Mark Rowley, Britain’s most senior counter-terrorism officer, says 13 planned attacks were stopped since 2013 Lee Rigby murder
Terrorist plots on the scale of those carried out in Paris and Brussels have been foiled in Britain in the past four years, Britain’s most senior counter-terrorism officer has revealed. Launching an appeal for public help in combating terrorismea, assistant commissioner Mark Rowley said the thwarted attacks were among 13 plots that had been prevented since the murder of Lee Rigby in 2013. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Rowley said many of the disrupted attacks involved only one or two individuals. But he added: “Some of them have been more sophisticated planning looking to attack public spaces, or police offices or the military, not that dissimilar to some of the attacks we have seen in Belgium and France and elsewhere. There is a whole range from the simple to the complicated.”
The figure 13 is one higher than the previous tally in October. As part of the Action Counters Terrorism campaign, a podcast has been produced revealing previously untold stories of how UK terrorist attacks were prevented, featuring accounts from detectives, bomb disposal and surveillance officers. Rowley said the aim of releasing new material was to give an insight into how terrorists might prepare and provide more confidence for the public to report any suspicions. TV adverts have been launched appealing for members of the public to report any suspicious conversation they might overhear. Rowley, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for counter-terrorism, urged the public to be wary of far-right terrorist plots as well as those from Islamic extremists.
He said: “Sometimes reporting oversimplifies things and says terrorism is about IS [Islamic State] or Daesh and it’s about Syria. Actually there are many Isis offshoots in other parts of world, al-Qaida is still very, very significant. “And of course in the UK … extreme rightwing groups are very provocative and can cause significant risk to our communities, and indeed there are extreme rightwing-related issues which led to the tragic murder of Jo Cox.” Rowley conceded that such cases were not of the same magnitude as Islamic extremism but denied that bracketing the two forms of terrorism confused the public.
He pointed out that the judge who tried Cox’s killer, Thomas Mair, said he had been inspired by an admiration for Nazis. Rowley also said the threat of terrorism from those inspired by Isis would continue despite the group’s military setbacks in Iraq and Syria. “This threat is going to continue in different forms and it going to keep metamorphosing,” he said. “The reason for this appeal is to say to the public: ‘Trust your instinct, we are already getting lots of information on a third of our cases, look at our website, listen to these adverts, and if you pick up anything at all suspicious don’t be cautious please us.’” The official threat level for international terrorism has been at severe – meaning an attack is highly likely – for more than two years.
Rowley said: “We are likely to face a severe threat for sometime to come. And we need the missing piece in the jigsaw in the investigations we are running that often the public have.” In the year to March, the anti-terrorist hotline received more than twice the number of calls in the previous 12 months, with 22,000 people making contact.