Sunday, May 26, 2013

Renewed terror threat needs a pro-active response

With the recent spate of attacks on soldiers, in London and Paris, and an incident on a UK bound plane from Pakistan which was diverted to Stansted under escort by fighter jets, there may be calls for more pro-active response with the general arming of police and sky marshals.

Police criticised

Police have been criticised for being too slow in responding to 999 emergency calls following the attack on a soldier in Woolwich in east London on Wednesday [22nd May]. Some eyewitnesses have claimed that the armed police response unit took some twenty minutes to arrive at the scene as regular officer apparently stood some distance away from where terror suspects Michael Olumide Adebolajo and Michael Oluwatobi Adebowale had butchered a soldier with knives and meat cleavers in broad daylight after first running him over with their car.

The Metropolitan Police have dismissed the allegations [LBC Radio Report] that they were slow to respond, saying that the armed response vehicle, or Trojan Unit, was at the scene within ten minutes of having received the call. However, even the police admit that regular officers had arrived earlier.

It is highly likely that police radio operators ordered the first officers to hang back until the arrival of specialist units, though this has not been admitted, and police radio logs have not been released to the general public. Such an order, given the situation and the information available, might have been justified.

Weighing up options

Police were undoubtedly aware that a man had been stabbed or even fatally injured on the streets of Woolwich. They may too have been informed that the attackers were still on the scene, brandishing knives, meat cleavers and a firearm. Given, too, that information may have been relayed that the men had apparently suspended their attack and that they appeared not to be showing hostility to the general public, any decision to hold back until armed support arrived may have been the best option. Indeed the men calmly stood around and asked members of the public to film them [YouTube].

Should regular police officers, armed only with pepper spray and a truncheon attempted to approach the two suspects, the following days headlines might have been very different. As it transpired the pistol in possession of one suspect was old and rusty and when discharged it blew off the man's thumb. But it could just as easily have been in full working order. Against ordinary officers, even with general issue stab-proof vests, there could easily have been several more deaths. Even aside of the gun, officers would, at the very least, have sustained serious injuries faced with attackers armed with knives and sharp meat cleavers.

On face value, scenes of vociferous police officers shouting at onlookers to "get back" after the suspects had been shot and incapacitated, seems ridiculous. Many of these same people had confronted the terror suspects, shouting at them, and even talking to them directly. Now, with the situation calm and fully resolved, officers were angrily telling the public to keep clear, despite the fact the danger had passed.

But these officers were only following usual protocols. Despite there now being no real danger, there was a scene of crime to protect. There may have been unknown or unseen dangers, which neither the public or police may have been aware. In fact early reports did not immediately suggest this incident was anything more than another violent stabbing on a London street, an event that is so commonplace that many such incidents rarely get reported [BBC]. 

The bigger question is whether all police need to be armed, and of course, appropriately trained to respond to deal with such incidents. However even the arming of police would not have stopped the murderous attack of soldier Lee Rigby. The attack on the soldier was swift, leaving him dead within minutes. Should the men have continued on a rampage and set about other members of the public, a more rapid response by law enforcement, armed with guns, might well have prevented further carnage [Woolwich attacks].

Threat to plane

Only days later a plane approached Britain from Pakistan and some reports suggest that two men had attempted to gain access to the cockpit. Authorities would later only confirm that the men had been arrested for "endangerment of an aircraft". But with the response of sending RAF Typhoon fighter jets to escort the plane to Stansted, a designated airport for hijacked aircraft, indicates how serious the incident was being viewed [BBC / Daily Mail]. 

Police boarded Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight PK709, originally en route to Manchester from Lahore, after it was diverted to Stansted. It is not clear if the men were apprehended prior to the plane landing, but there are surely questions whether sky marshals, as often used on Israeli or American passenger planes, might have been useful.

Paris soldier stabbed

Only three days had passed since the fatal attack on a British soldier on London's streets when a French soldier, one of three on an anti-terror patrol, was stabbed in the neck in Paris. Francois Hollande has dismissed any connection, though it seems likely that the incident was a copycat attack [Sky News]. 

The man wanted in connection to the Paris incident remains at large, and police across the French capital are now at a heightened state of alert.

Ongoing threat

It is less than a month since the Boston bombings which left three dead and dozens maimed for life. And while most Muslims have come out and widely condemned these recent atrocities, it is clear that there is a small but significant number of fundamentalist Muslims determined to perpetuate al-Qaeda style attacks on members of the public, law enforcement officers and members of the armed forces.

The supposed threat on board the Pakistan passenger jet may well have been a case of over boisterous and angry passengers venting their spleen, but the incident nonetheless highlights the risk that could be posed to aircraft. The US bombs, and the attacks on soldiers in London and Paris, are however a sharp reminder that the so-called War on Terror is far from over, even if the slogan is now rarely used. As such these incidents should be a wake up call both to authorities and the general public.

The public must become more vigilant, and report anything suspicious. Should someone have noticed the unattended bags containing the bombs at Boston, there might have been far less carnage. And so too of the security services who must see themselves not only as individuals who are to protect and serve the public but also as potential targets by extremists. Letting down one's guard is clearly not an option.

With reports of rising Islamophobia there is also the danger that the small number of terror attacks could precipitate a war on the streets of Britain as extremists on both side capitalise on such incidents [Sky News / Guardian]

tvnewswatch, Yunnan, China

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