Bri­tain grap­ples with ‘new nor­mal’ af­ter sub­way bomb

The Globe and Mail Metro (Ontario Edition) - - Front Page - PAUL WALDIE EURO­PEAN COR­RE­SPON­DENT LONDON With files from As­so­ci­ated Press and Reuters

Sub­way at­tack that in­jured 29 is fifth ter­ror­ist in­ci­dent in the coun­try this year, and ex­perts warn more may­hem should be ex­pected

Bri­tain is fac­ing its worst string of ter­ror­ist at­tacks in 30 years and ex­perts say the coun­try should brace for even more may­hem.

“Un­for­tu­nately, it’s be­com­ing the new nor­mal,” said Sa­j­jan Go­hel, the in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity di­rec­tor at the London-based Asia-Pa­cific Foun­da­tion. “I hate to use that ter­mi­nol­ogy but that is what it is, it is part of our lives, where these in­ci­dents will sud­denly, spon­ta­neously hap­pen.”

The lat­est at­tack came on Fri­day, when a bomb ex­ploded in a busy London Un­der­ground sub­way sta­tion at 8:20 a.m., just as the morn­ing rush hour was wind­ing down. No one died, but of­fi­cials said 29 peo­ple suf­fered mi­nor in­juries, in­clud­ing burns. There are re­ports the de­vice had a timer and that it failed to prop­erly det­o­nate, sug­gest­ing the in­ci­dent could have been far worse. Video im­ages showed a white bucket burn­ing in a sub­way car as peo­ple fran­ti­cally tried to get out of the Par­sons Green sta­tion.

Po­lice quickly la­belled the in­ci­dent a ter­ror­ist at­tack and said the de­vice was an im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive. How­ever, no ar­rests have been made, rais­ing fears that the bomber could strike again. “There are many ur­gent in­quiries on­go­ing with hun­dreds of de­tec­tives in­volved, look­ing at CCTV, car­ry­ing out foren­sic work and speak­ing to wit­nesses,” said as­sis­tant po­lice com­mis­sioner Mark Row­ley, who heads na­tional coun­tert­er­ror­ism polic­ing. “To­day, and over the week­end, the public can ex­pect to see a height­ened po­lice pres­ence, par­tic­u­larly in crowded places and at trans­port hubs.”

The Is­lamic State mil­i­tant group claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the blast through its news agency, Amaq. It was im­pos­si­ble to ver­ify the claim, for which Amaq of­fered no ev­i­dence. Western in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials have ques­tioned sim­i­lar claims in the past, say­ing that while the Is­lamic State’s ide­ol­ogy may have in­spired some at­tack­ers, there is lit­tle ev­i­dence that it has or­ches­trated at­tacks.

This is the fifth ter­ror­ist in­ci­dent this year in Bri­tain, with four oc­cur­ring in London alone. A to­tal of 36 peo­ple have been killed in the at­tacks and more than 200 in­jured. The coun­try hasn’t seen this level of ter­ror­istre­lated vi­o­lence since the IRA bomb­ings in the 1970s.

“It is par­tic­u­larly un­usual,” said David Vide­cette, a for­mer London po­lice de­tec­tive who is now a se­cu­rity con­sul­tant. “If you look across Europe at the num­ber of plots, the num­ber of at­tacks, we haven’t seen any­thing like this at all since the late 1980s and early 1990s.”

Many peo­ple were in­jured in the chaos af­ter the Par­sons Green ex­plo­sion as hun­dreds of com­muters ran out of the sta­tion. “We just heard the loud­est, scari­est screams from what sounded like the car­riage right next to us and loud men shout­ing run and we just all ran for our lives,” Emma Ste­vie told the BBC.

“I heard a boom, and when I looked, there were flames all around,” said Syl­vain Pen­nec, who also told the BBC that he had seen the bucket. “It looked like a bucket of may­on­naise. I’m not sure if it was a chem­i­cal re­ac­tion or some­thing else, but it looked homemade.”

Late Fri­day, Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May raised the na­tional threat level to crit­i­cal and or­dered sol­diers to pa­trol with po­lice in some ar­eas. “The public will see more armed po­lice on the trans­port net­work and on our streets pro­vid­ing ex­tra pro­tec­tion,” she said. This is the sec­ond time this year that the threat level has been raised to its high­est level. The gov­ern­ment took sim­i­lar ac­tion for a brief pe­riod af­ter a sui­cide bomb­ing in Manch­ester in May.

