Jet patrols skies above London

British military aircraft have been patrolling the skies above London as part of the latest operation to guard against a terrorist attack, Britain's Ministry of Defence confirmed today.

British military aircraft have been patrolling the skies above London as part of the latest operation to guard against a terrorist attack, Britain's Ministry of Defence confirmed today.

The RAF Nimrod performed a supporting role to British troops and police yesterday as they continued to guard Heathrow Airport and other key sites in Britain's capital.

An MOD spokesman said: “We were able to support the police with an RAF Nimrod.

“We can confirm that there were no fighter aircraft or fast jets used with regard to the security operation of London’s Heathrow Airport.

“We can confirm that there was a Nimrod supporting the police operation. It’s a communication aircraft.”

The news came as the British government came under more pressure to explain the exact nature of the terrorist threat facing Britain.

Tories and Liberal Democrats called for time to be set aside time for a discussion today in Parliament.

Britain's Shadow Home Secretary Oliver Letwin and Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes wrote a joint letter to Mr Blunkett last night calling for time to discuss the current situation before the British House of Commons rises tonight.

It will not sit again until Monday February 24.

The letter read: “We both believe that – whilst the actions being taken are entirely justified – it is important that the public be informed by all parties in the House that this is not a stunt and that it should be taken seriously.”

British Ministers and senior police officers admitted yesterday that they had considered closing Heathrow airport over fears of an al-Qaida attack but instead decided to use the Army to create a ring of steel around it.

Around 1,700 extra police officers were at Heathrow and other key London sites and security was also beefed up at Manchester airport, including spot checks by armed officers.

Meetings of Cobra, the British Cabinet Office’s civil contingencies committee, have been called and police warned there could be more operations involving the Army.

At one point yesterday Labour Party chairman Dr John Reid appeared to compare the current threat to the September 11 attacks.

He told reporters in Manchester: “This is about a threat of the nature that massacred thousands of people in New York.”

Dr Reid later said his remarks had been “misinterpreted”, adding: “I was attempting to make clear this is not some sort of game, it’s not some sort of PR exercise.”

Mr Blunkett said: “We hope we can get through the next few days without an incident. I hope we can.”

The 450 troops drafted in to Heathrow with armoured vehicles were continuing patrols amid fears that terrorists could be on the loose with a shoulder-held missile launcher similar to that used in an unsuccessful al-Qaida attack on an Israeli passenger jet in Kenya last year.

Heathrow is one of only two airports in the UK used by the Israeli airline El Al. The other is Stansted.

At the British Prime Minister’s questions Tony Blair told MPs: “Terrorist arrests are happening in virtually every European country and many other countries ... and the result is that we occasionally do have to take measures that we would prefer not to take but are necessary in order to give people the protection and security they need.”

The intelligence about a possible threat to Heathrow was received by police and passed to the British government.

Mr Blunkett said shutting Heathrow was considered but ruled out because it would have handed a victory to the terrorists and been “catastrophic” for Britain’s trade and economy.

Asked about the nature of the intelligence Britain's Home Secretary said: “The immediate threats are not verifiable therefore we are working on finding out more information.”

At Heathrow several units of soldiers with armoured vehicles were again stationed by the model of Concorde at the main entrance while military trucks were positioned outside key buildings.

Stop-checks on vehicles also continued on approach roads in towns and villages around the airport in a bid to eliminate the risk of terrorists firing a missile at any jets landing or taking off.

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