A senior British police official warned on Wednesday that terrorists will likely strike London's financial district, one of the world's biggest business hubs, and that they have already surveyed targets in the area.
Nearly five weeks after four suicide bombers attacked the British capital, killing themselves and 52 others, the City of London's police chief James Hart said there was no specific intelligence about a forthcoming attack but insisted the district was at risk.
"We are vulnerable, there are people out there who wish us harm and we should be aware of that," Hart told The Associated Press. "If you hit the financial center of the United Kingdom, it's a high-profile thing to do."
Asked if it was a question of when the financial district would be struck, rather than if, Hart replied: "Yes, I don't doubt that at all."
Known as the City, London's business quarter houses hundreds of banks, insurance companies, law firms and other institutions — including the London Stock Exchange and the Bank of England. It is a leading international center for trading in metals, oil and other commodities.
Aldgate subway station, one of the targets in the July 7 bombings, lies on the eastern edge of the City, a dense network of narrow streets dotted with skyscrapers. The tiny district has its own police force — distinct from the Metropolitan Police which operates in the rest of the capital — and officers beefed up security there in the 1990s after a string of IRA bombs.
"We are always vulnerable as a financial center, as we have been for the last three decades," Hart said.
Hart also said that "most successful terrorist operatives pre-survey their targets." Asked if this had happened in the City, he answered: "It has already occurred," but added that officers had disrupted "hostile surveillance."
He refused to say whether officers had arrested anyone as a result of these operations, or give further details.
Hart said his officers were also involved in training people working in the City — including company security guards and receptionists — to look for suspicious behavior.
The commissioner, who first spoke of the threat in comments published in Wednesday's Financial Times, said it was misleading to talk about any particular groups that might be planning an attack.
"There is a range of people who wish us harm," he said.
Other international financial centers also have developed contingencies in the case of terrorist strikes since the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.
Last summer, U.S. authorities raised the terror alert for financial institutions after uncovering an alleged al Qaeda plot to attack the Citicorp building in New York and the New York Stock Exchange; the International Monetary Fund and World Bank buildings in Washington; and the Prudential Financial Inc.'s headquarters in Newark, New Jersey. The alert was later lifted.
Following the 2001 attacks on New York's World Trade Center, the city's stock exchange established an alternative trading floor, while investment firms created new emergency centers, some of them outside of the municipal area.
The exchange, with its trading floor just blocks from the destroyed World Trade Center site, was not damaged in the attacks but infrastructure problems, namely downed phone lines, made it impossible for trading to immediately resume.
Meanwhile, details emerged Wednesday of testimony given to British investigators by one of the suspects in the failed July 21 bomb attacks against London's transit system.
Hamdi Issac told British officers questioning him in Rome that the explosives in his bag were made of flour and a liquid hair product and were not meant to kill, his Italian lawyer Antonietta Sonnessa said. She added that it had been an attention-grabbing stunt.
A spokeswoman for London's Metropolitan Police refused to comment on Issac's reported claim.
Britain wants to extradite Issac. British police arrested the three other main suspects in the failed bombings and charged them with attempted murder, conspiracy to murder, possessing or making explosives and conspiracy to use explosives on July 21. They face life in prison if convicted.
Police have not charged anyone in connection with the July 7 blasts.