The attack by a male armed with a sword on three UK police officers close to Buckingham Palace just after half past eight yesterday evening has been confirmed by the Metropolitan Police to be a terrorist investigation. A 26 year old male from Luton, Bedfordshire was arrested after being retrained with the use of CS gas by police officers after he injured three police officers who, thankfully were not seriously injured.
While we have seen a number of incidents in Europe where attacks have taken place targeting civilians in public places over the last couple of years, the last being in Barcelona in August this is not the first time in 2017 that police officers or the military have been targeted by terrorists. In April 2017 a male attacked a police bus parked up in the Champs-Elysees with an automatic weapon killing one officer and injuring two others. On the 9th August 2017 six French soldiers were inured in Paris when a vehicle was driven at speed into them and then drove off (with the suspected driver later stopped and shot on a motorway in northern France). Both of these incidents are believed to have been terrorist attacks.
With the attacks on civilians carried out by Islamic State inspired terrorists who targeted what is termed as ‘soft targets’ such as restaurants, bars/pubs, theatres and other public venues, the military and the police are perceived as hard targets. What have seen in the likes of the attacks in London yesterday and the two mentioned above in Paris, the type of attack has been relatively easy to carry out and lacks sophistication. Along with other public venues or events likely to be targeted, we are also likely to see similar types of attacks on the police and military in Europe in the coming years. In continental Europe as the police are routinely armed, such attacks will no doubt result in the attacker being killed as we saw with the two Paris attacks on the police and the military, but in Britain 93% of the police officers are not armed. As we have seen following the recent UK terrorist attacks, no doubt the attack outside Buckingham Palace will once more raise the question if more British police officer should be routinely armed. Being a retired English police officer who was proud of the fact that the vast majority of British police officers were not armed because they policed by consent of the public, even I am reluctantly coming to the conclusion that where officers are posted to locations identified as being a high risk of a terrorist attack should be armed in order to save their own lives. If the Metropolitan Police’s Constable Keith Palmer was armed when he tackled with the terrorist who drove into people on Westminster Bridge and then tried to enter the palace of Westminster that contains the UK’s Parliament, it might have saved his life.
It appears that the former UK security service (MI5) director, Lord Evans, is right and we will have to expect a number of these attacks in the coming years. This is of great concern and the question remains as to how to stop individuals who are inspired by any form of an extremist narrative from carrying out an attack b driving a vehicle into a crowd of people or stabbing their victims in public places? Enhancing the sharing intelligence between policing agencies at international level is one way, as seen recently in Holland where following information passed on by the Spanish police to their Dutch counterparts resulted in the cancellation of a concert because of a suspected terrorist attack that resulted in a male being arrested by the Dutch police for preparing such an attack. On many occasions it is found that following an attack the police or the security services have some information on the attacker, but, due to the sheer volume of resources needed, it is impossible to have 24/7 observation on every person who is in an intelligence system. What can help is all of us being that bit more vigilant and if you suspect anything at all, no matter how minor you may perceive it, contact the police. In the UK we can do this by contacting the police on the Anti-Terrorism Hotline, 0800 789 321.