for tougher security checks.
The measures followed a discussion between Brown and President Barack Obama on Tuesday. They match similar moves made by US authorities last week to enhance security at airports and on planes, as intelligence officials warned that al-Qaeda's branch in Yemen was continuing to plot attacks on the United States.
The stepped-up security in the US included more air marshals on flights to and within the US and additional screening at airports around the world.
Brown said Britain and other nations face a sharply growing threat from al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists based in Yemen and an area of north Africa that includes nations such as Somalia, Nigeria, Sudan and Ethiopia.