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Rioters targeted UK Olympic site, police say

By Jill Lawless
Associated Press / August 17, 2011

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LONDON - British police revealed yesterday that they sent officers to protect major shopping centers and the 2012 Olympics sites after intercepting phone and social network messages saying they were targets for rioters.

Assistant Commissioner Lynne Owens of London’s Metropolitan Police told a committee of lawmakers that police sent extra officers to London’s Oxford Circus, two malls, and the Olympic Park on Aug. 8 after seeing messages on Twitter and the BlackBerry devices of people who had been arrested for rioting.

Owens said that “through Twitter and BBM there was intelligence that the Olympic site, Westfields [shopping malls], and Oxford Street were going to be targeted.’’

“We were able to secure all those places and indeed there was no damage at any of them,’’ she said, according to London’s Evening Standard newspaper.

Police and politicians say young criminals used Twitter and BlackBerry’s messaging service to coordinate looting sprees.

The government has said it will debate whether cellphone services could be disrupted or blackouts imposed on social networks during riots - proposals that have already been strongly opposed by civil libertarians.

The acting chief of London’s police force, Tim Godwin, told Parliament’s home affairs committee that police had considered seeking approval to switch off such services, but decided against it. He said the legality of such action was “very questionable,’’ and social networks were a useful intelligence asset.

Police have arrested more than 3,000 people over riots that erupted Aug. 6 in London and flared for four nights across the capital and other English cities.

A 16-year-old boy was ordered yesterday to stand trial for the murder of a retiree attacked when he confronted rioters in London, as judges and prosecutors used tough punishment against hundreds of alleged riot participants.

The government said police would get better training and stronger powers to deal with a new era of street disturbances.

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