WSi News2015-07-14 10:32:57

UK: Terrorism assessment following Tunisia attack

The 26 June attack against a beach resort near Sousse, Tunisia, has raised renewed concerns over the risks of another successful attack in the UK. The targeting of Western nationals in Tunisia, with 30 of the 38 fatalities confirmed as UK citizens, demonstrates the Islamist extremist threat to the UK. UK officials suggest the deliberate targeting of UK nationals is evidence of a wider terrorism threat. Following a COBRA meeting on 29 June, Prime Minister David Cameron stated the threat to the UK remains severe and is likely to remain so for "many months". G4S Risk Consulting examines the current threat and what the short-term implications are for UK businesses following the Tunisia attack.

On 29 August 2014, the UK Government's Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) raised the UK's terrorism alert level from "Substantial" to "Severe" meaning that a terrorist attack is highly likely. "Severe" is the fourth highest level of the five-point system. The change was the first in the UK in more than three years and came as the UK government becomes increasingly concerned over developments in Syria and Iraq, particularly with regard to Islamic State (IS) which has made a number of threats against the West.

Home Secretary Theresa May stated at the time that the UK faces a real and serious threat from international terrorism. The escalation was borne out of concerns expressed by the police, security services and the government since early 2014 over radicalised UK nationals travelling to the Middle East to fight and train with IS and other extremist ups and then posing a direct terrorist threat upon their return. The police continue to make frequent arrests at airports and other locations across the UK of those who have travelled to the Middle East or were intending to. Other arrests have also been made in relation to UK-based Islamist extremism. Police estimates from May 2015 suggest some 500-700 UK nationals have travelled to Syria to fight, while up to 320 are believed to have returned. However, Labour MP Khalid Mahmood said in November 2014 that up to 2,000 people have travelled, almost a four-fold increase on official estimates.

Figures from the Metropolitan Police indicate the number of counter-terrorism operations in the UK has almost doubled from 2013 to 2015, while some 40 terrorist plots have been disrupted since the 7/7 attacks in 2005. The terrorism threat to the UK is also illustrated by figures released from the police that show a sharp rise in arrests linked to events in the Middle East, including the Arab Spring in 2011, the emergence of IS in 2012 and the actions of Mohammed Emwazi alias "Jihadi John" in 2014. Some 338 individuals have been arrested on terrorism charges in 2014/2015 compared to 254 in 2013/2014. UK counter-terrorism police are currently making, on average, one arrest per day.

Current Situation

The 26 June attack is being assessed by the UK Security Services as a clear indication of IS's intent to target Western nationals. The attack was deliberately carried out during Ramadan ensuring that the majority of holidaymakers were non-Muslim. The attack also came after IS spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani called for jihad during Ramadan on 23 June. Adnani called for an escalation in violence against Shia's and Christians, with the attacks against Westerners in Tunisia, the Islamist-related incident near Lyon, France, and the Kuwait mosque bombing all on 26 June has raised concerns that Islamist-related attacks during Ramadan could spread outside of IS's current areas of operation. Ramadan began on 18 June and ends on 18 July. As such, it is anticipated that further attacks, including in Western Europe, could be carried out during that period.

The 10-year anniversary of the "7/7" attacks in London on 7 July 2005 comes at a sensitive time. There is the risk that events, which include vigils and commemorative ceremonies, could be disrupted by terrorism alerts, with the unlikely, albeit underlying possibility, of a physical attack. Security will be high throughout the events thus mitigating the potential for a terrorist incident. Furthermore, other public events during Ramadan in the UK are also at potential risk. Armed Forces Day, which was held on 28 June, was reportedly the target of a failed terrorism plot that originated in Birmingham and had links to IS. Security has also been heightened for the Wimbledon Tennis Championship, which is held in south-west London from 29 June to 12 July. Measures include the deployment of additional police, road closures around the venue and the creation of a fast response unit in the event of intelligence on an impending threat. Additionally, the organisers of the two-day festival at Feltwell in Suffolk, which involves displays by the Red Arrows, the RAF and elements of the USAF 48th Fighter Wing, to mark US Independence Day, was cancelled due to the ongoing terrorism risk. The festival, which attracts some 25,000 visitors, including serving members of the military and their families, was cancelled due to "current threat assessments". This development illustrates the perceived ongoing risk to serving military and police. The College of Policing has also upgraded its guidance to serving police officers, providing training on how to spot suspicious activity, as well as advising them not to wear uniforms outside of working hours and avoid discussing their positions with strangers. Guidance to both police and military personnel has been reviewed. The need for greater vigilance has been reiterated regarding the threat posed by Islamist extremists to carry out some form of "lone wolf attacks" similar to the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby, perpetrated in Woolwich in May 2013.

Business Risk

While the Security Services have not escalated the UK terrorism alert level since August 2014, the current threat from Islamist-related terrorism is more pronounced due to Ramadan and the recent terrorist attack in Tunisia that targeted Westerners and the timing of the "7/7" anniversary. Prominent targets for Islamist-related terrorism in the UK are likely to include police, government interests and serving military personnel. Nevertheless, key sites in major cities, including tourist attractions, sporting occasions and public events, such as festivals, rallies or religious gatherings, remain attractive terrorist targets. Terrorist attacks in the UK are likely to manifest themselves in low-scale, unsophisticated attacks akin to the Woolwich attack, France in December 2014 and again on 26 June near Lyon. However, the risk of a significant indiscriminate attack cannot be discounted. Other potential targets include the media due to the global coverage such an attack would attract, thus fuelling IS propaganda, despite the likelihood that specific single violent extremist (SVE) attacks are not linked directly to IS. There is also a threat to Jewish interests, which were targeted in Paris in January 2015 and Copenhagen in February 2015. IS is likely to associate itself with such incidents to escalate its notoriety. Other potential, but less likely, targets include companies linked to controversial activities in majority Muslim countries and businesses situated in Canary Wharf and the City of London. Such businesses are still high-profile entities in iconic locations and could still be the target of determined SVEs. Businesses situated in Canary Wharf and the City of London could also be perceived as symbols of the UK government and the "West" as a whole, thus increasing their attractiveness as a potential target.

While businesses per se are unlikely to be directly targeted, any terrorism incident, whether an alert, hoax or genuine, before the conclusion of Ramadan is likely to cause significant localised disruption in the main cities, particularly London. On 23 April 2015, thousands of rail passengers experienced major delays after services between Oxford and Paddington were cancelled due to a security alert. The alert was triggered after two bags were seen on top of a train at Oxford station. The bags were later confirmed as empty. Businesses in central London, as well as other cities, should be cognisant of the ongoing threat. As such, business resilience plans and business response to a terrorism incident should be reviewed. This will need to include an assessment of the businesses' location and the surrounding areas, including adjacent sites and buildings that could be targeted. The secondary impact of a SVE incident would still significantly affect business operations. Fundamental security considerations, particularly visitor management, access and egress and wider access control, must be reviewed and tightened if required. A more robust security posture should be considered, particularly with staff encouraged to be more vigilant and observant regarding unusual and suspicious behaviour and unknown visitors to the locale. Consideration should be given to contingency measures regarding evacuation and evacuation in the event of a terrorist incident. The dynamics of the incident will dictate what emergency response is undertaken and how the business deploys contingency planning. Such contingency measures should be practiced in light of the ongoing threat, particularly during Ramadan.

Source: G4S Risk

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