“The threat of ter­ror­ism that we face is se­vere. But by work­ing to­gether we will de­feat them,” Ms. May said ear­lier Fri­day. “We do need to en­sure that we are deal­ing with, not just the ter­ror­ist threat but with the ex­trem­ism and the hate that can ac­tu­ally in­cite that ter­ror­ism. That’s why we are look­ing very care­fully at the pow­ers that our po­lice and se­cu­rity ser­vice have to make sure they have the pow­ers they need.”

Dr. Go­hel said much of this year’s ter­ror­ism ac­tiv­ity can be traced to the fight against the Is­lamic State, also known as ISIS, in Iraq and Syria. “As the ter­ror­ist group con­tin­ues to lose ter­ri­tory in Iraq and Syria, it is en­cour­ag­ing its fol­low­ers wher­ever they are in the world to carry out at­tacks,” he said. “France ex­pe­ri­enced this a few years ago, Ger­many and Bel­gium last year, now it seems that it’s the U.K.’s turn this year.”

Com­pli­cat­ing the prob­lem for se­cu­rity agen­cies is that most of the ter­ror at­tacks in Bri­tain have been car­ried out by peo­ple un­known to of­fi­cials. How­ever, Dr. Go­hel doubts any of the at­tack­ers were truly lone wolves act­ing on their own. “What we are see­ing more of­ten is that we will ini­tially de­scribe an at­tacker as a lone ac­tor but then dis­cover it to be what I call ‘as­sisted ter­ror­ism,’ in that the in­di­vid­ual will have com­mu­ni­cated with ISIS han­dlers and re­cruiters on­line … It’s a kind of on­line re­cruit­ment and guid­ance that is pro­lif­er­at­ing.”

The scope of the chal­lenge was il­lus­trated this week when the Home Of­fice re­leased fig­ures show­ing that po­lice across the coun­try had made 379 ter­ror­ism­re­lated ar­rests in the 12 months end­ing June 30. That was the high­est an­nual to­tal since the gov­ern­ment be­gan keep­ing records in 2001. And it was 68 per cent higher than the to­tal num­ber of ter­ror­ism-re­lated ar­rests dur­ing the same pe­riod in the pre­vi­ous year. Po­lice and in­tel­li­gence ser­vices have 500 ter­ror­ism-re­lated in­ves­ti­ga­tions un­der way in­volv­ing around 3,000 peo­ple. They also have a data­base of roughly 20,000 for­mer “sub­jects of in­ter­est.”

There have also been fears of a surge in far-right ex­trem­ism. One of the ter­ror at­tacks this year in­volved a man who drove his car into a crowd of peo­ple out­side a London mosque. The man shouted, “I want to kill all Mus­lims” be­fore he was ap­pre­hended by the crowd and turned over to po­lice. One per­son died. And last week, two Bri­tish sol­diers and another man were ar­rested for be­long­ing to a banned neo-Nazi or­ga­ni­za­tion.

The gov­ern­ment has come un­der crit­i­cism for cut­ting po­lice bud­gets in re­cent years, some­thing crit­ics say has made the coun­try less safe. Ms. May has in­sisted coun­tert­er­ror­ism ef­forts have not been com­pro­mised and po­lice bud­gets have been pro­tected. “We also pro­tected coun­tert­er­ror­ism polic­ing and we have en­sured that it is pos­si­ble for the po­lice to in­crease the num­ber of armed po­lice,” she said on Fri­day. She has also taken aim at In­ter­net com­pa­nies and urged them to do more to com­bat the spread of ter­ror­ist pro­pa­ganda on so­cial me­dia.

Ms. May took U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to task for his early morn­ing tweets, which in­cluded what ap­peared to be barb aimed at law en­force­ment. Mr. Trump called the ex­plo­sion another at­tack “by a loser ter­ror­ist,” adding “these are sick and de­mented peo­ple who were in the sights of Scot­land Yard. Must be proac­tive!”

When asked about the com­ments, Ms. May said: “I never think it’s help­ful for any­body to spec­u­late on what is an on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

Fri­day’s at­tack brought back mem­o­ries of July, 2005, when sui­cide bombers car­ried out co­or­di­nated at­tacks on the London Un­der­ground that killed 52 peo­ple. “There is not a lot we can do about the Un­der­ground,” Mr. Vide­cette said. “Peo­ple do need to be vig­i­lant, they do need to see peo­ple reach­ing into bags and keep an eye on them and chal­lenge them. Do some­thing about it. You are you own health and safety of­fi­cer.”

ADRIAN DEN­NIS/AFP/GETTY IM­AGES

Po­lice foren­sics of­fi­cers work along­side a London Un­der­ground train on which a bomb went off at Par­sons Green sta­tion on Fri­day morn­ing. The ex­plo­sive was con­tained in a white pail, be­low left. There were no fa­tal­i­ties, but 29 peo­ple were re­ported to have been in­jured.

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