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Thursday, 11 October, 2001, 00:13 GMT 01:13 UK
Met chief learns NY terror lessons
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens lays flowers at WTC
Sir John Stevens: "Appalling tragedy"
Ryan Dilley

London's Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens has come to New York to see the site of the World Trade Center attack for himself.

But despite the senior policeman's years of anti-terrorist experience, he says he is meeting his US counterparts not to teach, but to learn.

Who are the biggest allies of America? Which is the next-biggest target?

Sir John Stevens

With the UK the only nation to so far actively join the American air strikes on Afghanistan, Sir John has warned that British cities such as London might fall victim to a terror attack on the scale of that experienced by New York on 11 September.

"Who are the biggest allies of America? Which is the next-biggest target?" he has asked.

Paying his respects at the Manhattan church that has become a focus for those families grieving loved ones lost in the WTC collapse, Sir John said his discussions with New York police and FBI officials would touch on the continuing investigation into the terror attacks.

However, he also said he was keen to "learn lessons" from how this city coped with the "appalling tragedy".

Sir John said he planned to send a series of his officers to New York to take part in debriefings being run by local police and the FBI.

They will look at the emergency services command centre, how relatives of the dead have been dealt with and the process of identifying bodies.

Sir John later met New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, the man in charge of policing in the city and who is overseeing the investigation into the attacks.

ID checks

Having endured decades of IRA bombings, Britons rarely take their safety and security for granted as Americans did prior to the shocking events of 11 September.

Sir John Stevens lays a wreath
UK police may rethink their anti-terrorism strategies
Given this experience, one might have thought Sir John would be offering his American counterparts valuable advice on anti-terrorism tactics.

However, the sheer scale of destruction wrought on New York and its people means it may be UK police officials who have to reappraise their plans for dealing with terror attacks.

In a city where photo ID checks were not an uncommon daily experience even before last month, in the wake of the attacks New Yorkers often cannot go about their lives without be called upon to prove their identities.

Across whole swathes of the city, drivers queue at police roadblocks with their licences at the ready, and for blocks around "ground zero" residents, workers and schoolchildren alike slowly funnel through pavement checkpoints.

Speaking in New York, Sir John said the introduction of similar photo ID cards in the UK was something for Parliament to consider, "so we'll have to wait and see."

Awash with uniforms

However, Sir John is eager to see for himself the so-called "omega level" security operating in New York since the air campaign against the Taleban began on Sunday.

ground zero at the World Trade Center
Ground Zero: Sir John wanted to see the site of the attack for himself

While London has mobilised an extra 1,500 police officers, New York is awash with uniforms. Some 4,500 National Guard troops - akin to the UK Territorial Army - have left their civilian careers and homes for "active" service.

Largely trained for combat, these men and women from all walks of life now congregate at road junctions, tunnels and bridges.

They pace the marble hall of Grand Central railway station, and patrol among the passengers at New York's airports.

Their camouflage fatigues can even be spotted among the tourists lining up to see such Big Apple attractions as the Empire State Building.

"People like to see us. It makes them feel safer," says one National Guard soldier watching another busload of commuters arrive for work on Wall Street.

London fears

Privately some police officers and soldiers admit their presence is often symbolic and intended to reassure a jittery population, rather than actually protect it from another attack.

People like to see us. It makes them feel safer

National Guard soldier

Added to the sizable military contingent, police officers and state troopers from hundreds of miles away have also been drafted in to beef up security.

While security at such sites as Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament and London's Canary Wharf has been stepped up, efforts to counter terror attacks are by no means as visible in the UK as they presently are in United States.

About to visit "ground zero" for himself, Sir John says London's security is not being ignored. "We will do what is necessary to ensure the protection of London. You have my word on that."

Sir John said afterwards he had been "horrified" as he toured ground zero.

And he had been amazed that 25,000 people were safely evacuated from the towers after "heroic deeds" by firefighters, police and emergency personnel.

However, the security mindset of New York seems decidedly different to that still evident in London.

Since 11 September, New York sees the suicide attacker as its greatest foe - be they intent on delivering a lorry bomb, a gas canister or hijacking another airliner - and has geared its security measures accordingly.

For instance, lorries crossing into Manhattan are now subject to stringent checks, and the local press is full of reports on "lockdown" plans which would seal off the island should intelligence suggest another terror attack is imminent.

Trash can terrorists

However, the more traditional terrorist tactic of planting smaller bombs has yet to grip the public imagination here.

While in London Underground stations, litterbins were long ago removed so as not to afford bombers a hiding place for their devices, New York's subways still boast huge and over-flowing trash barrels every few yards.

Whereas in the UK a suspect package would prompt the evacuation of a busy station, just yards from where Sir John began his "ground zero" visit sits a large unattended hold-all.

Alerted to its existence, a nearby National Guard soldier merely shrugs.

In the wake of 11 September, it seems many on both sides of the Atlantic are struggling to understand how to tackle the terrorists.

Sir John Stevens, Metropolitan Police Commissioner
"We have got to be prepared for anything that happens in the future"
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