Friday, January 07, 2011

7-Jan-11: UK authorities say there is no imminent terrorist threat. On the other hand...

Reports in the past few hours (Hindustan Times and Associated Press) quote an unnamed security source in London saying there is no imminent terrorist threat, and the overall terrorist threat level has not changed.

With that laconic introduction, the reports say:
  • There is British activity from extremist cells that cause concern
  • There has been either "an adjustment in policing levels" or "Police increase presence in London", depending on the specific publication 
  • Police have been freshly deployed at transport hubs in London in the past 24 hours 
  • Intelligence intercepts are unclear as to whether the terrorists are planning Mumbai-style shootings, or suicide bombing attacks, or both.
  • Transport police were told to cancel days off Friday (today), according to Sky News on Thursday
  • There is a heavy police presence near Luton and Heathrow airports and members of the emergency services were briefed very recently about how to respond to a Mumbai-style attack on London (Sky News)
  • British police have set the level of the threat at "severe". This is the second highest level, meaning an attack is highly likely
They have been on high alert since September 2010 when intelligence agencies said they were aware of pending attacks in France, Germany and the UK. The plans were at an advanced stage. Since then, 10 Moslems, all of them with Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds, were arrested in the UK and charged with plotting pre-Xmas terror attacks. On 11-Dec-11, a jihadist who had been living in the UK for years blew himself up in Stockholm while heading towards the city's central train station. And in Denmark a week ago, five men were arrested on similar charges, with a cache of weapons including a submachine gun, silencer and ammunition in their possession.

Google the term "no terror threat" and you are likely to get hundreds of thousands of hits. That statistic reflects what people used to call whistling past the graveyard (trying to stay cheerful in a dire situation). So yes, there is no threat this afternoon. And yes, jihadism is alive, well and thriving. But no, we cannot afford to lower our guard if we want to keep our families and societies safe.

Journalists and editors publishing those headlines about no imminent threat does not mean they know more about this vexed subject than the rest of us. In fact there's a strong case that, with the agenda-driven political mindsets of some of them, they know less. We owe it to ourselves to prepare accordingly.

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