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Heightened anxiety and vigilance in U.K. after Paris attacks

For the British people, the proximity of the Paris attacks seems to make the chance of another terror attack in their country more likely. How is the British government addressing the threat? Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner talks to Judy Woodruff while on assignment in London.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    From Yemen, we now turn to Europe.

    This month's deadly terrorist attacks in France continue to loom large across the continent. Today E.U. officials called for an alliance with Muslim majority countries in the fight to secure Europe.

    The NewsHour's chief foreign affairs correspondent, Margaret Warner, is on assignment in London, where she looks at how Britain is reacting. And I spoke to her a short time ago.

    Welcome, Margaret.

    I know you just arrived over the weekend, but are you finding and talking to ordinary British citizens that there is a feeling, a heightened sense of anxiety, worry?

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Yes, there is, Judy.

    There's definitely a sense of uneasiness here. The people feel, whether they're terrorism expert or ordinary British, that there is not only a chance of a Paris-style attack here, but that it's now more likely. So, yesterday, on a street of cafes in South Kensington, one young woman said to us she found it quite scary that the Paris attacks had happened so close by.

    And the manager of a nearby cafe of Bangladeshi descent shared her view of the risk to the city, as you can hear right here.

  • SARAH DAVY, England:

    It does make you think about it. It does make you suddenly think that something that happened so close, it could happen here as well. And it does make you think you would like to see that something is being done, that you would like to see that security is heightened, you would like to see that it is being taken really seriously.

  • IMRAN SHERIF, England:

    Obviously, London is one of the biggest cities in the world and the more popular cities. Definitely, we are under threat. So we're definitely scared. We have — afraid. We have phobias. But as long as the people are all together, it's OK.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    That's said, Judy, British citizens have been dealing with terrorism on their soil for a very long time, certainly since the Irish Republican Army campaign of bombings of early 1970s.

    There was the 2005 underground bombing attacks here in London that killed close to 60 people, the 7/7 attacks. Just a year-and-a-half ago, four — or two British Muslims who were converts, actually, hacked to death an army officer, saying it was to avenge the killings of Muslims overseas by British soldiers.

    So one retired teacher said to me yesterday, I'm not saying we're used to it, he said, but we have learned to endure it.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, Margaret, we know — we heard one of the people you talked to, the woman, saying she hopes the government is taking all this seriously. What is the British government doing?

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Well, Judy, the government actually stepped up their threat level to severe last fall, which is essentially saying they think a terrorist attack is likely. And it's a much higher threat level than there's been before in quite a long time.

    And at that point, they stepped up security at all the obvious public buildings in a visible way, but also many ways which are not visible. This coincided with the two spokesmen of the Islamic State calling on supporters in the countries that are part of the so-called anti-ISIL coalition — and that's the U.S., Canada, Australia, and most of the European countries — that if these supporters couldn't come fight in Iraq or Syria, they should mount terror attacks at home.

    Just last week, the head of MI5, Andrew Parker — that's the internal counterintelligence, domestic counterintelligence service here — said there have been at least in recent months three major terrorist attacks or plots that have been foiled that would have definitely have resulted in more deaths.

    And the counterterrorism chief of Scotland Yard said much the same late last year. And so they had been rounding up suspected plotters for quite some time. On a completely different front, today, it came to light that the — a minister of David Cameron's cabinet had written a letter to all 1,100 imams in all 1,100 mosques in Britain calling on them to root out extremist voices in their midst and to preach to young Muslims of how their faith in Islam can be compatible with British identity.

    So I would say they're moving forward on many fronts, including a call by Prime Minister Cameron for increased surveillance powers.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And, Margaret, what's the reaction in the Muslim community to all this?

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Oh, they took great umbrage, Judy, and they said they were being held to a different standard than Christian clerics when violence is committed by Christians. And they said, is Mr. Pickles suggesting that there is something incompatible?

    That said, there is a great tension here or certainly an undercurrent of unease, I would say, with the Muslim leaders saying they are being held to a different standard, but many non-Muslim Brits telling us they don't think Muslim voices have been prominent enough in decrying the violence committed in the name of their faith.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Margaret, we know that across Europe there is stepped-up protection of Jewish sites. What do you see of that in Great Britain?

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    The same is true here, Judy.

    Last Friday, in response to Paris and in response to requests from the Jewish community here, the U.K. government did step up security at Jewish sites, especially schools. They wrote to the parents of every child in a Jewish school in the country promising increased protection, and this very night, there are very security briefings being held in many, many Jewish schools across this country.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Margaret Warner, we thank you, reporting from London.

    And, Margaret, we look forward to your reports for the rest of this week.

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