Blair and Royals Take Part in Germ Warfare Rehearsal; AS HE TALKED PEACE WITH UN, SADDAM'S MEN PLANNED ANTHRAX ATTACK

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Byline: DAVID WILLIAMS

SENIOR members of the Royal Family and the Cabinet have taken part in realistic rehearsals for full-scale germ warfare attacks on Britain, it was revealed last night.

The news emerged as Home Secretary Jack Straw made a Commons statement about the all-ports alert that Iraq could be planning to flood the West with anthrax hidden in duty-free goods such as spirits, cosmetics, cigarette lighters and perfume sprays.

Mr Straw and Tony Blair were among those involved in a secret exercise in North Wales involving simulated kidnapping and hostage-taking by Middle East terrorists.

It was one of a series of 'real-life scenarios' in which top politicians, Royals and other VIPs prepared for the possibility of nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare attacks, dressing up in special nylon tunics, face masks and helmets.

'A number of terrorist exercises are handled by Ministers and officials,' Mr Straw told MPs yesterday. 'I and ministerial colleagues took part in an exercise a month ago to ensure preparations are fully in place.' The two-day rehearsal in a 'secure area' involved police, security service officers, and the military.

It also emerged that Britain had summoned experts from EU member states for a seminar to assess the threat of an anthrax attack in Europe.

They were meeting yesterday at a secret location. Mr Straw also told MPs yesterday that the all-ports alert about the anthrax threat went out from Whitehall on March 18 - 13 days after an intelligence tip-off was received by the Home Office. The delay was to give time for the information to be assessed.

Mr Straw said the decision to issue the warning had been a 'prudent, precautionary measure'.

But seeking to allay public fears, he reassured MPs: 'There is no evidence to indicate that any attempt has actually been made to smuggle anthrax into this country. There is also no evidence that such an attempt at smuggling might be in prospect.' He told MPs it was unnecessary to be alarmist. 'The duty of Government is to ensure that we remain prepared and vigilant. We will continue to fulfil that duty with care.' The all-ports alert was one of about a dozen that go out each year on suspected illegal arms shipments, drugs busts, chemical and biological warfare scares, terrorism, and foreign agents or criminals illegally entering the country. …