Anger grows in Britain over security flaws

People observing a minute's silence on London Bridge yesterday to remember the seven people killed and dozens injured in the central London attack last Saturday.
People observing a minute's silence on London Bridge yesterday to remember the seven people killed and dozens injured in the central London attack last Saturday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

One assailant behind London attack was known to police, raising questions ahead of general election

LONDON • Britain held a minute's silence for the victims of the London terror attack yesterday, just two days before a general election, as questions mount over an assailant who was known to security services.

With flags flying at half mast, Britain fell silent as clocks struck 11am (6pm Singapore time) to remember the seven people killed and dozens injured in the central London attack last Saturday evening.

While Londoners have declared their defiance in the face of terror, bunches of flowers piling up point to a city in mourning less than three months since five people were killed outside the British Parliament in another attack.

"To the sick and evil extremists who commit these hideous crimes, we will defeat you. You will not win," London Mayor Sadiq Khan said to applause at a vigil on Monday.

Police have identified the attackers as Youssef Zaghba, a 22-year-old Italian of Moroccan descent, Khuram Shazad Butt, a 27-year-old Pakistan-born Briton, and Rachid Redouane, a 30-year-old self-described Moroccan-Libyan dual national. All were shot dead by police.

Police also said they made an overnight raid in east London and arrested a 27-year-old man yesterday. Twelve people arrested earlier have since been released.

"Khuram Shazad Butt was known to the police and MI5. However, there was no intelligence to suggest that this attack was being planned," the Metropolitan Police said.

The announcement that British intelligence services knew of Butt drew immediate criticism.

"There were some red lights flashing, certainly in the case of Mr Butt," Professor Michael Clarke, a fellow at the Royal United Services Institute defence and security think-tank, told the BBC.

The London attack followed the May 22 Manchester suicide bombing by Salman Abedi, who was also known to British intelligence services. The bombing killed 22 people.

"Certainly with Abedi in Manchester and Butt now, it looks as if there were some indications that on the face of it may have been missed, and I think that will be a great concern," Prof Clarke added.

As attention fell on Butt's path to extremism, British media reported he was in a Channel 4 documentary titled, The Jihadis Next Door, and numerous people alarmed by his views had gone to the authorities.

"Why didn't they stop a TV jihadi?" read The Sun front page, while The Daily Mirror asked: "So how the hell did he slip through?"

After a brief pause following the London attack, campaigning resumed on Monday, and the agenda has been dominated by security issues ahead of tomorrow's vote.

Prime Minister Theresa May has vowed to crack down on extremist content online, declaring: "We cannot and must not pretend that things can continue as they are."

But she has faced criticism for her record on security in her six years as interior minister before becoming prime minister last year.

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, when asked by ITV television if he backed calls for Mrs May to resign, said: "Indeed I would."

Between 2009 and last year, the number of police officers fell by almost 20,000, or around 14 per cent, according to the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies think-tank.

"What they miss, in cutting numbers of police on the beat, as it were, is that community intelligence," Prof Clarke told the BBC.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 07, 2017, with the headline 'Anger grows in Britain over security flaws'. Print Edition | Subscribe