Terror fears reignited after Westminster crash
How alarmed should we be by this incident? Yesterday morning, a car deliberately swerved into commuters before crashing near Parliament. London experienced an awful sense of deja vu.
Just after 7.30am yesterday morning, the bustle of the London rush hour was pierced by screams. A car had swerved into the wrong lane, hitting cyclists and pedestrians before crashing into the security barriers outside the Houses of Parliament, which were installed in the wake of the 7/7 bombings. Three people were hurt, but fortunately none of their injuries were life-threatening.
“I was told basically to… run for my life,” recounted an eyewitness, recalling a scene of panic.
In moments, police swooped on the suspect, dragging him from the vehicle and bundling him away in handcuffs. The man, identified as 29-year-old Salih Khater, was arrested on terror offences.
Westminster remained on lockdown throughout the day. Later, Cobra held an emergency meeting to discuss the threat.
Police have received widespread praise for charging towards danger in the seconds after the collision, with Prime Minister Theresa May hailing their “immediate and courageous response”. This year, UK police received an extra £50 million for extra surveillance, training and patrols to fight terrorism.
The incident is horribly reminiscent of the attack on Westminster Bridge in March 2017, when Khalid Masood fatally ran over four people. It was one of several deadly vehicle attacks to strike Europe in recent years with targets including Nice, Barcelona and Berlin.
Security experts have rushed to counter the threat. The UK now has a team of dedicated police officers, engineers, architects and other experts who advise on protecting crowded areas from vehicle attacks. Common measures include “hardening” potential targets with special barriers and bollards that can withstand direct impacts. At Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, giant letters spelling out the club’s name double as a massive shield.
But yesterday’s incident is a reminder that the danger remains.
How alarmed should we be by this incident?
Climate of fear
We must take it seriously, say some. It was very lucky no one was killed and the events serve as a reminder of a growing trend of unsophisticated, lone wolf attacks that are almost impossible to anticipate and prevent. Westminster is one of the best-policed areas of the capital. Should terrorists turn towards soft targets that aren’t as well defended, the consequences could be grave indeed.
We needn’t panic, respond others. The rapid and effective response shows how well-prepared police are for this kind of assault. It’s important not to blow the incident out of proportion: no one was dangerously injured and the threat was shut down immediately. The security barriers did their job and similar measures are in place across the country.
- Do you worry about terror attacks? Why/why not?
- Are our city centres safe?
- Define the term “terrorist”. Discuss your answer with your classmates. Is there anything you disagree about?
- Draw your own plan for a safe town centre, including barriers and any other measures you can think of to protect against attacks.
Some People Say...
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”Nelson Mandela
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- Salih Khater, 29, was arrested on suspicion of terror offences yesterday morning after his vehicle swerved into cyclists and pedestrians shortly after 7.30am, injuring three people. The suspect is not believed to be known to counter-terror officials but was known to local police. Scotland Yard said it is treating it as a “terrorist incident” and police are carrying out searches in Birmingham and Nottingham.
- What do we not know?
- What motivated Khater. He is now being questioned by police at a station in South London. No weapons were found in the car. While the UK’s threat level remains at severe, meaning an attack is likely, officials say there is no evidence of further danger to London or the UK as a whole.
- 7/7 bombings
- Coordinated suicide terrorist bombings struck London on July 7 2005, killing 52 people. The tragedy sparked an overhaul of security in the capital.
- Salih Khater
- A British citizen originally from Sudan in northeast Africa.
- An emergency response committee of government ministers, civil servants, the police, intelligence officers and other relevant individuals.
- PC Keith Palmer was the fifth victim. Though unarmed, the officer was fatally stabbed while stopping Masood entering the Houses of Parliament. He was awarded the George Medal for bravery after his death.
- Lone wolf
- We do not yet know whether the suspect was acting alone, but there has been a rise in the number of attacks carried out by an individual rather than an organised group. These can be particularly hard to predict.
- Soft targets
- A location that is relatively unprotected or vulnerable, especially to military or terrorist attack. For example, police would respond to an attack in the countryside much slower than one in central London.