Terrorists expected to carry out new attack in London's financial district

Terrorists will carry out new attacks in London's financial district and have already surveyed the area for potencial targets, a British police chief said.

Known as the City of London, the capital's financial quarter packs hundreds of banks, insurance companies, law firms and other institutions _ including the London Stock Exchange and the Bank of England _ into a small network of narrow streets. Aldgate subway station, one of the targets of the July 7 bombings that killed 56 people including the four attackers, lies on its eastern edge.

James Hart, commissioner of the City of London Police, was quoted as telling the Financial Times that there had been "hostile reconnaissance" of the area on several occasions since the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.

"Every successful terrorist group pre-surveys its target. There's no doubt we've been subject to that surveillance, and that sort of thing has been successfully disrupted," Hart reportedly said, without elaborating.

Police have made no arrests as a result of operations to disrupt surveillance activities, but they have sent information to Britain's intelligence agencies, he said, without giving details of the operations.

Security in the City was beefed up in the 1990s after a string of IRA bombings, but Hart suggested more terrorist strikes were likely. "Look at the number of time we were hit by the IRA. I think (another attack) is a question of when rather than if," he said.

Possible targets included "anywhere where the maximum damage can be inflicted on the financial systems of the City of London and (where you can) associate that with mass murder and maximum disruption," Hart added.

As part of a crackdown following the July 7 attacks and the July 21 failed bombings in London, the British government is considering setting up secretive courts to make it easier to prosecute terror suspects - and to hold them without charge for longer than the current 14 days.

The Home Office said it was contemplating changing the pretrial process for sensitive terror cases, with the aim of "securing more prosecutions."

Currently, terror suspects can be held for two weeks without charge; after they are charged, police can no longer question them. Police have asked the government to extend this period to three months.

The anti-terror courts - run by judges with special high-level security clearance _ would meet behind closed doors to investigate the merits of the case against terror suspects, rule on highly sensitive evidence and decide how long the suspect could be held, The Guardian newspaper reported Tuesday, citing unnamed Home Office officials.

A spokeswoman for the Home Office, who spoke on condition of anonymity because government policy bars her from being quoted by name, confirmed a new pretrial procedure was under consideration, but couldn't provide details.

"I want to emphasize: There is no question of secret trials; there is no question of juryless trials; there is no question of any sort of internment," Britain's chief legal official, Lord Chancellor Charles Falconer, told British Broadcasting Corp. radio. "What is being suggested is ... just a sensible period to detain suspects while a sensible investigation is going on."

Meanwhile, British investigators on Tuesday questioned a suspected bomber detained in Rome and suspected of involvement in the July 21 attacks. Three other suspected bombers were being held in Britain.

In Egypt, authorities on Tuesday released Egyptian chemist Magdy el-Nashar, who had been sought by Britain in connection with the deadly July 7 explosions on London's Underground and on a bus.

El-Nashar told reporters after he was freed that he knew two of the bombers casually.

An official from the Egyptian Interior Ministry's media office said he was released after authorities found no evidence against him and no links to either of the attacks or to al-Qaida, the AP reports.

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