By Phil Stewart
Thu Jul 7,10:49 AM ET
ROME (Reuters) – Countries in Europe tightened security on Thursday after four deadly bombings in London, fearing more attacks across the continent.
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Italian Interior Minister Guiseppe Pisanu said all of Europe had raised its alert level. French officials reviewed vulnerable sites and Spain, where al Qaeda-linked train bombings killed 191 people last year, offered to help track down the killers.
«There is (heightened alert) in all of Europe,» Pisanu said. «As the violence breaks out again one must keep one’s nerves steady and face it.»
Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende warned of a pan-European terrorist threat and stepped up border checks and increased security around British buildings in his country.
«Terrorism is an evil that threatens all the countries in Europe. Vigorous cooperation in the European Union and worldwide is crucial in order to meet this evil head on,» Balkenende said.
A previously unknown group calling itself the «Secret Group of al Qaeda’s Jihad in Europe» claimed responsibility for the coordinated blasts that killed scores of people in the British capital.
It warned Italy and Denmark to withdraw their troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, the Italian news agency ANSA reported, adding, however, that the Italian secret service called the group’s claim «unreliable.»
French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin put France on its second highest level of security after convening his defense, interior and foreign ministers.
«I have asked the interior and defense ministries to make proposals on how to increase protection of the most vulnerable sites,» he said.
Security analysts said the apparently coordinated blasts across London’s transport network bore similarities to those in Madrid in March last year, when 10 bombs hidden in sports bags exploded on four packed commuter trains.
As with the Madrid attacks, which occurred three days before a general election, the London blasts appeared timed to coincide with a major political event. They took place as leaders of the Group of Eight nations met in Scotland.
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said that he had ordered the Interior Ministry to activate «all of the alert and prevention systems.»
«Spain, which has suffered the scourge of terrorism…offers its immediate and unconditional help, as well as its full support to the United Kingdom to pursue the criminals that have carried out such a repulsive attack,» Zapatero’s office said.
Russia, no stranger to attacks on its own soil, said it was boosting security across the country, including airports, railway stations, ports and embassies. A Chechen suicide bomber killed 10 people last August outside a busy metro station, just before the Beslan school massacre in which 330 died.
Czech Interior Minister Frantisek Bublan told reporters police were planning to strengthen patrols in the underground system, railways and airports and at shopping centers and other important buildings, including the headquarters of the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe in central Prague.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder called for a united worldwide effort.
«We agree that the international community must do everything and use all available means to fight terrorism together,» Schroeder said.
(Additional reporting by Reuters bureaux)
By Phil Stewart