Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism chief today urged Londoners to be on the alert for potential extremists as he warned a new attack on the capital is likely as the country emerges from lockdown.
Commander Richard Smith said counter-terrorism officers and MI5 are pursuing “800 different leads and investigations” into possible deadly plots and that the public’s help in providing further tip-offs was “vital” in preventing more killings.
He added there was a “real threat” that had “not gone away” during the pandemic and that the danger came from both lone jihadis and terrorists radicalised here, as well as others directed or inspired by Islamic State supporters overseas.
He said officers were also concerned about the risk of vulnerable people being radicalised online during the coronavirus lockdown, out of sight of teachers, health workers or others who might normally raise the alarm.
His comments follow the life sentence handed to 28-year-old Mohiussunnath Chowdhury at Woolwich crown court last month for plotting to attack last year’s Pride event in London and the jailing of Safiyya Shaikh, 37, for her plan to bomb St Paul’s Cathedral and a hotel this Easter.
Chowdhury, who had boasted of “deceiving” a jury to acquit him over an earlier attack on soldiers outside Buckingham Palace, had tried to buy a gun to carry out his murderous intentions, while Shaikh, who was also jailed for life at the Old Bailey, had posted vile images online in a bid to inspire others to kill.
Commander Smith said the convictions of Chowdhury and Shaikh highlighted the continuing threat and that an attack on a crowded place or other London site was a risk as the lockdown restrictions are eased and numbers on the streets increase.
“Despite all the other changes we have seen, there is still a real threat. An attack is likely,” he told the Standard.
“We are following 800 different leads and investigations at present to keep people safe from terrorism and a very substantial proportion of those will have a London element.