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UK Threat level system updated to include all forms of terrorism 

The UK has changed the way it publishes and advises the public on the terrorism threat levels to now reflect the threat from all forms of terrorism, irrespective of ideology, reports Roger Gomm for CRJ.

Since 2006, information about the national threat level has been available on the MI5 and Home Office websites. In September 2010 the threat levels for Northern Ireland-related terrorism were also made available. 

The changes to the terrorism threat level system came into effect on July 23, 2019, following an extensive review into the country’s approach to counter-terrorism following the attacks in 2017. Now, the system will reflect the threat posed by all forms of terrorism, irrespective of ideology. This means, for the first time, the threat from extreme right and left-wing terrorism will be reflected in the published threat level.

There is a single national threat level describing the threat to the UK, although the threat from Northern Ireland-related terrorism in Northern Ireland will remain separate.

The then-Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “Our approach to stopping terrorists is the same, regardless of the twisted ideology that motivates them. While the Islamist threat remains, we have recently seen an increase in terrorist activity motivated by the extreme right wing. It is therefore important the public is properly informed about the threats we face, which is why we are making these changes.”

Until this move, the threat level system described the threat from ‘international terrorism’, which has become largely synonymous with Islamist terrorism. However, it was felt that this was outdated as Islamist terrorism can be home-grown, just as extreme right-wing terrorism can have an international dimension. The changes follow the joint police and MI5 Operational Improvement Review, which followed the 2017 attacks and, based on its recommendations, the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) began assessing the threat from all forms of terrorism in November 2018. Now the published threat level will reflect JTAC’s assessment, and is set independently of the government.

The terrorism threat levels give a broad indication of the likelihood of an attack. They are an important tool for security practitioners and the police to determine what protective security is necessary. They also keep the public informed of the threat the country faces. The level of threat has not changed from SEVERE, meaning an attack is highly likely.

Additionally, the definitions of some of the threat levels have been updated to ensure they are clear and consistent – definitions of the LOW, SUBSTANTIAL and CRITICAL threat levels will change; the new definitions are as follows:

  • CRITICAL – an attack is highly likely in the near future
  • SEVERE – an attack is highly likely
  • SUBSTANTIAL – an attack is likely
  • MODERATE – an attack is possible but not likely
  • LOW – an attack is highly unlikely

As I feel sure you will agree, this is a significant change to the UK approach to national terrorism threats.

Roger Gomm is a Member of CRJ's Advisory Panel 

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