By Michael Holden
LONDON (Reuters) - British police announced new tactics to deter militant attacks on London's financial district on Monday, relying on large-scale and unpredictable deployments at key points rather than static "Ring of Steel" checkpoints used in the past.
The "City of London" district, at the heart of Britain's economy and home to the world's largest foreign exchange market and hundreds of global banks and businesses, set up the ring after bombings by Irish republican guerrillas in the 1990s. More recently it has faced threats from Islamist militants.
"London remains a huge global financial center. It is a target, it will be for a long time," Ian Dyson, Assistant Commissioner of the City of London Police told Reuters on the day the police announced what it calls Project Servator.
"We want to make the city a hostile environment for anyone intending to attack or plan attack on the City. The deployments will be unpredictable but when they happen they will be very visible."
The first deployment was at London's Tower Bridge, where around 20-30 officers patrolled with officers on horseback and dog handlers.
The Square Mile, as it is also called, houses more than 2,500 finance and insurance businesses and 550 foreign banks, employing 400,000 people and contributing some 50 billion pounds to the national income.
As such it has long been in the sights of international and domestic militant groups. In the most recent case, four radical British Islamists admitted plotting to bomb the London Stock Exchange as part of a campaign of al Qaeda-inspired attacks across the capital in the run-up to Christmas 2010.
"There's always an element of trying to get an iconic or a financially disruptive target," Dyson said. "This isn't a response to any changing threat level. This a piece of work that we've been doing for three years looking at what works best."
A review of security had revealed gaps in the old system, resting on the checkpoints. The new strategy was designed to plug these and cause a disorientating effect on "hostiles".
It would often involve dozens of officers often incorporating specialist units deployed at "unpredictable" times and locations across the City to target both potential terrorists and serious criminals.
"The ring of steel worked, it provided a deterrent but it was getting tired. It was single officers standing on entry points, normally at predictable times of the day," Dyson said.
The police said they had been keen to involve businesses in what they were doing and officers would reassure the public and tourists about what was the aim of the deployments.
"We don't want to cause alarm by the large numbers of police that we will be deploying," said Matthew Hone, a Counter Terrorism Security Advisor for the police.
(Reporting by Kate Holton; editing by Ralph Boulton)