On 8 February 2021, the Home Secretary Priti Patel announced the UK national threat level would be lowered from ‘SEVERE’ to ‘SUBSTANTIAL’ following a Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) review. The Home Secretary credited the move to the ‘significant reduction in the momentum of attacks in Europe’. The national threat level had been raised to ‘SEVERE’ in November 2020 following a series of Islamist attacks in Austria and France between September and November 2020. A ‘SUBSTANTIAL’ threat level continues to indicate a high level of threat and that an attack in the UK is still likely.
By Pool Re SOLUTIONS Risk Consulting Team – March 2021
Ratings are precautionary
The threat level system consists of five levels which indicate the likelihood that a terror-related incident could occur on the UK mainland: LOW, MODERATE, SUBSTANTIAL, SEVERE and CRITICAL. The current drop to ‘SUBSTANTIAL’ may indicate that a specific threat has been removed, however the general threat remains. Response levels, informed by the UK threat level, indicate the protective security measures that should be applied at each threat level. The current response level remains at ‘HEIGHTENED’.
In November 2019, the terror threat level from international terrorism went below ‘SEVERE’ for the first time in five years. The highest level, ‘CRITICAL’, was last reached in May and September 2017, in the wake of the Manchester arena and Parsons Green train bombings. Since its introduction, following the 7/7 London bombings, the UK threat level has never been downgraded below ‘SUBSTANTIAL’.
The threat level for the UK from international terrorism is set by JTAC. A formal review is conducted every six months as part of this assessment, which draws from multiple intelligence sources. The threat level is also kept under constant review, reflecting on the international and domestic security situation. The process is based on the latest available intelligence and analysis of internal and external factors, including terrorist capability, intentions and timescale of an attack occurring in the near term. Ratings are precautionary and are usually not the result of concrete intelligence concerning specific plots.
Whilst the severity of attacks has lowered, the frequency of attack remains broadly similar
The threat level provides a tool for security practitioners across different sectors of Critical National Infrastructure (CNI), the private sector and the police to determine what protective security response may be required. The UK government response level indicates the protective security measures that should be applied at each threat level. Although the threat level has changed, the response level remains the same at ‘HEIGHTENED’, suggesting the implementation of ‘additional and sustainable protective security measures’ to reflect ‘the broad nature of the threat combined with specific business and geographical vulnerabilities and judgements on acceptable risk’. As such, businesses should continue to maintain a similar security posture as under a ‘SEVERE’ threat level.
Despite an easing in the momentum of attacks in Western Europe over the past number of months, due in part to COVID-19 lockdown measures, there is still a likely threat of a terrorist attack occurring once restrictions have been lifted and crowds begin to re-emerge. Whilst the pandemic has given time to plot attacks from home, coinciding with an increasing tempo in online radicalisation, the lull in terrorist activity has also given counter-terrorism agencies more time to better prepare and strategically plan to address these threats and disrupt future attacks.
On a global level, the intent and capabilities of Daesh remain, as the group use the distraction of the pandemic to quietly regroup and rebuild their base in Syria and Iraq. Whilst the threat is not as concentrated as it was during the peak of the caliphate and the growth is likely to be slow and gradual in the short term, it will be pertinent to ensure the group does not use the pandemic to their strategic advantage. Since the start of the pandemic attacks have risen by 7.4% outside of Europe and North America, however fatalities have declined by 27.1% during the same time period, demonstrating that whilst the severity of attacks has lowered, the frequency of attack remains broadly similar.
Counter Terrorism Policing and MI5 are still concerned about the terrorist threat, despite the recent downturn in attacks due to COVID-19
Domestically, the socio-economic fallout of the pandemic could create fertile recruiting ground for individuals receptive to radicalisation. According to Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, young people have been especially vulnerable to the lure of extremism during the pandemic due to the increased amount of time spent at home on the internet, as evidenced by 17 teenagers arrested on terrorism charges over the past 18 months, mostly relating to online activities. As the pandemic has diverted energy and resources away from combating the spread of extremism, the opportunities for groups to plan attacks and recruit online during the lockdown period remains a substantial threat. Once the tide of the pandemic begins to recede, the true evidence of this online radicalisation period will become more evident.
The recent change in the national threat level to ‘SUBSTANTIAL’ does not indicate that the threat has dissipated, but instead reaffirms that the current tempo and tactics of threat are less sustained, and that the UK is better prepared to respond to threats. Counter Terrorism Policing and MI5 are still concerned about the terrorist threat, despite the recent downturn in attacks due to COVID-19. Therefore, it should be stressed that an attack is still likely, and businesses will need to remain vigilant. As governments begin to respond to the post-lockdown threat environment, including a rise in online radicalisation, potential marauding attacks and the lone actor threat, prudence and cooperation from the private sector will be required. The re-onboarding of staff and gatherings of significant numbers of people on site will need to be met with updated procedures and reminders of the responsibilities businesses and their staff are required to undertake in the event of an attack.
For any further questions about this blog, please contact the Pool Re SOLUTIONS Team at SOLUTIONS@poolre.co.uk.
To explore more resources from our Pool Re SOLUTIONS team, please click here.