Britain Ponders Tighter Border Controls

Police in London mount a new security campaign on the city's transit system, target of terrorist bombings in the past month. The effort comes despite the arrest of four major suspects in the July 21 attacks. But the ability of one suspect, arrested in Italy, to escape to Rome has sparked concern about Britain's border controls.

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Police in London today arrested two more suspects in last month's attempted bombings of the transportation system. That follows last week's arrests of four major suspects. Another man linked to the attacks was detained in Italy. His escape to Rome has sparked public concern about the need to tighten Britain's border controls. NPR's Rachel Martin reports from London.

RACHEL MARTIN reporting:

Police say 27-year-old Hamdi Isaac--also known as Osman Hussain--boarded a Eurostar train at London's Waterloo station on July 26th, then traveled to Paris. From there, he went to Milan and on to Rome. Media reports say Isaac's passport was checked by French immigration authorities but not by British officials. The ease with which Isaac was able to leave has been a source of some embarrassment for Britain. Cabinet Minister Geoff Hoon says the government will be looking into claims that passport checks at Waterloo station are inadequate.

Mr. GEOFF HOON (British Cabinet Minister): In recent times, there has been enhanced security for those leaving the country, obviously, as--for well as those coming into the United Kingdom. It is something that we must continue to look at very carefully.

MARTIN: Special passport checks were put in place after the suicide bombs of July 7th. Ten days later, they were lifted, then supposedly put back in place after the attempted attacks on the 21st at all stations including the Eurostar terminal at Waterloo in central London.

(Soundbite of station activity)

MARTIN: Judy Burton(ph) was sorting out her luggage before boarding a Eurostar train for Paris. She is convinced tighter security is the answer.

Ms. JUDY BURTON (Eurostar Passenger): I think we should go back to the old system of seeing everybody's passport in and out of the country. I think we should all have identity cards. Anybody who's genuine won't worry about their identity being known, and that's what--we've got to secure our livelihood and our future.

MARTIN: Malcolm Aldrich(ph) of Birmingham agrees. He and his wife were rushing to board a train for what he described as an eating tour of Paris. Aldrich says it's time for Great Britain to look out for itself and reinstate full-time, permanent passport controls between the UK and other European countries.

Mr. MALCOLM ALDRICH (Eurostar Passenger): We need the security. We have to do it. And I think maybe there should still even maybe be borders between the countries in Europe, seriously.

Mr. DANNY SRISKANDARAJAH (Institute for Public Policy): I think we should be very, very careful about dismantling the right to freedom of movement, something that we've spent decades building up, for the sake of security.

MARTIN: Danny Sriskandarajah is an immigration expert with the Institute for Public Policy in London. Sriskandarajah says he's concerned that peoples' heightened fears about security could jeopardize the economic and political benefits of Europe's open borders and spur a backlash against immigration.

Mr. SRISKANDARAJAH: My fear about the recent events in London is that we'll see people confirm in their own minds that somehow migration is a threat, that asylum-seekers are a threat to society. But the overwhelming majority of migrants that come to the United Kingdom come here legally, they work here legally and they often return home without causing a problem.

MARTIN: Officials say historically, Great Britain has been more concerned about who's coming into the country rather than who's leaving, and embarkation controls were all but phased out five years ago. But Hussain Isaac's flight from Great Britain and the spread of international terrorism may be forcing immigration officials to rethink their priorities. Tony Saint is a former British immigration officer who used to work at the Eurostar terminal in Waterloo station. He says temporary measures will not ensure secure borders.

Mr. TONY SAINT (Former Immigration Officer): It honestly looks bad even if the embarkation controls had been put on an ad hoc basis following the events of last month. It's perfectly possible that passengers could still leave the UK without actually showing their passport to a proper UK government official.

MARTIN: While the debate continues about how Hussain Isaac got out of Britain, Italian authorities are still holding him in Rome. Britain has asked for his extradition, but Italian magistrates want to question him about his possible links to terrorist activities in Italy, so they say it could be some time before he's sent back to Britain. Rachel Martin, NPR News, London.

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