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Thoughts on recent terrorist attacks 

Roger Gomm of our Editorial Advisory Panel, says the terrorist incident in Manchester - as well as attacks in other parts of the world - remind us that the threat is complex and evolving continually.

The tragic events in the Manchester Arena just over a week ago follow attacks in Westminster (London), as well as in Stockholm, Sweden, and Paris, France. In the same few days, three police officers were killed at a Jakarta bus stop in Indonesia, and martial law has been imposed across an entire region in the Philippines after Isis-allied militants captured buildings in an attack on Marawi city. This incident saw militants burning buildings and capturing a hospital, a jail and other buildings, triggering a battle that saw the government regaining control of the city on May 30. And of course, we cannot forget the bombing of an ice cream parlour in Baghdad, along with news coming in on a further bomb attack on the Al-Shahada Bridge in the Iraqi capital.

These incidents remind us that the threat from terrorism is complex and ever evolving. 

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A vigil in St Ann's Square in Manchester City Centre, exactly a week after Salman Abedi murdered 22 and injured another 64 at an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena (Joel Goodman/REX)

Firstly, I must express CRJ’s sympathies to those who have lost loved ones and for those injured as a result all these atrocities. Secondly, I wish to focus on the incident in Manchester and congratulate the emergency services and people of Manchester for their effective response, in what I know is a confusing and difficult situation. 

In my mind this incident can be described as a game-changer in terms of targets or attack methodology: a private venue run by private security with probably no police presence, a very soft target involving young children.

The attack in Manchester occurred at the end of an event when event organisers and staff traditionally focus on dispersal and clear-up. Security, which may have been primarily deployed to manage the entry and delivery phases of the event, is usually deployed elsewhere or absent at this stage. Additionally event attendees will be focussing on their exit and homeward journeys. These factors combine to make this phase potentially vulnerable to a range of attack methodologies. It also emphasises preparation, ie attack planning. 

You will probably have seen the extensive reporting about the incident, but a brief outline of events is as follows: At approximately 22:30 hours on Monday, May 22, Police received the first reports of an explosion at the Manchester Arena, coinciding with the end of a concert by Ariana Grande. This was treated as a terrorist incident and armed officers deployed to the scene accordingly.

The blast was caused by a single suicide bomber who has been named as Salman Abedi from Manchester. Twenty-two members of the public are confirmed dead, as is the suspect. The majority of the victims are female, including an eight-year-old child. Nearly a hundred people were hurt, with varying degrees of injury, some serious, and many are still being treated across eight hospitals in the Greater Manchester area.  

The investigation is ongoing involving UK Counter Terrorist units across the country and further afield. To date there have been 16 arrests in a rapidly moving investigation. 

A key consideration was whether the attacker acted alone or whether he was part of a wider group. The arrests that have been made tend to demonstrate that he must have been supported, at least online or trained overseas to make the improvised explosive device that has caused the carnage.

This is not easy - the bombs of July 21, 2005 in London failed to detonate, unlike those two weeks earlier on July 7. This will be troubling the security agencies, but as the investigation continues they will gain a better understanding and will be able to make a better assessment of any further threat or risk that may be posed. 

It has been reported that Daesh or ISIS have claimed responsibility for this attack. 

The threat level from international terrorists to the UK was set at Critical following the incident, meaning another attack was expected imminently. However, the threat level has now been reduced to Severe. The threat level to the UK from dissident Irish Republican terrorists remains at Substantial.

Prime Minister, Theresa May gave a statement, saying that following the decision to raise the threat level, the Secretary of State for Defence had been authorised to deploy military personnel to support armed police officers. “This request is part of a well-established plan, known as Operation Temperer, in which both the armed forces and the police officers involved are well-trained and well-prepared to work in this kind of environment,” she said.

Armed police officers responsible for duties such as guarding key sites will be replaced by members of the armed forces, which will allow the police to significantly increase the number of armed officers on patrol in key locations. Home Secretary Amber Rudd confirmed that up to 3,800 troops will be available to help police with counter-terror operations.

Crowded places remain the common denominator for terrorist’s attacks. With the summer period upon us there is a need for vigilance and engagement between police and the wider community.  I encourage businesses to consider proactive risk management in order to protect themselves, their brand and their people from today’s security threats.

Businesses can reduce the risk to themselves, their employees and customers by remaining vigilant, being security minded and having good security measures in place. A small investment in security measures and culture helps to protect businesses against crime and make the work of criminal terrorists more difficult.

It must be remembered that there are numerous individuals of concern in our cities and it is impossible for them all to be monitored by the police and intelligence agencies. The UK would resemble a police state if that was the case.

Terrorists have a lot of work to do before they attack. They need to plan and prepare; buy and store materials; and fund their activities. Terrorists live within our communities and blend in. However, behind closed doors they may be storing bomb making materials or meeting others to plan attacks. Are you suspicious of a property where there is unusual activity or strange comings and goings that don't fit day-to-day life?

If you suspect it, report it to the Anti-Terrorist Hotline on 0800 789 321.

Roger Gomm is CRJ's Security and Crisis Management Advisor on the jorunal's Editorial Advisory Panel 

Roger Gomm, 30/05/2017
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