Terrorist Activity Puts City of London On Guard
But critics contend the blockade could be an incentive to bombers
LONDON — A MASSIVE anti-terrorist cordon around London's financial district is being criticized by civil security experts and even by police as more likely to provoke terrorist outrages than prevent them.
The measures, which include checkpoints manned by armed police, are aimed at heading off terrorists using vehicles to plant explosives. But one leading critic describes the cordon as "a charade." Closure of 18 roads leading into the famous Square Mile took effect Monday.
In April Irish terrorists planted a bomb in a truck in the financial district, killing one person and causing extensive building damage. A year earlier an explosion killed three people and caused damage worth nearly British pounds1 billion (US$1.5 billion) at the Baltic Exchange.
Faced with the threat of more terrorist outrages by the Irish Republican Army, the Corporation of London, the Square Mile's ruling body, decided in May on a scheme to divert the 7,500 cars that normally enter the Square Mile every hour.
The cordon, dubbed a "ring of steel" by police but consisting mainly of plastic posts, is operating 24 hours a day and should continue for at least a year. On the first day, thousands of motorists, some unaware of the security measures, were caught in traffic as they used the eight remaining points of entry into the Square Mile. Police said the system was working reasonably well.
Workers in banks and other finance houses left their cars at home and traveled to work by train or bus. Motorists who arrived in their cars were met by armed police (unusual in British cities), and some were asked to allow their cars to be searched.
Before the cordon took effect, Scotland Yard anti-terrorist experts warned that the policy was dangerous. A Scotland Yard source said it was "probably inevitable" that some such measures had to be taken, but added: "There can be no guarantee that the road blocks and security checks will deter the bombers. They have a record of responding to a challenge and could decide to risk taking a bomb into the financial district, or detonate a device elsewhere in London."
Most of the pressure for the security arrangements came from businesses and finance houses worried that penetration of the area by another bomber would undermine the international credibility of the Square Mile.
The Irish bombers who have twice caused massive devastation in the Square Mile are presenting the British authorities with a dilemma. The government recognizes that if London's financial district becomes a regular terrorist target, many financial organizations may decide to close up and go to another European city.
The April blast coincided with a European Bank for Reconstruction and Development meeting. Representatives of more than 50 governments felt the force of the explosion as it ripped through concrete 400 yards away.
But sealing off the Square Mile against terrorists, even if it proves practical in the long run, may be viewed negatively by many foreign financial institutions. Until now, movement around London's financial district has always been easy.
Conor Cruise O'Brien, an author and former Irish diplomat who is a specialist on security matters, roundly attacked the anti-terrorist cordon in an article in the London Times. The "IRA Godfathers" would be "licking their cruel lips" at the security measures which were "an incentive" to the bombers, Mr. O'Brien wrote. Instead of reducing the risk of another terrorist outrage, they would increase it. The business and financial interests who had pressed for the measures were misguided, he said.
Michael Cassidy, chairman of the Corporation of London, said the policy was keyed to preventing terrorists planting car bombs, but conceded that because pedestrians could come and go freely, there was little to stop a bomber planting a hand-held device.
A reporter from the London Financial Times took his car into the Square Mile and was not stopped or searched. When he stopped to look at buildings and take detailed notes, no policeman approached him. In an editorial Tuesday, the paper said the security cordon gave terrorists a propaganda coup by publicly interfering with commercial activities in London. The paper said: "These measures do not look like part of a well-considered and coherent strategy for fighting the IRA."