The Boston Marathon bombing has sent ripples of fear through runners and fans of the London Marathon. UK security forces may not be able to make all 42 kilometers perfectly 'safe' - but they might not have to, either.
After a heavily-guarded but quiet funeral procession through the streets of central London for divisive former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, police and intelligence officials remain on high alert for Sunday's more expansive public spectacle: the London Marathon. Since the bombings at the Boston Marathon, security concerns have moved to the forefront for race officials and police, just as for runners and spectators.
To alleviate public concerns about the race, British police, security and intelligence units have emphasized "a wealth of experience in policing a wide range of public order events across London," as Metropolitan Police Chief Superintendent Julia Pendry put it earlier this week.
Beyond Thatcher's funeral, British security forces have recently handled the massive security effort of the 2012 Olympics. They also learned from the so-called 7/7 attacks in central London that took 52 lives in 2005 and from London terror attacks during the Northern Ireland Troubles of decades past. Over the last few days and weeks, they've been eavesdropping on Islamic fundamentalist terror cell phone calls and social media.
"We have a very full and very well-rehearsed security operation," said Scotland Yard Commander Christine Jones earlier in the week. "We are working with the London Marathon to make sure that we have all of the tactics in place that we need. But … there has been no change at all to the terrorism threat to the UK at the moment."
Still, the British government puts the current threat level of international terrorism in Britain at "substantial," which translates to a "strong possibility" of an attack.
Despite concerns, it appears that most of the London Marathon's registered runners are prepared to run
42 kilometers of security
Runners in the London Marathon will pass Tower Bridge, Big Ben, Parliament Square, one of the world's largest single business developments at Canary Wharf, and ultimately, the Queen's residence at Buckingham Palace.
Alexia Ash, head of North America forecasting for the security consulting firm Exclusive Analysis says a marathon is impossible to completely secure without destroying its essence.
"You can't have security at every point along a [42-kilometer] route," she told DW.
That said, the starting and finish lines will take the highest priority. Ash says that for people who use violence to gain attention, there is little interest in areas that are less populated with spectators - or, as importantly, television cameras.
"We're already seeing those sorts of plans implemented for the London Marathon on Sunday," she said, "where you're going to see increased police presence, increased sweeps of the area, bag checks, random searches."
More eyes, more security
Will Geddes, who runs the management company International Corporate Protection, agrees with Ash's assessment of risk. "Terrorists these days are looking to achieve fundamentally two objectives," he told DW. "As much exposure as they possibly can [and] a high congregation of civilians who could potentially be impacted by the effects of [a] device detonating."
A half-million people are expected to line London's streets, bridges and parkways to watch and cheer - many with a heightened anxiety about the prospect of possible violence or terrorism.
Anxious eyes and ears are just what's needed for such a massive security effort, says security expert Geddes.
"Government agencies, where they can't fill that void, the general public do in a very critical sense. Reporting on any suspicious activities or individuals that they believe require greater scrutiny."
'Mark of respect'
The increased public vigilance is partly why Gordon Jelleyman, a runner from Walton-on-Thames outside of London, is planning to run his second marathon Sunday. His first was in 1990. "People are going to be on guard a lot, runners as well as well as spectators," Jelleyman said. He fears, though, that he's already been robbed of some of the celebratory atmosphere he hoped to enjoy.
Jelleyman is also a member of London's Metropolitan Police. "I have faith in my colleagues and the intelligence services," he said. "We just need to push on from the success of the Olympics."
Despite concerns, it appears that the vast majority of the London Marathon's 36,000-plus registered runners are prepared to run.
"To do all that training and not be able to race would be awful," said Clare Fraser of Weybridge, a town 25 miles from the marathon's starting line. "I feel like you let those people [the Boston bombers] win if you cancel an event."
Fraser told DW that she will wear a black armband as a "nice mark of respect" for victims of the Boston bombings, but she's never really considered not running.
"Everything is about the training - your sleeping, your eating, your lifestyle - is all about training for this time," Fraser said. "I've done all the hard work, all the long lonely miles training. You know, I'm really excited about Sunday."
There's good reason to be confident, according to Geddes. "The British agencies in law enforcement have probably got the longest standing history of dealing with terrorism," he said. "They are ... second-to-none."
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