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Al-Qaeda 'focused' on Parliament


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Al-Qaeda 'focused' on Parliament

Commons leader Peter Hain has said he was briefed by the security services that "al-Qaeda operatives in Britain were focusing on Parliament".

The revelation comes as an undercover reporter from the Sun reportedly smuggled a fake bomb into the Commons.

Mr Hain said the stunt, which came a day after protesters stormed the Commons chamber, confirmed his worst fears about security in Parliament.

One pro-hunt protester said they had no inside help and security was "risible".

'Extremely disturbing'

David Redvers said the operation had been planned "on the back of envelope" the day before and it was "frighteningly simple" to gain entry to the Commons, although he refused to detail how they had done it.

But Mr Hain told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he was sure the protesters had benefited from "inside knowledge".

And he said he had been approached last summer by the security services who "had, for some months, been seeking to persuade the authorities in the House of Commons to be much more vigilant about security and update their procedures".

He added: "They had intelligence that was extremely disturbing.

"They briefed me some time ago about intelligence they had about al-Qaeda operatives in Britain focusing on Parliament."

The "horrifying reality" was that peaceful protesters -such as the anti-hunt intruders - could have been suicide bombers, Mr Hain warned.

Undercover reporter

He said he wanted a central director of security - "a modern professional with up-to-date knowledge of terrorist procedures and security matters" - to oversee the protection of Parliament, taking over responsibility from the serjeant-at-arms and his staff.

The call was backed by Home Secretary David Blunkett, who said Parliamentary security needed to move from the Middle Ages into the 21st century.

Tory leader Michael Howard agreed there should be a radical overhaul of Parliamentary security, repeating his call to Tony Blair to appoint a minister for homeland security.

The eight protesters who tried to barge into the Commons chamber at Westminster have now been released on police bail.

The Sun newspaper said its journalist had been working for 11 days in the catering department at Westminster.

Sun managing editor Graham Dudman said the stunt had exposed "very serious" failings in security at the Commons.

Mr Dudman said reporter Anthony France was able to get a job as a waiter using false references - which were not checked in any way but "couldn't have been more bogus".

The materials he smuggled in the midst of heightened security on Thursday included batteries, wire, a timer and modelling clay.

'Simply unbelievable'

Mr Dudman said it "couldn't have been anything other" than a bomb, the only difference being it was 200g of modelling clay instead of semtex.

Photographs of the reporter also show him serving tea to Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott while at Westminster.

Mr Dudman told Today: "It just simply beggars belief that on the day... everybody was saying: 'I can assure you we are going to ratchet up security, it's never going to be tighter', that same day a man from the Sun walks in carrying what could have been a bomb.

"It's simply unbelievable."

The reporter's picture had already been on the paper's front page after he smuggled a fake bomb onto a plane at Birmingham International Airport.

Shadow leader of the House Oliver Heald described the latest breach as a "scandal" and said security checks needed to be tightened.

The Liberal Democrats said Commons security needed an overhaul, with a greater role for Scotland Yard.


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