23rd March 2017
Terrorism: London’s Metropolitan Police have confirmed that a terrorist attack has taken place in the Westminster area. At around 1445LT on 22 March 2017, a Hyundai i20 4×4 vehicle ran down pedestrians on Westminster Bridge. The vehicle subsequently crashed into railings outside the Palace of Westminster, but did not enter the Parliamentary grounds. Following this an attacker, presumed to be the driver of the car, entered the parliamentary grounds through a pass-holders gate and conducted a knife attack on an unarmed police officer responding to the incident. The attacker was shot dead at the scene. There have been four confirmed casualties, including the attacker, the stabbed police officer, and two civilians. Nearly 40 people have been injured, seven of which are in critical condition. London’s Metropolitan Police have reportedly indicated that there was only one assailant, and are not currently searching for any more suspects. Police initially locked down the Houses of Parliament, although this has now been reopened.
Overnight, eight arrests have been made at six addresses in London, Birmingham, and elsewhere in the United Kingdom. These raids and arrests, conducted by armed police units, have been confirmed as being directly related to this terror attack.
This recent attack comes on the first anniversary of the Brussels Airport attacks, which killed 32 people. Because of such attacks, alongside intelligence from the security services, the terrorist threat level in the United Kingdom was raised last month to severe. This means that an attack is ‘highly likely’. As a result, police and counter-terrorism forces were on high alert prior to the attack. On the 19th March 2017, armed police and emergency response services conducted a large anti-terror training drill on a tourist ship situated on the River Thames. This shows that counter terrorism security was well prepared for potential terror attacks. The threat level has not been increased in response to this attack.
This attack in London is the latest in a trend of terror attacks involving unsophisticated, low technology weapons. The act of terror involved a large 4×4 vehicle, used to run over pedestrians, which was followed by a knife attack. Similar attacks have occurred in Berlin and Nice, and have been claimed by individuals affiliated to, or inspired by, the Islamic State militant group. London’s Metropolitan Police has not yet confirmed the identity, ethnicity, or religious affiliation of the attacker. However, given the similarity to previous attacks, it seems likely that the attacker was inspired or guided by a Jihadist Islamist organization. Indeed, they have reported that they believe that the attacker acted alone and was inspired by international terrorism. This form of attack is generally described as a ‘marauding terror attack’. These attacks are the most difficult attacks to prevent, detect, or counter. Islamic militants have previously called for attacks involving vehicles as they know that having a vehicle, rather than a knife or firearm, does not arouse suspicion of the police or local citizens.
Following the attack, police forces shut down the area surrounding Westminster. This included both the Palace of Westminster, as well as the adjoining Portcullis House across the road. The lock-down was reportedly implemented extremely quickly, indicating the preparedness of police and security forces in the area. There were initial rumours and fears of a secondary attacker; however, this was soon debunked, and police confirmed that only one individual had conducted the attack. Nevertheless, counter terrorism services will now conduct an in-depth investigation into the identity of the attacker, and whether any third parties were involved in helping with the preparation for the attack. There will also be a review of the security protocols at the Houses of Parliament.
The attack has led to severe travel disruption in the area, especially on the roads. Closure on the roads in the area of parliament will have a knock-on effect in other areas of London due to diversions in place. Transport for London has reported that all approaches towards Parliament Square and Westminster Bridge have been closed due to the incident. Westminster Underground Station, which can be directly accessed from the Houses of Parliament, is only open as an interchange station. London Metropolitan police are still asking people to avoid Parliament Square; Whitehall; Westminster Bridge; Lambeth Bridge; Victoria Street up to the junction with Broadway and the Victoria Embankment up to Embankment tube. The Thames Riverboat RB6 route via the London Eye Millennium Pier, and Westminster Millennium Pier has also been suspended.
This incident shows how even the most highly-protected areas can be subjected to terror attacks. However, because it was so highly-guarded, the number of injuries and fatalities have been limited. If this attack is judged to have been undertaken by domestic-based terrorists, MI5 and other security forces will be looking at whether or not the attackers were part of a wider network. Increased raids and arrests are likely in the UK in the short-term, similar to those undertaken overnight. MI6 will be looking at whether this attack has any links to groups abroad. If this is the case, arrests and raids can be expected both domestically and abroad. Security at all important locations and transport hubs in the UK will likely be stepped up, with long delays expected. Due to this incident, travellers are advised to avoid the area in the short term, adhering to police instruction. Significant delays are to be expected on London’s transport routes, and travellers are advised to plan for delays accordingly.
Travellers are advised that in the coming days and weeks, the atmosphere in London will be tense. Large-scale security operations may be set off by situations that ordinarily would not concern the population (such as suspicious individuals, fires, or unattended bags). Travellers are advised to adhere to the instructions of police immediately. Their actions and reactions on 22 March 2017, undoubtedly saved lives.
Travellers are advised to maintain situational awareness at all times when visiting London and employ sensible security precautions. Enhanced security provision is not required when visiting the city.