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Terror attack remains 'highly likely' after 'shocking' incident outside Westminster

A car was driven into the barriers outside the Houses of Parliament in London today.

Forensics officers work near the car that crashed into security barriers outside the Houses of Parliament in London this morning.
Forensics officers work near the car that crashed into security barriers outside the Houses of Parliament in London this morning.
Image: Frank Augstein/AP/Press Association Images

A SPOKESMAN FOR British Prime Minister Theresa May has said the terror threat level remains severe – meaning an attack is highly likely.

Earlier today a man in his 20s was arrested on suspicion of terrorist offences after a silver Ford Fiesta was crashed into the barriers outside the Houses of Parliament in London shortly after 7.30am. No one was seriously injured.

May’s spokesman described the incident as “shocking”, according to Sky News.

He noted that since 2017 13 Islamist plots and four far-right terror plots have successfully been foiled in the UK. As of the end of June, security services were carrying out 676 live investigations.

Assistant Metropolitan Police Commissioner Neil Basu said the man arrested this morning is not cooperating with police.

“At this early stage of the investigation, no other suspects at the scene have been identified or reported to police. There is no intelligence of further danger to Londoners or the rest of the UK in connection with this incident.

Our priority is to formally identify the suspect and establish his motivations if we can.

Parliament Square was closed for several hours after the incident but has since reopened.

London has been the scene of a number of terror attacks in recent years. In March 2017 52-year-old Briton Khalid Masood drove a car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge and Bridge Street, killing five people and injuring dozens more. He then fatally stabbed a police officer before being shot dead by another officer.

In June 2017 a van was deliberative driven into pedestrians on London Bridge before its three occupants, Khuram Shazad Butt, Rachid Redouane and Youssef Zaghba, began stabbing innocent victims. The men killed eight people and injured dozens others before being shot dead by police.

Adapting its landscape

London has adapted the landscape around its major landmarks to protect them from terror attacks.

“Since the early 1990s, London has led the way in advancing urban counter-terrorist security in the form of ‘rings of steel’,” Professor Jon Coaffee, of the Resilient Cities Lab at the University of Warwick, told AFP.

The ‘ring of steel’ consists of strategically-positioned entry checkpoints, bollards and high-tech surveillance combined with visible policing at times of high threat.

Over the last 10 years, additional measures have been deployed throughout London, centred upon the so-called Government Security Zone encompassing the Whitehall ministries district surrounding the parliament.

The ‘ring of steel’ is also deployed for specific occasions, such as US President Donald Trump’s one-night stay at the American ambassador’s residence in the British capital in July. The building was surrounded by a temporary metal security fence.

Whitehall, targeted today, has extra security measures in place around parliament, with concrete barriers, bollards, concealed barriers and more obvious security measures.

Most were installed after the 9-11 attacks in the United States and the 2005 London bombings due to the fear of indiscriminate attacks against public places.

However, “over time, terrorist attacks have become more sophisticated, employing tactics and targeting locations which negate such traditional security architectures”, Coaffee said.

Since the Westminster Bridge attack last year, concrete blocks and metal barriers have appeared on the city’s bridges to prevent cars driving onto footpaths, at the entrances to public spaces and in front of transport hubs.

Yellow metal security arches have appeared on footpaths around Buckingham Palace, while barriers have been installed around Windsor Castle, the historic royal residence west of London.

In 2014, the City of London — the capital’s financial district — rolled out a large deployment of armed police in a bid to reassure the public and deter and detect terror activity.

The system — which also relies on the vigilance of the public and local businesses who are encouraged to report any unusual sightings — has since been copied in other British cities.

Contains reporting from © AFP 2018 

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Órla Ryan

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