Security Chiefs Challenge Blair's Terror Threat Claim
Byline: JOE MURPHY
SECURITY chiefs have challenged Tony Blair's dramatic claim that "several hundred" terrorists are operating in Britain, it was claimed today.
The Prime Minister issued the warning in a bid to justify the Government's new anti-terror laws before a crucial series of votes.
In the end, the emergency powers for house arrest scraped through the Commons by a wafer thin margin. In one vote, 60 Labour MPs rebelled, cutting the Government's majority to 14.
The revolt was a massive blow to Home Secretary Charles Clarke. It was the worst rebellion since the Bill bringing in university top-up fees, also piloted by Mr Clarke, led 72 MPs to rebel and saw the government majority slashed to five.
As the new anti-terror Bill passed to the House of Lords, where it faces another mauling, Mr Blair's claim about the scale of the terrorist threat was coming under intense scrutiny.
Mr Blair had told Radio 4's Woman's Hour: "There are several hundred in this country who we believe are engaged in plotting or trying to commit terrorist acts."
He said the police and security services had asked for control orders, with the clear implication that if the Bill was lost, Britain would be left without adequate defences against scores of potential suicide bombers.
Downing Street said Mr Blair had been referring to those suspects being monitored by the security forces, some of whom would be placed under control orders.
But a senior security source quoted in the Times said the true number regarded as a "serious or moderate" threat was much lower, probably 20 or 30. …