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Attacks on London were "waiting to happen"

Buildings on Tavistock Square were damaged

(Keystone)

The series of bomb blasts which rocked the British capital on Thursday were waiting to happen, according to a leading Swiss security expert.

In an interview with swissinfo, Albert Stahel said Italy and Poland were also likely targets because they – like Britain – were continuing to support the United States in Iraq.

The bomb attacks tore through London's transport system killing at least 50 people in a coordinated rush-hour attack just as the world’s G8 leaders were beginning talks at a summit in the British city of Edinburgh.

The US and countries in Europe stepped up security after the blasts and vowed to help hunt down those responsible.

The attacks come just over a year after 191 people were killed in a train-bomb attack in the Spanish capital, Madrid.

Swiss President Samuel Schmid has expressed his condolences to the British people, and warned that Switzerland could become a future terror target.

But Stahel, an expert on security at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, believes the Swiss can rest easy as long as their country does not get involved in the conflict in Iraq.

swissinfo: What message lies behind these attacks?

Albert Stahel: Well, I think the message those behind these attacks are giving is "look, we’re still here, we’re active and your government is responsible for these bombs because you’ve sent troops to Iraq". And of course it’s a message to their own people that they are still in business.

swissinfo: It seems that this series of attacks was timed to coincide with the meeting of G8 leaders in Britain...

A.S.: I don’t think that’s true. Of course there’s the coincidence of the G8 meeting in Edinburgh, but that was not the point of this attack. The main aim was to attack Britain for being involved in the war in Iraq. The primary objective in my view was to put pressure on [British Prime Minister] Tony Blair to remove his troops from Iraq. And it has to be said that all the countries involved in Iraq are targets.

swissinfo: Are you surprised that it has taken so long for London to become a target?

A.S.: Yes. It was waiting to happen and I was expecting it to be sooner than this. The attack on Madrid happened first because the Spanish government was in a much weaker position. Britain’s Labour government was politically much stronger before the election earlier this year [when it won a third term with a reduced majority]. And it’s now London’s turn.

swissinfo: Where is the next target likely to be?

A.S.: It could be Rome, Warsaw or Copenhagen, because these are all the capital cities of countries involved in the war in Iraq. They are certainly all likely targets.

swissinfo: Swiss President Samuel Schmid has suggested that Switzerland – which like London has a major financial centre – could also become a target. Do you share that view?

A.S.: No, I don’t. I think he’s wrong. As long as Switzerland is not involved in the war in Iraq the country is not a target. He’s also wrong to say that Switzerland could be a target [because of the presence of British and American businesses].

It would be nonsense to blow up some institutions here because at the same time they would be destroying the logistical facilities Switzerland offers these people.

swissinfo: Are you suggesting that Switzerland is still an important centre for planning and financing terror attacks?

A.S.: Some people who are members of [terror] organisations are [still] able to move around and place money in Switzerland. So the country is too important for them to make it worth attacking us.

As long as we are not actively involved in Iraq and as long as Switzerland offers these people the facilities they need, we will not be a prime target.

swissinfo-interview: Ramsey Zarifeh

Key facts

A number of major Swiss financial institutions, including UBS and Credit Suisse, have offices in the city of London.
The bank, UBS, evacuated a building in the city after the bombings.
There are about 25,000 Swiss citizens living in Britain.

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