Britain has been put on a high state of alert for another beheading attack on its streets, after intelligence services picked up a high level of “chatter” on the internet. Military and police personnel are likely to be primary targets, and have been warned not to wear their uniforms in public.
There has been a marked increase in the number of messages posted on social media urging ISIS sympathisers to carry out lone wolf attacks since September, when Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, one of the group’s leaders, called for “DIY attacks” in United States, France, Australia and Canada. In his message he urged supporters of the Islamic regime to “rise up and kill intelligence officers, police officers, soldiers and civilians” the Times has reported.
Now the British counterterrorism agencies have monitored “chatter” about staging attacks similar to those perpetrated by the Islamic State, in which they abduct a target, film their murder and release the footage on the internet.
Evidence from recently thwarted plots, together with information gathered from monitoring suspects has revealed conversations between British jihadists and militants claiming to be in Syria regarding attacks on soldiers and police.
“It’s a valid fear, probably the No 1 fear,” one counterterrorism source said. “Our gun laws make it very hard for them to carry out the sort of attacks that happened in Paris. But we know from Woolwich that the stabbing or beheading attack is easy to do and hard to stop.”
On New Year’s Eve, a tweet from a suspected jihadist in Syria was posted, reading “Allahu akbar! Islamic State has killed a British soldier in Britain in his own home.” The tweet sparked a major security response, with both police and intelligence services undertaking extensive enquiries before discounting the tweet. One member of staff recounted “We thought, ‘This is it, this is what we’ve been dreading.’ ”
In a re-run of events last December when police and soldiers were instructed not to wear their uniforms in public when travelling to and from work, British soldiers have again been told not to wear their uniforms, particularly if travelling through France.
Extra armed police have also been stationed at sites where soldiers perform ceremonial duties, and commanding officers have been given discretion to advise their troops against wearing uniform outside of barracks and bases.
A Whitehall source said: “It is down to local commanders and base commanders. A lot of the military don’t want to be cowed into not wearing uniform because they see it as a sign of weakness.”
Further advice on personal vigilance, such as keeping their occupation secret, is being repeatedly issued to members of the security forces.
Meanwhile, defence secretary Michael Fallon has informed his fellow MPs that security of military personnel was under regular review, and that senior defence personnel were again reviewing “our standing preparations for a terrorist attack, including the number and readiness of troops available to assist the police”.