May is taking a risk by making the debate about ideology. Instead, we should look at personal issues that lead to radicalisationby Arthur Snell / June 16, 2017 / Leave a comment
Two weeks after suicide bomber Salman Abedi killed 22 concert goers leaving the Manchester Arena, terror struck again, this time on London Bridge and in Borough Market. Borough Market defines London’s transformation from dowdy insularity to cosmopolitan metropolis. Where better for terrorists to assault that most pernicious of western evils—ordinary people enjoying their lives on a Saturday night?
Within eight minutes of the attack starting all three terrorists had been shot dead by armed police. In addition to extremely professional policing, the response of ordinary Londoners showed the world’s most international city at its best: Albanian bouncers prevented attackers entering one nightclub; a Romanian baker fought back with bread baskets. Quick-thinking allowed hundreds to escape. Still, the attack claimed eight lives and raised serious policing questions.
The government’s counter-terrorism strategy, known as Contest, was adopted in 2003. It breaks down into four: Prevent, Pursue, Protect and Prepare. The last two were on display in London: without any knowledge of this group of attackers, the police knew that places such as Borough Market are targets for IS-inspired attacks. Exercises, briefings and war-games have been carried out to enable the swiftest response. The annoying “traffic management” that means many small roads are now dead-ends, and the bollards outside public buildings, all form part of the “Protect” strand. Had the Borough Market attacks occurred 10 years ago, the eight-minute response would have been unimaginable. More would have been killed.
Pursue and Prevent are more complex. Pursue relates to investigative and intelligence operations to track and disrupt terrorist activity. MI5’s 500 active investigations involve 3,000 individual subjects. Its successes are largely invisible, though occasionally we learn of plots disrupted or uncovered. In the aftermath of the Manchester attack, an unnamed Whitehall source briefed the press that police had stopped 18 serious attacks in the UK since 2013, five in the last two months. When governments talk of forcing messaging services such as WhatsApp to provide a “back-door” to their encrypted content, that is in support of Pursue. Similarly, retaining post-Brexit access to key European intelligence databases such as the Schengen Information System, which requires the UK’s ongoing membership of the European Court of Justice, will be one of the policy challenges of Brexit.