Just days after Britain officially left the European Union, United Kingdom residents were reminded of the immediate terror threat right under our noses by a multiple stabbing in Streatham, south London.
Last year, the number of homicides in the capital city rose to a 10-year high, largely as a result of surging knife crime. Many of the stabbings in London are a product of gang violence, making it easier to forget about the Islamist terror threat.
The British people, myself included, have become largely numb to this problem after years being terrorized by bombings, shootings and vehicle attacks.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan told us in 2016 that terror attacks are “part and parcel” of living in a big city and while he became the focus of much derision for those comments, it seems his defeatist attitude has been widely adopted by Londoners.
A video circulated on Twitter soon after the recent attack summed this up very well. A police officer walks into a café on the street where the attack took place wearing a bullet-proof vest and holding a gun. He informs the owner and diners that a terrorist incident has happened outside and they should immediately leave. He’s immediately met with sighs, and the owner asks in frustration, “Can you give us half an hour?”
Meanwhile, just feet away from the café, three people had just been seriously injured during a knife attack by an Islamist wearing a hoax IED (improvised explosive device) vest.
London’s Metropolitan Police confirmed that the terrorist was shot dead on the scene and that he had been under active surveillance by anti-terror police.
Once again, a terror attack in London was committed by an Islamist already known to the authorities.
Government officials say the attacker had only been released from prison at the end of January after serving a prison sentence for possessing extremist material. Reports suggest he served less than half of his three-year sentence. He was released under conditions that included surveillance and a heavy curfew – measures that ultimately failed to protect innocent civilians.
You might remember how, on Nov. 29, 2019, convicted terrorist Usman Khan fatally stabbed two people and injured three others. Like the most recent attacker, Khan was shot dead by the police after members of the public restrained him. What made the story so shocking, besides the fact that it was the seventh Islamist attack in Great Britain over the last decade, was that Khan had been released from prison just the year before after serving six years of an eight-year sentence.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to end early prison release for terrorists, but nothing so far has been proposed to protect British citizens. European Union’s counter-terror co-ordinator Gilles de Kerchove warned in 2017 that the U.K. is home to 25,000 Islamist extremists who pose a threat to society. It’s the highest such figure in Europe.
The frequency of these terror attacks in London should come as no surprise. It’s obvious that Islamist extremists will remain committed to their cause after being released from prison. If anything, time spent in a western prison only strengthens their resolve.
I warned the British government in 2018 that the early release of Islamist terrorist Anjem Choudary from prison, along with a number of his followers, would put people at risk. I delivered a petition to 10 Downing Street that Choudary’s release should be immediately reviewed.
A letter from the Ministry of Justice later told me nothing could be done.
Soon enough, Choudary’s follower, Khan, killed innocent civilians on the streets of London.
Johnson has also vowed to increase police spending. Time will tell whether the measures he proposes will be sufficient. Convicted terrorists might well spend a handful more years in prison, but tens of thousands of other radicals remain at large across the United Kingdom. Clearly monitoring them doesn’t stop fatal terror attacks.
I get the sense that much of the anger about this has died down and we British have reached the point of accepting our fate. The ability to laugh at a café owner wanting diners to finish their lunch before evacuating a scene of a terror incident is testament to the strength of character, but it also represents a people defeated.
The measures taken by the authorities to counter Islamism have been insufficient. But with a new majority in Parliament, Johnson has the chance to prove he means business.
Let’s just hope there are no more fatalities before new measures are put in place.
Jack Buckby is a research associate with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and a British author and researcher, with experience working in English, American, Canadian and Polish media. His last book, Architects of Betrayal, explores the disastrous EU exit withdrawal negotiations under the leadership of Prime Minister Theresa May.