UK to mark first anniversary of Westminster Bridge attack

Joggers run along Westminster bridge in Westminster, central London on Jan 17, 2018.
Joggers run along Westminster bridge in Westminster, central London on Jan 17, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - Britain will on Thursday (March 22) mark the one year anniversary of the terror attack on Westminster Bridge, the first in a series of militant assaults in the United Kingdom in 2017 that killed dozens of people and left scores injured.

On March 22 last year, Khalid Masood, a 52-year-old British convert to Islam, mowed down with a car pedestrians on the bridge over the River Thames in the heart of the London, before fatally stabbing a policeman on guard outside parliament.

The attack killed five people and injured around 50, and only ended when Masood was shot dead by police.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group claimed responsibility, but investigators have said they found no evidence of an association.

The incident mirrored truck attacks in Europe, including the 2016 Bastille Day assault in Nice that killed 86 people, and a similar attack months later on a Christmas market in Berlin that claimed 12 lives.

Britain endured a tumultuous period following the March 22 rampage, with four further terror attacks, including three in the capital at London Bridge, Finsbury Park and Parsons Green tube station.

"It was a sick and depraved attack on the streets of our capital, but what I remember most is the exceptional bravery of our police and security services, who risked their lives to keep us safe," British Prime Minister Theresa May told the House of Commons on Wednesday.

With Mrs May in Brussels on Thursday, Interior Minister Amber Rudd and Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom will attend a commemorative event in Westminster Hall, inside the parliamentary complex, on Thursday to mark the anniversary.

'HORRIFIC TERROR ATTACKS'

Mr Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, has announced plans for the hashtag "LondonUnited" to be displayed at the locations targeted on the anniversaries of each attack, with the phrase projected onto the Houses of Parliament on Thursday.

A 3D installation of #LondonUnited will also be located at City Hall, home to Mr Khan's devolved administration, where the public will be able to pay their respects and sign a "digital book of hope".

Mr Khan said the commemoration was drawn up after consultation with 14 bereaved families, survivors, the emergency services and local councils.

"Londoners will never forget the horrific terror attacks on our city in 2017," the mayor added in a statement.

"These were not only attacks on our city and our country, but on the very heart of our democracy and the values we cherish most - freedom, justice and tolerance."

Police officers and others are expected to observe a minute's silence at 9.33am, which corresponds to 933, the number of police officer Keith Palmer, who was killed in the attack.

A similar tribute was held at that time on March 23 last year at New Scotland Yard, the headquarters of London's Metropolitan Police, and in the House of Commons.

'CLOSE TO DEATH'

Mrs May's government has called for people to remain vigilant, while Britain's threat level for international terrorism is set at severe, the second highest.

It means an attack is "highly likely".

Last year, British anti-terrorism officials received some 31,000 reports by telephone or internet, according to the authorities.

Just over a fifth of this information was used by the police in investigations, or added to their terrorism databases.

Last October, Mr Andrew Parker, head of MI5, Britain's domestic intelligence service, stressed that the pace and scale of terrorist activity had accelerated "dramatically".

He said the tempo of counter-terrorism operations was the highest he had seen in his 34-year career at MI5.

"This pace, together with the way extremists can exploit safe spaces online, can make threats harder to detect," he said.

One year on from the March 22 attack, Mr Francisco Lopes, 27, recalled being "close to death".

He has since suffered from post-traumatic stress and had to stop working.

"I'm happy to be alive but it changed me," he told London's Evening Standard newspaper. "I had a big depression, I'm just trying to be happy again, which is hard on some days, I'm anxious, I'm afraid of traffic."

The attack has also prompted the authorities to strengthen London's security apparatus.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan police said the force "continues to take appropriate steps to mitigate the risk from potential vehicle attacks".

"This includes barriers at crowded locations, such as eight bridges in London," he added.

Professor Jon Coaffee, of the University of Warwick's department of political and international studies, told AFP: "More public spaces and transport infrastructure have been protected by ad hoc concrete blocks or metal barriers."