British military chiefs defended plans to put missile batteries on top of apartment blocks to help protect London from a Sept 11-style attack during this Olympic Games, after appalled residents said it could make them a target.
With 87 days to go before the games start, soldiers will start testing missile defences this week at six sites around the Olympic park as part of a training exercise in the run-up to Britain’s biggest peacetime security operation.
People living in one of the buildings earmarked for one of the missile batteries said they feared terrorists might attack their block and they were scared of the effects of shooting down a plane over a built-up area. However, military planners said they had to beef up security to cope with anything on the scale of the Sept 11, 2001 strikes or a smaller, “low and slow” strike by a single light aircraft.
“We are practising for the worst case scenario, not the most likely,” General Nick Parker, in charge of the military’s Olympics role, told a news conference. “I do understand that this is unusual and people will be concerned. But for the greater good, it is prudent for us to provide this sort of air security plan.”
As one of the biggest supporters of the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, Britain has long been regarded as a prime target for terrorists. Suicide bombers killed 52 people in attacks in London on the day after the city was awarded the Games in July 2005.
Britain currently rates the threat of a terrorist attack as “substantial“, the third highest level, which means a strike is seen as a strong possibility.
Residents living near one of the planned missile batteries complained they had not been consulted and questioned the wisdom of siting them so close to homes.
“I can’t imagine the circumstances that would require you to fire missiles over a highly populated area,” said Brian Whelan, a 28-year-old journalist.
The Ministry of Defence said a final decision on whether to install missiles during the games would be taken by prime minister David Cameron’s government after the end of the Olympic security exercise, which runs from tomorrow to May 10.
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