London's new anti-terror strategy includes teaching 60,000 ordinary Britons -- including shop owners, hotel staff and people working in sports stadiums -- how to spot potential terrorists and how to best react in case of a terrorist attack.
Critics said the move is turning Britain into a Big Brother state by making people snoop on each other. Yet British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith defended the strategy, arguing London could not rely on its excellent police and intelligence officials only; rather, she said, a more "vigilant" public could help stop attacks and contain their worst effects.
"That's not about snooping," Smith said. "That's about the widest range of people helping to keep us safe in this country."
The controversial Project Argus is part of Contest Two, Britain's new anti-terror strategy, which London unveiled Tuesday. It is an update of a previous strategy the British government drafted in 2003, two years before suicide bombers attacked London's mass-transit system, killing 52 people.
Contest Two now pays tribute to the lessons learned over the past six years and to new threats that have emerged. These include dirty bombs, the homemade nuclear, biological or chemical weapons assembled from parts obtained on the black market. The report warns that failed states such as Iraq and Afghanistan make it easier for terrorists to obtain materials to build dirty bombs.
Britain, according to the paper, is home to the most al-Qaida terror cells in Europe; at the same time, many new, self-starting groups have formed that have no ties to al-Qaida at all. The report also identifies groups from Africa, the Middle East (particularly Iraq and Yemen), Afghanistan and Pakistan as threats to British security.
Pakistan has been a major source of concern for Western anti-terror officials, with al-Qaida allegedly having several camps and hideouts in the region bordering Afghanistan. More than 20 Britons trained by terrorists in Pakistan are already back in Britain and could plot attacks, Sky News reported Tuesday.
To help counter all these threats, London will be spending roughly $5.2 billion per year on anti-terror efforts by 2011; over the past six years, it has already increased the number of anti-terror police from 1,700 to 3,000.
But it's not only about boosting resources.
London also aims to support pro-democratic Muslim groups and individuals at home, while at the same time challenging undemocratic voices in Britain -- a strategy crucial to create an atmosphere that doesn't tolerate radicalism, Smith said.
"We have said that where people may not have broken the law but nevertheless act in a way that undermines our belief in this country in democracy, in human rights, in tolerance, in free speech, actually there should be a challenge made to them -- not through the law, but what we're calling a civil challenge," she told the BBC on Tuesday. "We should argue back, we should make clear that those things are unacceptable."
That should help to eventually reduce the number of potential extremists in Britain, Smith said.
"We think that we need to tackle the causes of terrorism early," she added. "We have a program of work to prevent people turning to violent extremism and supporting terrorism in the first place and we will develop that and we will grow that."
And this program won't stop at Britain's borders. London is spending some $590 million until 2012 to launch a campaign that conveys positive sentiments about Britain to Muslims all over the world.
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