The British military has told residents of an apartment complex near the Olympic Park in east London that it will be installing surface-to-air missiles on top of the building as part of security measures for the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Reuters reports that the British Ministry of Defense said this site is only one of the several other sites in London at which the army is planning to install missiles to protect the games from aerial attack.
The Telegraph reports that a military spokesman said; "As announced before Christmas, ground-based air defense systems could be deployed as part of a multi-layered air security plan for the Olympics, including fast jets and helicopters, which will protect the skies over London during the Games. Based on military advice we have identified a number of sites and, alongside colleagues from the Metropolitan Police, are talking to local authorities and relevant landowners to help minimize the impact of any temporary deployments. As part of our ongoing planning, we can confirm site evaluations have taken place. However, no final decision on whether or not to deploy ground-based air defense systems for the Games has been taken."
According to Reuters, if the missiles are deployed, it will be the first time since World War II that missiles have been deployed in London.
The Telegraph reports that residents of Bow, in east London, are aghast at the news. According Reuters, Brian Whelan, a 28-year-old journalist who lives in Tower Hamlets, the block of flats in Bow, on top of which the authorities plan to install the missiles, said: "There was no consultation, no one knocked on the door. You just wake up one morning, there's a leaflet telling you they are going to put missiles on the roof."
The leaflets informed the bemused residents that a team of 10 soldiers and police will be stationed at the building that houses 700 people during the games. According to The Telegraph, the leaflet said the missiles will be fired only as "last resort."
Many residents think the measure is excessive. Whelan said: "They will literally be above my head as I go to sleep at night. This is meant to be reassuring but to be honest, if anything it has created a lot of anxiety for me. I don't think anyone wants to live in a militarized apartment building. Obviously there are security issues around the Olympics but I think this is an absolute overreaction." He added: "This is a highly built-up area, I can't imagine any situation that you could safely use a high velocity missile over Tower Hamlets."
Reuters reports that Defense Secretary Phillip Hammond, had announced the plan in November. He said that Britain would follow the precedent set in previous Olympics, such as the 2008 Beijing games, in which surface-air-missiles were stationed about a kilometer south of stadiums.
According to Reuters, the leaflets the Defense Ministry sent to residents said the Tower Hamlets building was chosen because it offered "an excellent view of the surrounding area and the entire sky above the Olympic Park." The leaflet added that the tower is the "only suitable site in this area for the HVM (High Velocity Missile) system."
The Telegraph reports it is unclear whether the owners of the building will be paid to have the missiles installed on their roof or whether the measure is being taken under the Emergency Powers Act. But Daily Mail reports the missiles would be deployed in a few days.
According to Daily Mail, Whelan said, "They are going to have a test run next week, putting high-velocity missiles on the roof just above our apartment. They’re stationing police and military in the tower of the building for two months. It’s a private, gated community with an old watch tower which is now a lift shaft. "
He concluded: "From the few people I’ve spoken to, and the security we have here, they’re not happy about it. I don’t think it needs to be here at all."
Reuters reports that this is not he only "extra-ordinary" measure Londoners can expect during the Olympic games. There will also be restrictions on road lanes and a security bill of more than a billion pounds($1.6 billion).