Londoners lose bid against rooftop missiles for Olympics

The British army is setting up surface-to-air missiles around London in advance of this month's Summer Games — to the chagrin of some residents.

Housing project one of 6 sites armed against threat of terror during Summer Games

The British army is setting up missile launchers around London as a deterrent against terrorism during the Olympic Games. (Matt Dunham/Associated Press)

It has been a tough few months at the pockmarked concrete high-rise known as Fred Wigg Tower. First there was the fire, which left dozens of residents temporarily homeless. Then came the rash of burglaries of fire-damaged apartments. And now the British army will be putting a battery of high-velocity missiles on the roof.

The defence ministry says the missiles, capable of shooting down a hijacked aircraft, are a key piece in the elaborate jigsaw of security for the London Olympics, which start July 27. But many residents of the east London public housing project were dismayed to find themselves suddenly on the counterterrorism front line.

"It's kind of scary now, to be honest," said Iqbal Hossain, who lives in the building with his wife and three children aged 2 to 14. "If it's about safety for the Olympics, what about safety for us? If there is a terrorist attack, the first thing they are going to attack is the missiles."

A High Court judge rejected that argument Tuesday, quashing a challenge by locals. Judge Charles Haddon-Cave said the missiles presented "no real threat" to residents and were an important part of Olympic security.

The missiles will be installed within days on the 17-story tower, one of six sites around London where surface-to-air missiles will be stationed as part of a vast security operation for games that run through Aug. 12. Rapier or smaller high-velocity missiles also will be located atop another apartment building, at a reservoir and on farmland in east London, and along hillsides in the south of the city.

It's all part of a ring of steel protecting the games, which officials acknowledge are a tempting target for terrorists.

The security operation includes 7,500 soldiers, thousands of police and 13,200 private security guards, as well as RAF fighter jets on standby at nearby air bases and a helicopter carrier moored on the River Thames.  

'Powerful deterrent'

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has said the precautions are intended to provide "both reassurance and a powerful deterrent."

Londoners have long lived with the threat of terrorism. Since the 1970s the city has seen deadly attacks by Irish militants, by a far-right extremist who targeted gay people and ethnic minorities, and by al-Qaeda-inspired suicide bombers who killed 52 commuters on the transit system in July 2005.

Britain's official terror threat level stands at substantial, the middle point on a five-point scale, indicating an attack is a strong possibility. Still, the ranking is lower than it has been for much of the time since the July 2005 attacks.

Intelligence officials say there has been an expected increase in chatter among extremist groups ahead of the Olympics but they have uncovered no specific or credible threats to the games.  

But security services are being especially vigilant as the games approach. Over the past week, 14 people have been arrested on suspicion of terrorist activity, although police insist none of the cases is linked to the Summer Games. Three men from central England appeared in a London court Tuesday, charged with making a homemade bomb and plotting a terrorist attack, after a search of an impounded car turned up guns and other weapons.