The London attack: It’s getting harder to keep calm and carry on

It’s a fool’s errand to predict the location of the next attack, even if there is a ghoulish certainty that another is coming

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May addresses the media following a COBRA meeting in response to Saturday night's London terror attack. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May addresses the media following a COBRA meeting in response to Saturday night’s London terror attack. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

The third terror attack in under three months has Britons wondering what can be done to stop them.

When London’s Borough Market is in full swing, there is no better place in the city to stock up on fruit, vegetables, fish, meat, cheese, and sweets. Visitors and regulars alike spend hours wandering its tangle of Victorian-era stalls.

At night, the same area is teeming with the painfully hip drinking and dining in some of London’s best bars and restaurants. Tucked in along the south bank of the River Thames, the location is a favourite for revellers because of its stellar transport links; the market is opposite London Bridge station, with its connections to all corners of this massive city.

So when three knife-wielding terrorists driving a white van struck London Bridge and Borough Market last night, they had a broad canvas on which to paint their brutal terror.

Despite police and emergency services responding a mere eight minutes after the first report of trouble, the attackers were able to plow their vehicle into pedestrians on London Bridge before exiting near the market to stab passersby at random, killing seven and injuring dozens more, many seriously. Fortunately police were able to kill the three attackers, who police later said were wearing fake suicide vests.

Britain’s leaders were quick to signal that Britons would not be cowed by the attack, which comes a short five days before citizens go to the polls to pick their next government. Despite these assurances, the parties went ahead and announced a suspension of their election campaigns.

If Saturday night’s cycle of events felt eerily familiar, it’s because random attacks of terror are becoming routine for Britain.

RELATED: A timeline of U.K. terror attacks

In late March, a 52-year-old British Muslim convert, Khalid Masood, drove across Westminster Bridge in a rental van, swerving into pedestrians and killing four, before continuing on foot onto the grounds of the Palace of Westminster to kill Keith Palmer, a policeman tasked with protecting Britain’s Parliament.

Two months later, 22-year-old British Muslim Salman Abedi detonated himself outside the Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena, killing 22 and wounding scores more. The callous and deadly attack pushed the U.K.’s terror-warning threat level to “severe”—indicating other attacks were imminent—before it dropped late last week down to “critical”.

Then came last night’s strike. So much for the perfect warning system. That it didn’t detect three collaborators plotting together will be worrisome to officials.

Nevertheless, the mood, for now, remains calm; Britons are stoic by nature and have considerable experience with terror. The “troubles” of Northern Ireland plagued these shores in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, before Islamic radicals struck the transport system in 2005 and killed fusilier Lee Rigby on a London street in 2013.

It’s the random nature and increasing frequency of this latest series of attacks—coupled with their relatively modest means—that has set Britain on edge.

READ MORE: Britain’s shattered illusion of immunity

The Houses of Parliament. Teeny boppers at a pop concert. Londoners out on the tiles. It’s a fool’s errand to predict the location of the next attack, even if there is a ghoulish certainty that another is coming. The police simply don’t have the resources to track every man, van and knife to prevent them.

Expect, however, for some to call for far more stringent measures in the wake of London Bridge. The Manchester bombing had one popular right-wing commentator calling for a “final solution” to Islamic terror. She was subsequently fired for her trouble. Another wondered if internment of Muslims on the current anti-terror watch list wasn’t possible. More moderate souls will be wondering if there isn’t more to be done if this latest attack is, as expected, the work of Islamic terrorists.

But short of telling everyone to remain at home and avoid public places, there is no surefire plan to prevent more death. U.K. residents have no choice but to continue to place their faith in the police and intelligence services.

Britain certainly carried on Sunday morning, with Theresa May meeting with ministers and officials to discuss the attack and to receive updates on ongoing anti-terror efforts. She emerged railing against Islamist ideology and pledging to crack down on terrorist “safe spaces,” whether online or in the real world. She also announced the election would continue on as scheduled for June 8.

It’s not clear how the latest attack will impact each party’s electoral prospects. Given their perceived advantage on combatting Islamic terror, a poll boost was expected for the Conservatives following the Manchester attack. The opposite materialized, albeit for reasons other than terrorism policy.

Heading into the final weekend of the campaign, it was Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn—a man with a history of coddling terrorists and dictators—who had whittled down Theresa May’s lead to as little as one point, according to one survey. Others had the Conservatives more comfortably ahead. It will be up to Tory strategists to decide whether—and how hard—to press for advantage in the wake of yet another tragedy.

It’s likely Conservatives will stick with the approach of more of the same, albeit with more vigour and harsher rhetoric. But there’s a limit to exploiting the attack. If pressed, May knows these attacks have happened under her watch and that she doesn’t have any ready answers on how to prevent them.

As the former head of Britain’s Home Office, May knows her country’s existing anti-terror initiatives—such as the flagship Prevent program—assume a long, slow road to radicalization with clear signals from those aiming to matriculate to terror. The reality, thanks to the internet, is now different, and the supply of susceptible material much greater, given the willingness with which many muslim Britons have embraced the civil wars in Syria and Libya. With Mosul falling and Raqqa under threat, more will surely be coming home to roost.

