Counter-terror chief warns London attack 'likely' post-lockdown

5 August 2020, 14:07

The threat of attack has 'not gone away', counter-terror police have said
The threat of attack has 'not gone away', counter-terror police have said. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

Terror attacks on London are "likely" as lockdown measures are reduced across England, Scotland Yard's counter-terrorism chief has warned.

Commander Richard Smith also told Londoners to be "on alert" for potential extremists.

He told the Evening Standard that counter terrorism officers and MI5 are pursuing "800 different leads and investigations" into possible plots.

Commander Smith said public tip-offs are "vital" in preventing deaths as the "real threat" of terror has "not gone away" during the pandemic.

He said danger still remains in the form of both lone jihadis and terrorists radicalised here, as well as others directed or inspired by Islamic State supporters overseas.

He also voiced concerns over the risk of vulnerable people being radicalised online during lockdown without teachers, health workers and other support systems to raise the alarm.

Counter-terror police have warned of possible attacks as lockdown eases
Counter-terror police have warned of possible attacks as lockdown eases. Picture: PA

The comments come after two people were jailed over plans to attack large UK events and landmarks this year.

28-year-old Mohiussunnath Chowdhury was jailed for life at Woolwich Crown Court in June for planning to attack last year's London pride event.

37-year-old Safiyya Shaikh was also jailed for life over her plot to bomb St Paul’s Cathedral and a hotel this Easter.

Commander Smith said both convictions highlighted the continuing threat and that an attack on a crowded London site was still a risk as lockdown restrictions are eased.

“Despite all the other changes we have seen, there is still a real threat. An attack is likely,” he said in an interview with the Evening Standard.

“We are following 800 different leads and investigations at present to keep people safe from terrorism and a very substantial proportion of those will have a London element.

"As we’ve seen with the attacks at Fishmongers’ Hall last November and again on Streatham High Road in February, London is and has been a target. Terrorists focus on the capital city for lots of obvious reasons.”

Last November, freed terrorist convict Usman Khan, 28 killed two people near Fishmongers’ Hall before being shot dead.

In Streatham in February, 20-year-old Sudesh Amman, another released terror offender, injured three before police shot him dead.

Commander Smith added: “The public are very much our eyes and ears on this and so if they feel something is not right and are concerned, my message is always be vigilant and if you see something you are concerned about tell us.

"We will investigate because our aim is to keep people safe. We will continue to do that as thoroughly as we possibly can with our colleagues from MI5. The public are absolutely critical to our counter-terrorism effort. The information they give us is vital to preventing attacks in the capital.”

Commander Smith said police “attention is very much on the growth of the Right-wing” but that supporters of Islamic State, including those overseas, and al-Qaeda remained a potent danger.

On IS, he said: “There’s a very clear message — they remain a threat and that threat is not constrained to overseas.”

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He also said: “In an increasingly connected world it’s more difficult to differentiate what is entirely domestic and what has an overseas element. There are some individuals who may be directed by terrorist organisations based abroad.

"But equally there will be individuals inspired by what they see online which is being posted either in this country or elsewhere, and people who will act entirely of their own accord as lone actors.

“We know terrorists and other radicalisers will always look for opportunities to exploit people and to spread their ideology. Lockdown may have provided more of those opportunities as other activities were more curtailed,” he said.

“Part of our concern is the number of people who have been locked down away from public services, away from people who might have identified behaviour of concern. All of those people will still have been able to access material online.

"As we saw with Safiyyah Shaikh’s sentencing recently not only was she planning an attack in this country but she was also posting some quite horrendous material online with the intent of radicalising others.”