Terror attack in central London highlights growing risk of lone-wolf attacks

On March 22nd, a terror attack occurred in Central London. An armed man in his vehicle plowed through pedestrians on Westminster Bridge before coming to a halt in front of the British parliament. Where he then stabbed a police officer, who later died. The offender was later killed by police. The attack was felt across the nation and abroad.

The United Kingdom that has not witnessed such a deadly attack since the London Bombings on July 7th, 2005, which crippled the city’s public transportation network.

It is important to note that an attack right at the heart of the British democracy is not something unpredictable.The British government is constantly on alert for such incidents, and has a “severe” threat level for international terrorism. Similar attacks in Nice and Berlin also serve as a grim reminder of how terrorism is changing the current security landscape.

While larger groups such as Al-Qaeda and Islamic State continue to pose a threat, the attack at the British parliament mimics a “lone-wolf” attack.These kind of attacks are easy to organize, but hard to prevent. An investigation into the identity and the motive of the attacker by Scotland Yard is still ongoing. However, the influence of Islamist militant groups, particularly Islamic State (IS), in encouraging such attacks should not be ruled out.

More importantly, the stronger surveillance conducted by intelligence agencies has also made such style of attack more attractive, as it fuels insecurity among the local populace. From a practical point of view, all three attacks namely London, Berlin, and Nice also involved a vehicle that rammed through crowded places enabling the attackers to maximize the number of casualties. Not to mention the psychological impacts for those who were at the scene or watched news footage at home.

As highlighted, the continuous insecurity presented by this new paradigm in the war against terror will likely linger for years to come. The unpredictability of lone-wolf attacks has also underscored the difficulty in protecting “soft targets” by the authorities. It is always important for travelers to be vigilant and aware of their surroundings particularly in crowded places.

Technology can also be used to minimize the impact of such an incident. For instance, Safeture continued to provide updated information about the attack in London with the first message sent out to users minutes after initial reports emerged. Shortly after, another message followed containing pertinent information about the attack and its circumstances as well as casualty figures. As the investigation continued, users were also being provided practical information on traveling around the Westminster Bridge area due to the ongoing police investigation. Users were also provided alternative travel routes, which helps emergency services access the area.

Here are some advice for travelers if a terrorist attack occurs:

  • Remain calm.
  • Follow the instruction of emergency personnel
  • Listen to local media broadcasts for further information
  • Avoid all non-essential traveling to affected area until clearance is given by the authorities.

Chan Hoi Cheong
GWS Analyst
Security risk analyst based in Kuala Lumpur

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