May’s early comments in response to the London Bridge attack signal that she will attempt to pin some of the blame on the internet companies who allow terrorists to congregate online and propagate their messages of hate. More clearly needs to be done online, and whoever wins Thursday’s election will have the issue at the top of their inbox, right next to Brexit. The recent pace of attacks demands it.

Until new policies are drafted and implemented, Britain’s anti-terror forces will have to continue earning their reputation as the most effective in the world.

And U.K. citizens will have to visit markets, attend plays and concerts, and gather for sporting events with one eye on their surroundings, wondering whether the van approaching or the bloke with a backpack is the author of the nation’s next tragedy.


The London attack: It’s getting harder to keep calm and carry on

  1. If 1) you can’t predict where the next attack will come and 2) the attackers will avoid the police the only answer is for some (not all or even most) people to be equipped and prepared to defend themselves and other innocent people in the hope that the carnage can be deterred, mitigated or even stopped.

    • Sorry, but that is not the only answer. In fact it is not the answer at all. I think that you’ve been watching too many movies.

      The answer is the deportation without trial of all suspects together with their families … guilty or not.

      Believe it or not, if a Muslim (any Muslim) believes the words of the Qur’an then, by definition, they are sympathizers. This policy will cause enormous repercussions throughout Islamic groups because of its DETERRENCE factor.

      Think about it, and suggest a better idea, but no more ‘Love thy neighbour’.

      • What is the deterrence value of deporting people who expect to die? WRT deporting the suspect’s families- to where? Most will be British citizens? Why would other nations take them? How? Your plan is clearly illegal. Have you thought that seeing a Muslim family deported might spur on more terrorism?

        So no, illegal and impractical solutions aren’t needed.

        • # Your first question is puerile.
          # Muslims in the UK, even those born there, have dual citizenship (assuming that they even have UK citizenship). Deportation during a state of emergency, without appeal, to their country of origin (or a refugee camp i Saudi Arabia).
          # “Illegal”? A typical wet liberal answer.
          # As I said originally, you have no answer. Perhaps you will have an answer when these events take place in Canada.

      • During WWII in England, those whose origins were of countries not friendly to Britain had curfews, didn’t they. First of all, that would mean to stop immigration for the time being. One would think some acquaintances would have seen signs of an impending attack. I know we’re not supposed to consider this to be a Muslim problem, and that we are meant to call such inferences Islamophobia, but I feel like Theresa May right now. It’s just too much.

        But I imagine your suggestion of belief in the Quran is taking it a bit too far. Most of them are against such terrorism too. But efforts to get more mosques and Muslims themselves involved in seeking out and preventing the growth of terrorism has got to be the way. Stop immigration and place more responsibility on Muslims already in Britain to help young men integrate and to watch for trouble.

        • Ah, WWII, I remember it well.
          I like PM May (as a person) but, to be honest, she is not Margaret Thatcher or Winston Churchill. She just calls (again) for another review. If she can’t make a difficult decision (on the verge of an election) she should follow President Trump’s example and hand over the decision-making to the heads of Defence and Security.
          This IS a Muslim problem, and it IS Islamophobia, and so it must be, considering the terrorists in Manchester, London, and elsewhere.
          Of course, the majority of Muslims are peace-loving people like you and I (I’ve lived and worked amongst them) but they are torn by the ideology and morals that they believe in a way that Christians no longer understand, and that creates the problem … they can’t speak out.
          It may be relevant to describe a friend of mine, a science professor with a PhD. He recently returned from Mecca where he went as a pilgrimage. Is he proof that there is a difference between education and intelligence?

  2. Western Europe is in a death spiral.

    • Yeah the Napoleonic wars, WWI and the trenches, WWII and the Nazis….they were piffle.

      A buncha kids with knives now…….end of the world.

      • If you don’t count plane/train attacks than 2015 was the highest number of terror related deaths in Western Europe ever. Now that access to planes and trains is much more contolled the mass terror attacks from the 70s are much fewer.

        What is a “kid” in your mind?

        Manchester bomber was 22.
        London terror attacker in March was 52.

        “While the majority are in their early to mid-20s when they become radicalised, a small but not insignificant minority first become involved in violent extremism over the age of 30. Those over 30 are just as likely to have a wife and children as to be loners with no ties. MI5 says this challenges the idea that terrorists are young Muslim men.”

        • Wimp.

          • As usual your comments are tasteless and personal attacks.
            Of course you’re wrong again.
            2 of the killers ages were 30 and 27. These are not kid’s. These are full grown adults. You’re ability to justify terror because it’s being perpetuated by kids is absolutely disgusting.

        • They’re being used as tools. Pre-internet they’d pay ‘locals’ to stir things up. Technology has advanced soooo far.

          Follow the money. It’s disgusting.

          • These Comments are turning into mockery of a very serious situation. This country has the same illusion of immunity that existed in the UK. Are we prepared?

        • Oooh and you think that finding a couple of older people makes you right. LOL

          You are SUCH a loser.