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Tuesday, 12 November, 2002, 23:11 GMT
Ministers play down ferry bomb threat
Dover coastline
Dover officials have stepped up searches
The Home Office has moved to calm fears about the UK's ports being targeted by terrorists.

Ministers said intelligence about possible threats had been general rather than specific.

And they urged passengers not to abandon their travel plans, despite an increase in security checks and searches.

The increased security measures came after a leaked intelligence report suggested a lorry packed with explosives would be driven on to a ferry.

Media warning

Security sources were quick to say this particular report was "unreliable".

But they insist there is clear evidence al-Qaeda wants to attack the UK, which is why extra security measures are needed.

The prime minister's official spokesman said: "There is a lot of intelligence around.

"Every piece of it in the hands of certain journalists could, no doubt, lead the news.

"But I think we have to ask whether that is, in the circumstances we find ourselves, necessarily a helpful way to conduct the debate."

High alert

Ferry ports, as well as other transport operators, were warned last week of the continued need to be watchful, it has emerged.

News of the alert came as Prime Minister Tony Blair warned Britons to be vigilant against the high risk of terrorist attack - saying there were threats received almost every day.

The information about a terrorist threat to a ferry is believed to have come from the FBI.

The state of alert is at its highest level since the current warning system was introduced two years ago, although it is not at the top state of alert possible.

However a security source told the BBC that the threat was being given too much credence.

The UK's transport security warning service, Transec, told ports on Friday there was no "credible information and intelligence" to support recent alerts from the French and Dutch authorities of a possible terrorist act against ferries.

"Threat levels to British maritime interests remain unchanged," said Transec.

Lorry drivers questioned

However, at about the same time all British ports with roll-on roll-off ferry services were ordered to a level of alert described as "heightened emergency" - the highest state they have been on since the current alert system was introduced.

Robin Dodridge, head of operations and security at Dover, said ports around the country had been told "to further tighten up their security levels to Christmas and particularly at this time".

Searching of lorry traffic and other security measures had been stepped up, said Mr Dodridge.

The whole port area had also been searched from "top to toe" on Friday morning after a general bomb threat - but nothing was found.

That threat, received by the Immigration Service, was "not actually specific to Dover but Dover as a port was implicit in it", added Mr Dodridge.

The AFP news agency said several Nordic ferry companies including Color Line, which operates routes to the UK, had boosted their security at the weekend following the warning.

Travel advice

Home Office Minister John Denham sought to reassure travellers that there was no need to alter their arrangements in the light of the advice.

"From time to time, things are done at ports and other places to switch ships' security arrangements or whatever.

"But this is part of the general programme of ensuring they keep their awareness at a high level," he said.

"There is no basis here for anybody thinking they should not travel," he said.

The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"Al-Qaeda does want to carry out attacks here in the UK"
Home Office Minister John Denham
"There is not a basis here... for people not to travel"

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See also:

11 Nov 02 | Politics
08 Nov 02 | Politics
12 Nov 02 | Politics
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