LONDON -- Nations must be prepared for terrorists to strike "whenever and however they can," Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain warned yesterday, as European and other countries increased their security after the Madrid train bombings.
"This is the new menace of our time. We will not defeat it by hoping it will leave us alone or by hiding away," Blair said at a conference of his governing Labor Party in the Midlands city of Manchester. "We must be prepared for them to strike whenever and however they can." The death toll from the Madrid attacks rose to 200, according to Spanish news agency reports. About 1,500 people were injured in the coordinated detonation of 10 bombs on four trains.
France responded to the rush-hour attacks Thursday morning by raising its color-coded terror alert level from yellow to orange, from the lowest level to the next step up in its four-tier system. Late Friday, the French interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, said the alert level had been raised one more notch, to red, at train stations and airports. The heightened level doubled the number of soldiers on patrol at sensitive sites to almost 500, the Interior Ministry said.
French water reservoirs were also under tighter surveillance, and police presence was increased at the border dividing Basque regions between the two countries.
In Germany, authorities in Bavaria and in the city of Dusseldorf said they had ordered police at train stations to be especially vigilant, although Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said the overall threat level to the country had not been raised. Poland, which along with Spain supported the US-led war in Iraq, increased security at airports, train stations, and other transport points. In Hungary, police tightened security at the Spanish embassy in Budapest and train stations.
In Portugal, the Ministry of Internal Affairs said it would put more police on the border with Spain, the local newspaper Publico reported yesterday. Efforts to reach the officials at the ministry were unsuccessful.Air travel in Britain and many other European countries is already heavily guarded after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. But security specialists warned that it would be difficult to give rail travel the same level of protection. "You could put in place the same sort of screening process as for air travel. But the massive inconvenience would be unacceptable for most people," said Kevin O'Brien, a terrorism specialist with RAND Europe, a British-based branch of the RAND Corp., a nonprofit research group.
The Eurostar train network linking Britain to France and Belgium has luggage and passenger screening procedures similar to those at airports, but the vast majority of Europe's sprawling and heavily used railway system lacks such measures.
There were no reports of increased security in Russia in response to the Madrid attacks, but local authorities had announced a heightened regime of vigilanceafter a Feb. 6 blast on the Moscow subway that killed 41 people, which was attributed to Chechen rebels. The measures include closer inspection of trucks entering Moscow and more patrols at subway and train stations.
Moscow authorities also reportedly increased security around the city's main houses of worship for today's presidential election. Russia has experienced a spate of terrorist attacks, including a bombing of a commuter train on Dec. 5 in southern Russia that killed 46. Two bombings of other trains on the same line killed six people on Sept. 3.
In Washington, the Homeland Security Department issued a new bulletin about railroad threats, urging greater vigilance.