LONDON • Prime Minister Theresa May said the UK faces “a new trend” in terrorism, with Islamist attackers inspiring each other, after seven people were killed and 48 injured in a Saturday night rampage in London — days before the general election.
“Perpetrators are inspired to attack, not only on the basis of carefully-constructed plots after years of planning and training, and not even as lone attackers radicalised online, but by copying one another and often using the crudest means of attack,” May told reporters yesterday after chairing a meeting of the government’s emergency COBRA committee. “We cannot and must not pretend that things can continue as they are.”
The attack, which began just after 10pm in a popular nightlife spot, lasted just eight minutes. A van swerved into crowds on London Bridge, before three men got out and went on a stabbing spree through nearby bars. The assault ended when police shot them dead a few hundred yards from where it started.
It’s the third attack in the UK in less than three months. In March, a lone assailant rammed into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge and then stabbed a police officer outside Parliament. Then two weeks ago, a bomber killed 22 people — including children — at a pop concert in Manchester.
May said that while the attacks weren’t directly linked, “terrorism breeds terrorism”. In that time, police and security services had disrupted five “credible plots”, she said.
The prime minister said her response would cover four areas:
• Confronting the ideology of Islamic extremism, and making the case for “pluralistic British values”.
• Coordinating with other governments to force Internet companies to stop providing “safe spaces”
online for extremists to recruit and coordinate.
• Dealing with “safe spaces” in the real world, both abroad, where she pledged military action would continue, and ending the “toleration of extremism” in Britain, including by public sector bodies.
• Examining the criminal justice system, including the lengths of prison sentences for offenders.
Metropolitan Police commissioner Cressida Dick said earlier that she believed the incident was now under control. She and the prime minister both paid tribute to civilians who helped to fight off the attackers and assist the wounded.
“We have a very large investigation ongoing and we will be seeking to establish whether anyone else was working with, or helping with, the planning of this attack,” said Dick.
The Conservative Party, Opposition Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, Scottish National Party and the Green Party suspended national campaigning for Thursday’s election. Local campaigning will continue. London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan told the BBC that more police officers would be deployed in the streets yesterday.
Campaigning turned bitter in the aftermath of the Manchester bombing. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said domestic terrorism was linked to British participation in foreign wars. May retorted that Corbyn was making excuses for terrorists. Still, while the race has since tightened, it’s far from clear whether the aftermath of the concert attack played any role in the narrowing of May’s poll lead.
The latest set of polls indicate the Conservatives’ lead over Labour has shrunk to between one and 12 percentage points, from more than 20 points at the start of the campaign.
Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump wasted no time using another terrorist attack in London to argue for US courts to reinstate his travel ban focused on people from predominantly Muslim countries.
“We need to be smart, vigilant and tough. We need the courts to give us back our rights. We need the travel ban as an extra level of safety,” Trump said on Twitter, before UK’s May said the incidents were being treated as a potential act of terror.
Trump later phoned May and offered condolences for the “brutal terror attacks”, according to a White House statement.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether Trump — who was briefed by his national security team, according to spokesman Sean Spicer — had additional, non-public information about the attacks at the time he sent his message on Twitter.
The White House last Thursday asked the US Supreme Court to immediately reinstate Trump’s stalled travel ban, aiming to reverse a string of courtroom losses since the measure was first introduced in January and then amended in March.
At issue is Trump’s executive order temporarily barring entry into the US by people from six predominantly Muslim countries in what the White House has described as an effort to protect the country from terrorists.
The administration asked the court to let the ban take effect while the justices decide whether to review a lower-court ruling that said the policy was “steeped in animus and directed at a single religious group”.
About eight minutes after his original tweet, Trump followed up with an expression of concern: “Whatever the US can do to help out in London and the UK, we will be there — WE ARE WITH YOU. GOD BLESS!” — Bloomberg