After the murder of a young soldier on a busy London street on Wednesday, Britain is bracing for clashes with right-wing extremists and possible copycat terror attacks.
London’s Metropolitan Police said more than 1,000 officers will be sent to potential trouble spots with armed response units. But, only a fraction of Britain’s police officers are armed.
Terror analysts say the attackers wanted the publicity to inspire copycat attacks, and that they are already seeing an increase in chatter on extremist sites calling for such attacks. A British government official who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed the increase in such chatter since Wednesday’s attack but added that no specific or credible plots had been detected at this point.
The bloody attack was captured on video by passersby and made for gruesome viewing. In the video, one man is seen with his hands stained red, holding two butcher’s knives as he angrily complained about the British Government and troops in foreign lands. A lifeless body is seen on the street behind him.
“We can see the tempo being raised,” said Maajid Nawaz, a former jihadist who is now with the London-based anti-extremist Quilliam Foundation. “One of the reasons why these guys acted in this theatrical way was because of the propaganda effect so others would be inspired to do the same thing. The nature of these attacks is such that they are so easy to do.”
Right-wing extremists, meanwhile, said they would be holding demonstrations over the coming weeks. Several dozen gathered on the night of the slaying to protest.
Britain’s domestic spy agency of MI5 has long warned of the difficulties in predicting self-starter attacks, or attacks that are inspired, not necessarily organised by larger groups.
With the weakening of al-Qaeda’s leadership structure in Afghanistan and Pakistan, there has been an increase in lone-wolf attacks, which are low-tech and relatively easy to pull off.
Both suspects in the soldier’s killing were on the agency’s radar for as long as six years. Video footage showed one of the men at a 2007 rally with Anjem Choudary, former leader of the banned extremist group al-Muhajiroun.
But the men weren’t necessarily the focus of any specific investigation, the official said. “It is a democratic right to protest in this country,” said the official. “Not everyone who shows up at a demonstration, even though they may say or believe in things that we don’t, will turn to violence.”