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Third major attack in the UK in under three months underlines intensification of terrorism threat

08 June 2017 Otso Iho

On 3 June, three suspected Islamist militants used a vehicle to drive into pedestrians on London Bridge in the UK capital London, before disembarking on foot and proceeding to indiscriminately stab people at the nearby Borough Market area, a location filled with busy restaurants and bars. The three suspects killed eight people and wounded at least 48 others, with an undisclosed number of 'walking wounded' not requiring hospitalisation also treated following the attack. The Islamic State claimed the attack through its Amaq news agency on 4 June.

The attack marked the third major Islamist militant attack in the UK in less than three months, after a vehicle-impact attack and knife attack in Westminster on 22 March and a suicide improvised explosive device (IED) attack in Manchester on 22 May. The three attacks resulted in a total of 34 fatalities and more than 200 wounded.

Significance

The increased frequency of such attacks and their intensity likely indicates a substantial increase in the pool of potential attackers during that period, straining security forces' capabilities to identify and monitor high-risk suspects and networks effectively. The Islamic State's emergence as a global militant Islamist group has also led to more attractive calls to join an armed campaign, increasing the number of individuals willing to conduct attacks in the West in the name of the group but without formal or established organisational and operational links.

The weapons and tactics used fit within militant Islamist tactical trends observed for the UK. The combined vehicle-impact and knife attack was the same as the tactic employed by Khalid Masood, the perpetrator of the 22 March Westminster attack claimed by the Islamic State. Indeed, similar low-capability means are most likely to be employed in the UK due to factors such as strict gun control legislation and the poor availability of small-arms through both legal and illicit channels. JTIC continues to forecast that attacks utilising both low-capability weapons such as vehicles or knives, or in rarer cases improvised weapons, such as the type of IED used in the Manchester attack, remain the most likely.

Tactics

The London Bridge attack was particularly notable for being conducted by a group of three suspects, with both the Westminster and Manchester attacks conducted by a single person. Though investigations remain ongoing and it is unclear whether the attackers are part of a larger network, received external support, or were in communication with known militant groups, the size of the cell suggests a conspiracy and an immediately clear level of organisation, coordination, and planning. The low-capability weapons used in the attack, however, do not provide any indications of a wider support network, as they could have been sourced without assistance or raising suspicion. The Islamic State has also frequently encouraged the conducting of knife attacks in its English-language propaganda, including in recent issues of its Rumiyah magazine and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)'s Inspire. Additionally, the targeting of an entertainment area aligned with the Islamic State's calls for attacks, and was similar to restaurant and bar targets selected by Islamic State militants in Paris on 13 November 2015.

Otso Iho, Senior Analyst, Jane's Terrorism & Insurgency Centre (JTIC), Jane's by IHS Markit
Posted 8 June 2017

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