Parliament issues plan to deal with armed attack
LONDON (Reuters) - Security officials at the Houses of Parliament issued a contingency plan on Monday advising legislators and staff how to escape from the complex in the event of a Mumbai-style attack.
The officials said there was no specific or imminent threat to parliament, but should an incident occur they had a plan in place. Britain's terrorism threat level remained unchanged at "severe," meaning an attack on British soil is highly likely.
"An armed attack on parliament would result in casualties and significant confusion," said a note circulated by email to those working on the parliamentary estate, a sprawling neo-Gothic complex that includes the Big Ben clocktower.
The Houses of Parliament sit by the River Thames in the heart of London and are one of the city's best known landmarks. Thousands of tourists file past every day, while the inside of the complex bustles with legislators, staff and visitors.
"The plan is a simple one: in the event of an armed attack an urgent broadcast instruction to evacuate the estate would encourage all individuals to seek the nearest exit and move away from the area," said the security note.
Those working in parliament should not try to barricade themselves in should such an attack take place, but attempt to leave the complex.
The security note did not give specific routes as an attack could involve several gunmen in different areas of the estate.
Britain and the United States warned last month of an increased risk of terrorist attacks in Europe.
ADVICE FROM BLACK ROD
Western intelligence sources said Islamist militants had been plotting coordinated attacks on European cities, possibly copying the 10 gunmen who attacked landmarks in the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008, killing 166 people.
Last month Britain unveiled a new National Security Strategy and Home Secretary Theresa May, the interior minister, promised funding for greater firearms capacity to deal with a Mumbai-style attack.
The Houses of Parliament, a symbol of the authority of the state, have a long history of being targeted by attackers.
In 1605, the so-called Gunpowder Plot was foiled when would-be bomber Guy Fawkes was arrested in a cellar where he and other plotters had amassed explosives to blow up the chamber of the upper House of Lords while King James I was present.
The event is still commemorated with bonfires and fireworks every year on November 5.
The complex was repeatedly targeted by the German air force during World War Two. It was damaged by air raids on 14 separate occasions, most notably in May 1941 when the chamber of the lower House of Commons was destroyed by fire. It was later rebuilt.
The Houses of Parliament remain the regular scene of some of Britain's most colourful pageantry, including the State Opening of Parliament when the Queen arrives in a solemn procession and delivers a speech in the House of Lords.
In keeping with tradition, the security advice issued on Monday came from two security officers who signed off with their ceremonial titles: Serjeant at Arms and Black Rod.
(Editing by Charles Dick)
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