Britain’s terrorist threat has been increased, meaning that an attack is “very likely” after the incidents in Austria and France, British officials said.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre had changed the level of the terrorist threat from “significant” to “serious” amid concerns about follow-up attacks across Europe.
“This is a precautionary measure and is not based on a specific threat,” and the British public should be “vigilant but not worried” as they increase policing across the country, Patel said. Significant steps have already been taken to change powers and strengthen the tools for dealing with evolving terrorist threats.
“As I said earlier, we face a real and serious terrorist threat in the UK,” she said, “I would ask the public to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to the police.
On Monday evening, four people were killed and 17 others injured following an alleged terrorist attack in the Austrian capital Vienna. Shooters armed with knives and rifles opened fire in the city center at six different locations, including one near a synagogue.
Three people died after a knife attack in Nice, France, last week while the teacher Samuel Paty was murdered in Paris in October.
The decision to raise the threat level of the United Kingdom was taken by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC). The JTAC is based at MI5 headquarters in London and is made up of anti-terrorism experts from the police, government and security agencies.
Last week, experts told Washington Newsday that further terrorist attacks were “inevitable” after the attacks in France had further fuelled tensions between the country and Muslim communities.
The level of the terrorist threat in Britain has been “significant” since November last year, when it was reduced from “serious” for the first time in five years. The threat level “serious” is the second highest, only “critical” is above it – it was reached in May 2017 following the bombing of an Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena.
The police investigating the attack in Austria have arrested 14 people in a series of raids throughout Vienna. One perpetrator, who is believed to be responsible for carrying out the attack, was shot dead at the scene. The man was a 20-year-old “Islamist terrorist” who was released early from prison in December 2019, said Austria’s Minister of the Interior Karl Nehammer.
A search for further attackers is underway, but authorities believe that the shooter shot by police may have acted alone. Some witnesses said they saw more than one shooter, and police are still evaluating about 20,000 cell phone videos of the events.
Elsewhere in Europe, France has recently suffered a flood of Islamist militant attacks involving “lone fighters” jihadists. The French history teacher Paty was beheaded by a Chechen youth outside a school in a suburb of Paris, who was then shot by police. When the French government introduced new measures to combat militant Islam, a Tunisian stabbed three people to death in a cathedral in Nice.
French President Emmanuel Macron said that Europe should not “give up” in the face of the attacks, as the heads of state and government had strongly condemned the shooting in Vienna. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “deeply shocked by the horrific attacks”. Patel said earlier that Britain was “ready to support us in every way possible”.