We will do our utmost but terrorists might succeed, warns Smith

Last updated at 09:56 02 July 2007

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith today warned that the terrorists targeting Britain could succeed in a future attack.

Urging the public to be vigilant, she added: "I cannot ever promise people that nothing will ever happen. What I can say is that I, the police and the other agencies across government will do their utmost to keep the public safe."

Looking tired after a weekend of briefings and meetings, Ms Smith reacted crossly to suggestions that the failure of the plots was down to luck.

"I don't think it is luck," she said. "I think it's members of the public keeping an eye out; it's incredibly brave police officers and explosives officers; intelligence that's looked at very carefully. All of those things were important."

Speaking on GMTV, Ms Smith admitted she was "not absolutely certain about" weekend allegations that there was an intelligence warning two weeks ago of attacks to coincide with the handover from Tony Blair to Gordon Brown. "One of the things I have decided is not to talk about things I am not absolutely certain about," she said. "Sometimes speaking on things does not help the investigation."

But she denied that the security services had been caught unawares. "The threat level was increased to critical but it was severe before, which meant that all the intelligence analysis meant there was a serious threat of an attack."

Asked who was behind the attacks, she said: "We don't know where people came from, where they lived, who have been involved in the incident in the past few days. But in general terms what we do know is there is a serious threat from al Qaeda-related terrorism.

"Let's be quite clear that it is terrorists, not people pursuing their religion; it's not people who have a legitimate political case to make.

"They are criminals, they are murderers, they attack all of us. It didn't matter what race or religion or community you came from if you were working or out in London on Thursday night."

Ms Smith refused to be drawn on whether Britain's foreign policy in Iraq should be changed in an attempt to undermine the arguments used by some extremists for justifying terrorism.

She said: "There is absolutely never any legitimacy for the sort of actions that have happened in the last few days.

"There is a serious and sustained threat from al Qaedarelated terrorism. The best way to address that is through the additional resources we are putting into the security services and changes to the law we are making."

The Home Secretary was preparing a Commons statement on the attacks and the investigation this afternoon.

It was also confirmed that the Government was studying the need for new anti-terrorism laws. Senior Conservatives indicated that they might be willing to drop their opposition to the detention of terror suspects without charge beyond 28 days.

But shadow foreign secretary William Hague stressed that there would have to be "compelling" new evidence before they backed an extension to 90 days as advocated by previous home secretary John Reid.

Three possible new powers are being considered by ministers, including extended detention times. The others are a Privy Council review of the use of phone tap evidence in court and moves to allow terror suspects to be quizzed by police after being charged. The last two measures are likely to win approval without a battle because they are backed by both main opposition parties.

Longer detentions, however, could risk a repeat of the 2005 vote when a proposal for a 90-day maximum was voted down by Labour rebels and the opposition parties.

In his first big interview, the new Prime Minster won plaudits for promising he would not rush out tough powers during the crisis - striking a marked contrast with Mr Blair, who habitually unveiled controversial measures during crises.

Mr Brown said he would be "vigilant about protecting the civil liberties of the individual" and added: "So if we have to move to tougher security measures we must have proper judicial oversight and we must have proper accountability."

He stressed his promise to consult ministers and hold a public debate before going ahead: "If we have to do tough things, Parliament must not only be informed, but involved in discussing what happens. Any national security strategy in my view must be subjected to the widest possible debate, not just in Parliament but in the country."

Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti, said: "So far, at least, Mr Brown has passed the first test of his administration. He has not played politics with the terror threat."

Meanwhile, former premier Tony Blair said international terrorism would be a threat to Britain for many years to come.

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