The multiple London Bridge terrorist attacks Saturday night, June 3, which killed at least seven people and injured another 48, was the third terror outrage in Britain in three months. They were all the work of homegrown followers of the Islamic State. This means that an ISIS network is at large in the UK and has so far evaded the reach of British security and intelligence services.
In the first two attacks in March, a car and knife attack in Westminster left 5 people dead; the Manchester bombing nine days ago ended in 22 people killed.The “severe” terror threat level in place across Britain, four days before the general election, accounted for the rapid response of armed police and medical services to the first reports of the horrific car-ramming and stabbing attacks on London Bridge and nearby Borough Market.
Almost every day since the assault on the Manchester pop concert, the British police have announced fresh arrests of suspects linked to the Islamist terrorist network known to be operating in Britain. Saturday night’s attack exposed the fact that British security services led by MI5, which is in charge of anti-terrorist operations inside the country, had failed to uncover the malign cell at work, or found a lead to the masterminds running it.
Salman Abedi, the suicide bomber who blew up the Manchester concert, left not a single trace to the network although he had been on-and-off an intelligence watch list and the authorities had received three warnings that he was a potential threat.
Unlike Israeli police, the British authorities can no longer claim that Britain is faced with lone wolf assaults. The latest London atrocity was perpetrated by a gang of three-to-five jihadis, acting with a support system; Abedi likewise was shown to have had help.
The British are well aware that the scale of potential jihadism at home has reached crisis proportions. According to official figures, anti-terror agencies know of some 23,000 Islamist extremists, of whom 500 are rated capable to breaking into violent attacks without prior notice. It is now clear that the perpetrators of the most recent terrorist incidents in the UK were not included in either of those lists and are operating outside the net laid down by British intelligence.
MI5 is therefore without any real leads to the most dangerous Islamist terror network Britain has seen. The service may be in need of a thorough overall of its personnel and methods for a fresh start on the war on terror, a process that would take time.
Three points stand out in the combined London Bridge attack:
1. The terrorists wore fake bomb vests as a gimmick for capturing and taking hostages at one or more of the pubs or restaurants at Borough Market, which were crowded with Saturday night patrons. It was only the expeditious response of the London police which unhesitatingly shot dead three male suspects within minutes that cut the incident short.
2. Security authorities in the West often explain attacks at home as prompted by setbacks suffered by ISIS on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq. This argument is fallacious. ISIS does not distinguish between the two fronts because it regards both as a single continuous arena of conflict for a single cause, war on the West. So long as the jihadists are able to hit Western cities, they will claim, like Al Qaeda, that they are undefeated and continue to mount terrorist outrages.
3. It is not much use for people in authority to call on everyone in London or Manchester - or any other city struck by terror - to carry on with their lives as usual. The attacks inevitably cast a pall of fear and individual concern about the future, even outside the immediate circle of victims.
The sights and scenes witnessed and graphically disseminated on social media are haunting and traumatic.
One witness reported on the attacks Saturday: "They were running up shouting, 'This is for Allah.' They stabbed this girl maybe 10 times, 15 times.”
The first police officer to reach the bridge after a white van swerved into pedestrians was stabbed. A photo showed the attackers then “used 12-inch hunting knives to attack revelers at busy bars and restaurants in the nearby Borough Market.”
One witness said he chased the attackers, who were running into pubs and bars. Some people threw bottles, chairs and other items to try and stop them.
The sight of people escaping the scenes of attacks their hands on their heads will not be easily forgotten.
London Bridge station and Borough Tube Station will remain closed for the rest of the day. Several streets around the London Bridge area remain closed. Prime Minister Theresa discontinued her campaign for the June 8 election and is chairing a Cobra emergency meeting later Sunday. She is expected to make a statement shortly.