Jane's Aerospace Defense and Security Blog

Third major attack in the UK in under three months underlines intensification of terrorism threat




On 3 June, three suspected Islamist militants used a vehicle to drive into pedestrians on London Bridge in the UK capital London, before disembarking on foot and proceeding to indiscriminately stab people at the nearby Borough Market area, a location filled with busy restaurants and bars. The three suspects killed eight people and wounded at least 48 others, with an undisclosed number of ‘walking wounded’ not requiring hospitalisation also treated following the attack. The Islamic State claimed the attack through its Amaq news agency on 4 June.

The attack marked the third major Islamist militant attack in the UK in less than three months, after a vehicle-impact attack and knife attack in Westminster on 22 March and a suicide improvised explosive device (IED) attack in Manchester on 22 May. The three attacks resulted in a total of 34 fatalities and more than 200 wounded.

Significance

The increased frequency of such attacks and their intensity likely indicates a substantial increase in the pool of potential attackers during that period, straining security forces’ capabilities to identify and monitor high-risk suspects and networks effectively. The Islamic State’s emergence as a global militant Islamist group has also led to more attractive calls to join an armed campaign, increasing the number of individuals willing to conduct attacks in the West in the name of the group but without formal or established organisational and operational links.

 The weapons and tactics used fit within militant Islamist tactical trends observed for the UK. The combined vehicle-impact and knife attack was the same as the tactic employed by Khalid Masood, the perpetrator of the 22 March Westminster attack claimed by the Islamic State. Indeed, similar low-capability means are most likely to be employed in the UK due to factors such as strict gun control legislation and the poor availability of small-arms through both legal and illicit channels. JTIC continues to forecast that attacks utilising both low-capability weapons such as vehicles or knives, or in rarer cases improvised weapons, such as the type of IED used in the Manchester attack, remain the most likely.

Tactics

The London Bridge attack was particularly notable for being conducted by a group of three suspects, with both the Westminster and Manchester attacks conducted by a single person. Though investigations remain ongoing and it is unclear whether the attackers are part of a larger network, received external support, or were in communication with known militant groups, the size of the cell suggests a conspiracy and an immediately clear level of organisation, coordination, and planning. The low-capability weapons used in the attack, however, do not provide any indications of a wider support network, as they could have been sourced without assistance or raising suspicion. The Islamic State has also frequently encouraged the conducting of knife attacks in its English-language propaganda, including in recent issues of its Rumiyah magazine and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)’s Inspire. Additionally, the targeting of an entertainment area aligned with the Islamic State’s calls for attacks, and was similar to restaurant and bar targets selected by Islamic State militants in Paris on 13 November 2015.

Otso Iho, Senior Analyst, Jane’s Terrorism & Insurgency Centre (JTIC), Jane's by IHS Markit
Posted 8 June 2017

About The Author

Senior Analyst Country Risk – Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre (JTIC)

Otso Iho is a Senior Analyst at the Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre, covering terrorism on a global scale. He joined IHS Markit after spending two years at risk consultancy PGI Intelligence, where he provided analysis on security and business risk for clients primarily in the Oil & Gas, Mining, Maritime & Shipping, and Aviation sectors. Prior to PGI, Otso worked as an analyst at the IHS Markit Jane’s Aerospace, Defence & Security consulting team. He has also worked for Control Risks Group and the International Centre for Security Analysis at the King’s Policy Institute, working on corporate investigations and nuclear security & non-proliferation, respectively.

Otso has been invited to speak to law enforcement, defence, and government personnel on terrorism and security issues at a number of events, including the Counter-Terrorism Regional Leaders’ Forum in Thailand, the CBRNe World Convergence in the United States, and the Royal United Services Institute’s UK Project on Nuclear Issues in the United Kingdom. Over the course of five weeks in Southeast Asia and Australia over the past year, he has addressed more than 1,000 people in the national security and government sectors on terrorism threats posed by Islamist militancy in Southeast Asia. Most recently, he was heard as an expert witness for the Australian federal prosecution service in a terrorism case in Victoria, Australia, in May 2017.

Otso holds an MA in Terrorism, Security & Society from Kings College London (KCL), where he specialised in right-wing extremism, populist radical right social movements and anti-Muslim violence in Europe and the United States. He also holds a BA from University College London, where he focused on policing and the application of state violence in Russia and Eastern Europe. Otso speaks native Finnish, fluent English, limited working proficiency German, and elementary Hungarian.