The knife attack on Friday near London Bridge that killed two and injured three others is yet another reminder of the threat lone-wolf assaults pose to public security. The attacker, Usman Khan, who was born in the U.K. to immigrants from Pakistan-held Kashmir , was a convicted terrorist. He was released in December 2018 with conditions after serving half his jail term. On Friday, Khan was attending a prisoner rehabilitation programme at Fishmongers’ Hall, a historic building on the northern end of London Bridge. Wearing a fake explosive vest, he first threatened to blow up the building and then went on a killing spree. He was driven out of the hall by members of the public and was later shot dead by the police. This is the latest in a series of terror attacks the U.K., especially London, has seen in recent years. In June 2017, terrorists had rammed a van into pedestrians on the Bridge and stabbed people in nearby bars and restaurants. In the same month, a van ran into pedestrians outside a London mosque. In May that year, a suicide bomber killed 22 concert-goers in Manchester. With the latest attack, which the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for, Khan at least succeeded in keeping the threat of terror to London alive.
While radicalisation is the primary problem, Friday’s attack also points to security, intelligence and systemic failures. While the British intelligence is often credited for foiling dozens of terrorist attacks since the 2005 London train bombings that killed 56, less sophisticated, less coordinated, often lone-wolf attacks are on the rise. Usman was convicted in 2012 for being part of an al-Qaeda-linked plot to bomb the London Stock Exchange. He was sentenced under the imprisonment for public protection (IPP) programme, which allowed the authorities to keep him, or convicts considered a threat to the public, in prison indefinitely. But when the Conservative-Liberal government withdrew the IPP, he got the verdict overturned and was sentenced to 16 years. Under the automatic early release scheme, he was freed in 2018 with an electronic tag and supposed to be monitored. But the police still could not prevent the knife attack. And with hardly two weeks to go before the parliamentary election, both Labour and the Tories have taken the issue to the political battle and promised to address the systemic issues — making policing more efficient and reviewing the early release scheme. While these could take time and are up to the next government, what is needed is a good counter-terror plan to tackle both extremism among youth and prevent lone-wolf attacks that often go undetected. For this, state agencies need to work with civil society groups as well as community leaders and have deradicalisation programmes. There is no one-stop solution to terrorism.