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Civilian Stasi Comes To Britain: London Police Encourage Public To Report 'Suspicious Behaviour'

London Guardian | March 23 2004

Scotland Yard will today launch an unprecedented campaign urging the public to report individuals they suspect of being terrorists.

As the Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir John Stevens, called for a much more coordinated European security force effort in the wake of the Madrid bombings, UK citizens were asked to register any suspicious activity by phoning a hotline.

Sir John has already warned of the considerable terror threat, saying an attack on London is "inevitable", and urging people to report unattended bags on trains, pubs, clubs and other public places.

The Life Savers campaign goes much further, asking people to consider whether the behaviour of those they encounter, through work or socially, gives them any reason to think they might be planning terrorist attacks.

The Met's deputy assistant commissioner, Peter Clarke, head of the force's anti-terrorist branch, said terrorists needed places to live, vehicles, and money.

Landlords and hoteliers should watch out for suspicious tenants, or guests on a short-term basis.

People should look out for anyone paying an unusual attention to security at locations such as public buildings, shopping centres or rail stations.

Motor traders should be wary of someone who pays in cash or over the odds for a vehicle, or is unusually secretive about their identity.

Banks should be vigilant for individuals trying to set up a bogus account, which could be used to obtain cheque books to acquire goods later returned to stores for cash refunds. Credit cards can be cloned and used in the same way.

"All communities have a role to play in tackling the terrorist threat," said Mr Clarke.

David Veness, assistant commissioner specialist operations, which oversees the Met's anti-terrorist branch, said that people should not be afraid of reporting someone they knew, or of bothering police about things that might have entirely innocent explanations.

"All calls to the hotline are treated in strictest confidence and all information received is researched and investigated before any police action is taken," he said. "Let us decide if the information you have is valuable or not. We have massively increased the effort and resources we are devoting to security and counter-terrorist investigations, but we still very much need your help.

"We want to make London one of the most hostile environments for anyone committed to providing financial or logistical support to terrorists or carrying out terrorist attacks themselves."

Sir John criticised the European response to the terror threat as too slow, and said the Madrid atrocity was a "big wake-up call" .

He suggested a pan-European structure, similar to Europol, the Hague-based centre for handling criminal intelligence: "We have the Europol structures that deal with organised crime. In relation to terrorism there needs to be a similar structure."

A plan to appoint an anti-terrorism supremo will be formally approved by European Union leaders this week. But an EU summit in Brussels on Friday threw up marked differences of opinion about how far national police and security agencies should go.

A team from Scotland Yard is in Madrid assisting the Spanish police and Sir John has said he believes there is a strong link between the Madrid blasts and London.

Meanwhile, there was confusion over whether Mohamed al-Gerbouzi, alleged founder and leader of the group blamed for the Madrid bombings, was still living in London.

Al-Gerbouzi, in his mid-40s, was convicted last December in his absence for taking part in last year's suicide attacks in Casablanca. Jamal Zougam, chief suspect in the Madrid bombings, is thought to have travelled to London to visit Gerbouzi, who has lived here on and off since 1988.

Moroccan and Spanish officials want to speak to Gerbouzi, allegedly head of the Group of Islamic Combatants of Morocco - but Scotland Yard sources said last week they were not investigating him and the security agencies do not consider him a serious terrorist threat.

Weekend press reports claimed Gerbouzi had fled his home.

However, a north African source in west London told the Guardian he had seen him twice last week, once outside his children's school, and on Friday in his car.
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