London beefs up security after Europe’s wave of terror attacks

Sunday 14/08/2016
Armed police officers patrol at the scene of a knife attack in Russell Square in London, on August 4th.

London - Liverpool Street station is one of London’s busiest transport hubs, catering to an estimated 174,000 commuters each day. This figure is higher in the summer when tourists and families on holi­day join the fray. The station, like many in London, is patrolled by armed police watching for suspi­cious behaviour.

London commuters and tourists passed through the station seemingly oblivious to the increased armed police presence, stopping for coffee or fast food in the station’s commercial forecourt, while others rushed home after work. Two armed police stood to the side of the main thoroughfare, carefully watching all those coming and going.

After a wave of terror in Europe, involving a number of Islamic State-inspired lone-wolf attacks, the armed police presence is expected to increase further. London’s Metropolitan Police Force announced it would deploy additional manpower across the capital.

“It’s really important that Londoners are reassured that police service, that security service, that all of us are doing our bit to keep Londoners in our city safe. That means Londoners will see more armed response officers. They will see more armed vehicles,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan said.

“The threat level hasn’t changed but we are learning the lessons from Europe, from Nice, from Paris, from Munich,” he said.

London’s force announced that it would be deploying an additional 600 firearm officers in the city, increasing the number of armed police in the capital to 2,800. An additional 1,500 armed officers are being trained to police other British cities, although they will likely not be in place until April 2017.

“We have seen attacks in Germany, in Belgium, in France and we would be foolish to ignore that, so it’s important that we get officers out there with firearms to respond,” London Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said.

Home Office figures show there were 5,639 firearm officers in England and Wales as of March. That figure has fallen by more than 1,000 in the last five years with many calling for Britain to train more armed police.

Writing in the Mail on July 31st, just days after a terrorist attack in a Normandy church in which a priest was killed by ISIS-inspired terrorists, Hogan-Howe acknowledged that there was a growing fear of a terrorist attack in London.

“I feel and understand that fear and, as the police officer in charge of preventing such an attack, I know you want me to reassure you. I am afraid I cannot do that entirely. Our threat level has been at ‘severe’ for two years. It remains there. It means an attack is highly likely. You could say it is a case of when, not if,” he warned.

Security around churches and other places of worship had been increased since the Normandy attack, with ISIS-affiliated social media threatening London would be “next”.

The idea behind modern-day counterterrorism policing is not just to foil potential attacks, but to have a strong system in place to ensure a fast response in order to minimise casualties and neutralise the threat as quickly as possible.

Armed police officers are equipped with BMW F800 GS motorcycles, which can go from 0-60 miles per hour in less than 4 seconds. This allows police to quickly respond to any incident.

On the same day as the announcement, armed police scrambled to deal with a knife attack that left one person dead and five others seriously injured in London’s Russell Square. Local media quoted witnesses as saying armed police arrived at the scene in just a few minutes.

This is an improvement from the 11-minute response time it took armed police to reach the scene of the 2013 killing of Fusilier Lee Rigby in Woolwich, south-east London.

The November 2015 Paris attack, which resulted in the death of some 130 people, lasted for hours after gunmen took hostages in the Bataclan concert hall.

Funding for the additional 600 armed British police was announced following the Paris attacks. “The critical point is that this is 24/7 specialist officers with the weaponry and equipment to confront a terrorist. These are high-calibre, highly trained specialist people,” Scotland Yard Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley said at the time.

“We will have a much bigger, stronger capability to deal with anything that hits us in London,” he promised in comments carried by London newspaper the Evening Standard.

As for the increased presence of armed police around London landmarks, this was largely welcomed by Londoners and tourists alike. “Yes, we feel safer knowing that there are armed police around. You can never be too careful,” said an American tourist who was passing through Liverpool Street station with his family on August 3rd.