The UK’s current threat level from international terrorism is SEVERE, down from its highest level (CRITICAL) last seen in 2017. Recent Home Office statistics relating to the police’s use of counter-terrorism powers also show that the total number of counter-terrorism related arrests fell by 40% on the previous year. However, the threat to the UK, and Europe more widely, is regretfully still at a very high level. Recent reports by EUROPOL, the EU’s agency for law enforcement cooperation, and Pool Re, the UK’s terrorism reinsurance pool, shine a light on the current trends in international terrorism.
Fortunately, the number of jihadist terrorist attacks in the EU fell last year, from 10 in 2017 to 7 in 2018. The number of victims significantly reduced as well, from 62 to 13. However, alarmingly, 3 terrorist plots in 2018 alarmingly involved CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) materials, though thankfully they were disrupted. EUROPOL observes in their report that while recent successful terrorist attacks were generally carried out using relatively unsophisticated, readily available weapons (such as knives and vehicles), leading to a lower number of casualties, there is now an increased interest in the production and use of explosives and chemical or biological materials by terrorist groups.
In several disrupted terrorist plots in 2018 EUROPOL notes that there were attempts to utilise explosives in the form of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). Pool Re agreed with this analysis, stating that it is feasible that a skilled terrorist group could construct and deploy multiple IEDs against crowded places, as seen in Sri Lanka in April 2019. The growing sale of biological toxins on the Dark Web, as well as the sale of dual-use laboratory kits and the like on normal online shopping platforms, has also lowered the barrier to entry on the use of CBRN materials.
In the digital world terrorism has, so far, been the dog that hasn’t barked, fortunately. As EUROPOL notes, while many terrorist groups have technical capabilities and skilled hackers, there has been no documented cyber-attack by a terrorist group yet. However, sadly it is likely only a matter of time until one takes place.
While it is the successful attacks that we inevitably remember, the sheer amount of those which are disrupted deserve more attention – as the Home Secretary noted in May 2019, the UK’s security services foiled 19 major terrorist attacks in the last two years. The UK’s world-leading law enforcement and intelligence agencies are able to prevent and protect the UK from such attacks with the help of the UK’s Security and Resilience sector.
ADS proudly hosts a number of Special Interest Groups working in these areas, including CBRN-UK, Counter-EO (Explosive Ordinance) and the Digital Information and Systems Integrity Group. Whether it is the provision of advanced computer tomography scanners at our airports to detect liquid explosives, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to keep the UK’s First Responders safe as they respond to chemical attacks like we saw in Salisbury, or secure-by-design digital systems for the UK’s Critical National Infrastructure, ADS’s members are playing their part to keep the UK safe.