Terror has returned to the British capital once again. A suspect, wearing a fake suicide vest, stabbed two people to death on the London Bridge before he was shot dead by police. This raises two major questions, one on the identity of the attacker and the other why British authorities have lowered the threat level of terrorist incidents.
The suspect will be once again be linked to radical Islamic extremism. The attacker, identified as 28-year-old Usman Khan, was convicted in 2012 for terrorism offences after plotting two bomb targets including one at the London Stock Exchange. He was sentenced to eight years in prison but was released last year after agreeing to wear an ankle monitor. It is also suspected though not proven that the attacker, whose family hailed from Azad Kashmir, received militant training in Pakistan.
The fact that a violent attacker known to authorities carried out the attack will raise questions. He even attended a conference on prisoner rehabilitation the same day before carrying out the attack. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told his cabinet that it was a mistake to allow serious and violent criminals out of prison early. Local authorities are praising the bravery of a bystander who brought the attacker down.
The attack bears a close resemblance to the 2017 Westminster attack involving ISIS-inspired extremists in a van who ploughed into pedestrians on the bridge before attacking people randomly with knives at a nearby market. Eight people were killed and 48 others were wounded before the attacker was shot dead.
On November 4, Britain downgraded its terrorism threat level from “severe”, the second-highest of five levels to “substantial”. This is the lowest rating in more than five years and is bound to raise eyebrows. Britain is gearing to hold elections on December 12 before Christmas and security levels should have been heightened.
The latest attack highlights the persistent threat posed to Britain and other European nations, both by lone wolfs and trained terrorists. The UK has seen a decline in counter-terrorism funding since 2015, leaving citizens vulnerable and making such attacks likely to occur again.