LONDON (REUTERS/AFP) - Prime Minister Theresa May said Britain had to be tougher in stamping out Islamist extremism after attackers killed at least seven people by ramming a van into pedestrians on London Bridge and stabbing revellers in nearby bars.
After the third militant attack in Britain in less than three months, May said Thursday’s national election would go ahead. But she proposed regulating cyberspace and said Britain had been far too tolerant of extremism.
“It is time to say enough is enough,” the Conservative leader said outside her Downing Street office, where British flags flew at half-staff. “We cannot and must not pretend that things can continue as they are,” May said, adding that Britain was under attack from a new breed of crude copycat militants.
One French national and one Canadian were among those killed. At least 48 people were injured in the attack. Australia said one of its citizens was among the injured.
Several political parties including Mrs May's Conservatives and the main opposition Labour Party suspended campaigning on Sunday, but Mrs May said it would resume on Monday (June 5).
"As a mark of respect the two political parties have suspended our national campaigns for today, but violence can never be allowed to disrupt the democratic process, so those campaigns will resume in full tomorrow and the general election will go ahead as planned on Thursday," she said in a televised statement in front of her Downing Street office.
She also condemned the “evil ideology of Islamist extremism” as being behind three terror attacks in Britain since March, saying the perpetrators were “copying one another”.
While not part of the same plot, “they are connected in one important sense. They are bound together by the evil ideology of Islamist extremism,” she said, adding that the “perpetrators are inspired to attack... by copying one another”.
Three assailants drove a van at pedestrians on London Bridge late on Saturday (June 3) night before getting out of the van in the bustling Borough Market area and stabbing a number of people.
All three attackers were shot dead by police within eight minutes of the first emergency call to officers.
Mark Rowley, head of counter-terrorism police, said eight officers had fired about 50 bullets to stop the attackers, who appeared to be suicide bombers because they were wearing what turned out to be fake suicide vests.
“The situation these officers were confronted with was critical: a matter of life and death,” Rowley said. “I am humbled by the bravery of an officer who will rush towards a potential suicide bomber thinking only of protecting others.”
A member of the public received non-critical gunshot wounds during the incident, he said.
Mrs May said on Sunday the strategy for dealing with terrorism needed to be reviewed in four ways. She mentioned beefing up jail sentences for terrorism offences and additional cyberspace regulations as possible areas of policy change.
The attack was the third to hit Britain in quick succession after a similar incident on Westminster Bridge in March and a suicide bombing that killed 22 people at a pop concert in Manchester, northern England, less than two weeks ago.
“We cannot and must not pretend that things can continue as they are,” Mrs May said.
“We believe we are experiencing a new trend in the threat we face as terrorism breeds terrorism, and perpetrators are inspired to attack not only on the basis of carefully constructed plots after years of planning and training, and not even as lone attackers radicalised online, but by copying one another and often using the crudest of means of attack.”
She listed four areas where she said change needed to take place. The first was the fight against the “evil ideology”inspiring the repeated attacks, which she called a perversion of Islam and of the truth.
The fight could not be won through military intervention alone, she said, adding that there was a need to defend pluralistic British values that were superior to anything offered by the “preachers of hate”.
Secondly, Mrs May said, new regulations were needed to reduce the space available to extremists online.
“We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed. Yet that is precisely what the Internet and the big companies that provide internet-based services provide,” Mrs May said. “We need to work with allied democratic governments to reach international agreements that regulate cyberspace.”
Thirdly, she said, more needed to be done to identify and stamp out extremism across British society.
The fourth area was the counter-terrorism strategy, which Mrs May said was robust but needed to be reviewed in light of the changing threat.
She said that if an increase in jail sentences for terrorism-related offences, even apparently minor ones, were needed, then it would be done.