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Wednesday, 11 December

What Is The Terror Threat Level And Why

The threat to the UK (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) from terrorism now stands at 'Substantial'. The threat to Northern Ireland from Northern Ireland-related terrorism is 'Severe'.

The UK was last at Substantial in August 2014. Since then it has been at Severe, rising briefly to Critical on two occasions in May and September 2017.

In July this year the threat level system was changed to reflect all forms of terrorism, including from right and left wing terrorism.

 

Terrorism threat levels

The threat level indicates the likelihood of a terrorist attack in the UK. There are 5 levels of threat:

  • Low - an attack is highly unlikely.

  • Moderate - an attack is possible but not likely.

  • Substantial - an attack is likely.

  • Severe - an attack is highly likely.

  • Critical - an attack is highly likely in the near future

The level is set by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre and the Security Service (MI5).

Threat levels do not have an expiry date. They can change at any time as different information becomes available to security agents.

 

Neil Basu

Head of Counter Terrorism Policing, Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, said: "The reduction to ‘Substantial’ indicates positive developments in reducing the threat from terrorism but still means an attack is likely.

"Counter Terrorism Policing has around 800 live CT investigations nationally and 24 attack plots have been thwarted since the atrocity in Westminster in March 2017. So it is vital that we all maintain a high level of vigilance and continue to invest in strong protective security measures to deter future attacks

"Police need the continued support of the public and all our partners.

"Officers will continue to monitor the threat locally and respond appropriately. There will not be any change to our levels of commitment when it comes to protecting our communities."

 

Counter-terrorism

The Security Service (MI5) is responsible for protecting the UK against threats to national security.

The Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism coordinates the government’s response in case of a terrorist incident.

Counter-terrorism laws are enforced by the police.

 

Why?

In reaching a judgement on the appropriate threat level in any given circumstance several factors need to be taken into account. These include:

  • Available intelligence. It is rare that specific threat information is available and can be relied upon. More often, judgements about the threat will be based on a wide range of information, which is often fragmentary, including the level and nature of current terrorist activity, comparison with events in other countries and previous attacks. Intelligence is only ever likely to reveal part of the picture.

  • Terrorist capability. An examination of what is known about the capabilities of the terrorists in question and the method they may use based on previous attacks or from intelligence. This would also analyse the potential scale of the attack.

  • Terrorist intentions. Using intelligence and publicly available information to examine the overall aims of the terrorists and the ways they may achieve them including what sort of targets they would consider attacking.

  • Timescale. The threat level expresses the likelihood of an attack in the near term. We know from past incidents that some attacks take years to plan, while others are put together more quickly. In the absence of specific intelligence, a judgement will need to be made about how close an attack might be to fruition. Threat levels do not have any set expiry date, but are regularly subject to review in order to ensure that they remain current.

 

International terrorism

The UK threat level for international terrorism is currently at Severe, meaning an attack is highly likely. International terrorism refers to terrorism that goes beyond national boundaries in terms of the methods used, the people that are targeted or the places from which the terrorists operate.

Since the emergence of Al Qaida in the 1990s, international terrorism has become largely synonymous with Islamist terrorism. Terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq, including Al Qaida and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), possess both the intention and the capability to direct attacks against the West.

The UK is a high-priority target for Islamist extremists. Despite the current main focus on terrorism originating from Syria and Iraq, the threat of terrorism also emanates from other parts of the Middle-East and regions such as North, East and West Africa, South and South East Asia.

British nationals who have fought for extremist groups overseas continue to return to the UK, increasing the risk of terrorist attacks. Using skills acquired overseas, they may organise attacks under direction from outside the UK or on their own initiative or they might radicalise others to do so. While the majority of returners will not mount attacks in the UK, the large numbers involved mean it is likely that at least some of them will attempt to do so.

Picture: MI5.

 

Article written by Brian Shillibeer

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