The barbaric and completely unjustified suicide attack that killed 22 people and left over 50 injured in the foyer region of the Manchester Arena last evening will deepen the resolve of all of us not to give in to the threat of terrorism.
Today as we watch events unfolding in Manchester I know that we all share the anxiety of those families impacted by this act of evil just as we feel for those that are known to have lost members of their family and for those seriously injured. They were all just innocent people going about their business and having fun. They did not deserve this or indeed, any other kind of mistaken judgement by a small minority that remains determined to cause death, injury, destruction and fear.
With detail continuing to emerge as I write this, it would be wrong to speculate specific reasons as to why Manchester was chosen or in respect of who it was and what affiliation they had in this latest in a long line of terrorist attacks in large European cities. To those that occurred in Paris, Brussels, Nice and London in recent years can be added Manchester – another dastardly and cowardly act of terrorist violence that is as unreasoned just as it is unjustified.
The UK terror threat level remains at ‘severe’ and unless the authorities have knowledge that another attack is planned it will I believe remain at that level. The Government COBRA (Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms) crisis committee will I understand be meeting again this morning.
I can at this stage have little idea whether our superb intelligence organisations knew of the possibility that an attack at the Manchester Arena venue was even a remote possibility or not but what I do know is that we should never underestimate the brilliant work that these people highly skilled professional people do on our behalf attempting in attempting to prevent attacks such as that which occurred in Manchester last night and also in London a few weeks ago. It isn’t always possible and sometimes intelligence related to the possibility of a potential attack is either flawed or none existent.
In the meantime and assuming that the Government is as good as its word, MI5, MI6, other counter intelligence services including GCHQ and the National Cyber Security Centre which is part of the latter organisation will all be receiving extra resource in the years ahead. So they should too just as also should all other aspects of UK defence and security.
Before moving on it may be helpful at this juncture to remind of what the various levels and response levels that are decided by the Government’s Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) mean. The threat and response level system is designed to assess the likely threat to the UK from international terrorism and it is designed to provide an indication of the likelihood of a terrorist attack. There are five levels:
LOW (an attack is unlikely)
MODERATE (an attack is possible, but not [considered] likely
SUBSTANTIAL (an attack is a strong possibility)
SEVERE (an attack is highly likely.
CRITICAL (an attack is expected imminently.
In respect of Response levels, the UK Government Response Level gives an indication of the protective security measures that should be applied at sites at each Threat Level. Basically, the higher the Threat Level, the more security should be put in place. There are currently three levels of response which broadly equate to threat levels;
NORMAL – (Routine protective security measures appropriate to the business concerned – Threat Level – Low to Moderate)
HEIGHTENED – (Additional and sustainable protective security measures [required] reflecting the broad nature of the threat combined with specific business and geographical vulnerabilities and judgements on acceptable risk – Threat Level – Substantial to Severe)
EXCEPTIONAL – (Maximum protective security measures to meet specific threats and to minimise vulnerability and risk – unsustainable – Threat Level – Critical).
Last evening’s attack at the Manchester Arena caused the worst loss of life from a terrorist attack in the UK since 2005. I could perhaps list over one hundred separate terrorist attacks that have occurred in the UK over the past sixty year but I won’t do that. Instead I will restrict this to listing some of the most serious in respect of loss of life and injuries that have occured:
The serious of IRA bombings in Britain through the 1970’s was the worst period of attacks in recent history. The Aldershot bombing that killed seven civilians, the M62 coach bombing together with bomb attacks on Guildford and Woolwich pubs were major event. And because I was actually present in my then offices in King Edward House, New Street, Birmingham and whose basement was the Tavern in the Town Pub – one of two in New Street bombed within an hour of each other in November 1974 and that killed 21 people and injured 182, that evening is one that I will never forget.
The 1980 witnessed further large scale bombing and other attacks by the IRA that included Hyde Park and Regent’s Park bombings, a bomb blast at a pub in Ballykelly, Northern Ireland that killed seventeen people including several British soldiers, the Harrods bombing that killed six including three policemen and wounded 90 people in total, the Brighton Hotel bombing. The most serious loss of life during the 1980’s period occurred on the 21st December 1988 when Pan Am Flight 103 was brought down by a bomb placed in a suitcase on a flight from Heathrow to the US over Lockerbie in Scotland and in which 270 people lost their lives.
The 1990’s saw continues attacks from the IRA including a bomb at the Arndale shopping centre which is close to the centre of last evening’s attack and that injured 2026 people. A number of attacks or attempted terrorist attacks took place in London including those at Canary Wharf, London Bridge station, London Stock Exchange, Baltic Exchange, Victoria Station, Bishopsgate Wembley together with attacks in Shrewsbury, Lichfield and various others.
Since 2000, bomb attacks have occurred at Hammersmith Bridge Ealing, Birmingham, BBC TV Centre, Exeter, Glasgow Airport and other locations. By far the most serious were the separate attacks made on three London Underground trains and one on a double-deck London bus. In total 56 people lost their lives in these tragic events and 700 people were injured.
Until the bomb attack in Manchester last night terrorist attacks in the period since 2010 included a number of individual murders including that of the MP, Jo Cox and Lee Rigby, an off-duty serving member of the British Army. Earlier this year a car was deliberately driven into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge. The driver of the vehicle was shot by police but not before one police officer had been stabbed and killed.
It is of course only right to point out that since the end of the IRA war the number of individual terrorist attacks on the UK mainland has significantly reduced. But with the level of threats against the UK and its NATO allies showing no sign of abating that is no reason for anyone to be complacent.
UK security forces have a tremendous record in preventing attacks before they occur and today there has never been better coordination and communication between nations aimed at preventing terrorist attacks before they occur. It isn’t just NATO allies that work together in the attempt to root out potential acts of terrorism before they occur – other allies such as Saudi Arabia have and continue to work with our security forces providing valuable reconnaissance and information designed to prevent terrorist attacks. Those who would easily criticise countries such as Saudi Arabia for whatever reason would do well to remember that they are hugely important in the war against terrorism.
CHW (London – 23rd May 2017)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785