UK facing counterterrorism policy questions after London attack
London - After three terrorist attacks in three months, British Prime Minister Theresa May declared “enough is enough” and promised new anti-terrorism and anti-extremism legislation. However, after the shock election results left Britain’s political scene in chaos, many expressed concern that changes to Britain’s counterterrorism policy could fall through the cracks.
The latest terrorist attack in Britain involved a van being driven over pedestrians on London Bridge on June 3 before three Islamist terrorists, wearing fake suicide vests, attacked revellers in the nearby Borough Market with knives. Eight people were killed by the attackers, who were killed by police.
London Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley acknowledged that a new kind of policing was required to address a new kind of terror threat.
“In nine weeks, we’ve had five plots foiled and three successful attacks. That is completely different to anything we have seen for a long time. As the prime minister has indicated, we’re going to need to do some things differently,” he said at a news conference.
“We’re going to have to think again about the next iteration of our police and security service model, which has constantly had to innovate over many decades.”
Speaking immediately after the attack, May said: “There is, to be frank, far too much tolerance of extremism in our country.” She vowed to clamp down on online extremism and review the government’s broader counterterrorism strategy.
The attack changed the tenor of the election with issues of security and counterterrorism coming to the fore. The Labour Party criticised May’s time as home secretary during which she presided a reduction of the police force by 20,000 officers. The Conservatives accused Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn of being soft on terror considering his contacts with Irish Republicans and groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah.
Corbyn said there was “deep anger” at cuts in police funding and implicitly endorsed a call for May to resign over security failures on her watch.
“There is an election, everybody has a choice. A lot of people are very angry and would have wanted her to resign were she still home secretary… The choice is going to be made on Thursday by the people of this country,” Corbyn said.
Thirty-six hours before voters headed to the polls June 8, May said she was prepared to go even further, including ripping up human rights laws to impose greater restrictions on terror suspects.
“By that, I mean longer prison sentences for people convicted of terrorist offences. I mean making it easier for the authorities to deport foreign terror suspects to their own countries. And I mean doing more to restrict the freedom and the movements of terrorist suspects when we have enough evidence to know they present a threat but not enough evidence to prosecute them,” she told supporters to cheers.
However, May was only able to be elected as part of a minority Conservative government allied with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), meaning any move to push through divisive legislation will be difficult and could cost significant political capital.
Speaking outside 10 Downing Street after announcing the deal with the DUP, May pledged to deliver the changes that she set out following the Manchester and London attacks, including “cracking down on the ideology of Islamist extremism and all those who support it and giving the police and authorities the powers they need to keep our country safe.”
Corbyn secured an unexpected strong showing in the snap general election, winning the largest share of votes for Labour since Tony Blair in 2005. He said the party would not support any move to curtail human rights.
“We won’t defeat terrorism by ripping up our basic rights and our democracy. We defeat terrorism by our communities, by our vigilance and by police action to isolate and detain those who could wish us harm,” he told the BBC. “The issue is police numbers and police security.”
Labour had pledged to put 10,000 additional police officers on Britain’s streets in its party manifesto and increase security and intelligence staff. Corbyn remains head of a re-energised opposition party, with a stronger hand to push May’s weakened government on several issues, particularly Brexit and public service funding, including police and security officers.
The terrorist attack on London Bridge and Borough Market was a few weeks after the Manchester bombing and just more than two months after the Westminster attack. More questions were raised about the state of British intelligence and counterterrorism after it emerged that the three attackers — 22-year-old Moroccan-Italian Youssef Zaghba, 30-year-old Moroccan-born Rachid Redouane and 27-year-old Pakistani-born Khuram Shazad Butt — were known to authorities.
“We know that Muslim communities have been reporting wrongdoing that have led to arrests. We will continue to give our full support to the police and authorities,” Muslim Council of Britain Secretary-General Harun Khan said in a release.