Do the arrests in Derby confirm the Head of MI6’s warning?

The arrest of six terrorist suspects on 12th December increases the number of thwarted attacks in the UK to thirteen in the last two years. Will the large numbers of anticipated returning fighters from Syria and Iraq lead to more terrorist plots being uncovered?

The arrest of six terrorist suspects on 12th December increases the number of thwarted attacks in the UK to thirteen in the last two years. Will the large numbers of anticipated returning fighters from Syria and Iraq lead to more terrorist plots being uncovered?

“The news today of six counter terrorism arrests across the country yesterday is a stark reminder a terrorist attack remains ‘highly likely’ in the UK. This comes on the back of the new head of MI6 making his first public statement, on the 9th December, about the significant threat posed by Daesh and Al Qaeda to the UK. This arrest operation, dependent on outcome, increases the number of thwarted terrorist attacks in the UK to 13 in the last two years. As many senior security officials and politicians have stated in the last six months the threat from Islamic Extremism remains persistent and unprecedented.

The arrests appear well coordinated and an early disruption of a likely attack plan. Whilst ‘international-related terrorism’ has been cited, we can expect to see a stronger association drawn to Islamic Extremism, particularly Daesh, as the investigation progresses. Aspirations to attack the UK should be expected, with a crowded place or military or police targets likely. It is also likely the suspects will have some form of electronic footprint to extremists overseas. Secure instant messaging or participation in internet forums are likely, further evidence of how extremists are exploiting a virtual caliphate as the physical one in Iraq and Syria is reduced. The fact that the North East Counter Terrorism Unit is leading a Midlands’ based investigation may suggest that this is a broader based cell than just a local entity.

Over the next 48 hours we can expect the police to continue with their searches and custody procedures before applying for a Warrant of Further Detention at Westminster Magistrates Court, to gain an extra seven days to question the suspects. Increased patrols of uniformed police officers or Community Support Officers are likely both to further reassure the public and gather further intelligence from the community.

Whilst reports of the bomb squad attending an address in Derby is alarming, it is worth noting no homes were evacuated or controlled explosions took place. The police cordons were relaxed quickly, a likely gesture to reassure the community and a good indication the bomb squad attendance was precautionary.

The community in Derby has experienced counter terrorism before. Two years ago, British national Kabir Ahmed killed himself and eight others in a suicide attack in Baiji, Iraq.

The arrests have come when the festive period represents a heightened threat environment for the UK. The weekend saw news reports of increased armed police patrols across the country and the installation of concrete blocks to stop car bombs at the Birmingham Christmas Market. Whilst that move, like these arrests, are claimed to be intelligence led and not reflecting an imminent threat, they make clear whilst it is a time for many to relax and embrace festive celebrations, the counter terrorism community is continuing to work hard.

The police and MI5 are likely to be tracking an increased number of threat reports of varying credibility. It is likely most of these reports will lack sufficient specificity to be disrupted. AQ and Daesh will continue to provided general targeting advice and guidance to home-grown extremists via social media and the internet, adding to already high workloads across the intelligence and security services.

Over and above the issue of home grown terrorists, the most pressing concern for the police and MI5 is how to deal with the high number of battle-hardened, returning fighters coming back into their home countries – the “reverse flow” phenomena. The challenge for the Home Office is how does a liberal democracy manage, de-radicalise and reintegrate those people who wish us harm but currently sit outside the criminal justice system?

From an insurance perspective, the disruption of this attack in the Midlands demonstrates that the threat posed by radical extremism is not just confined to London, where the majority of terrorism cover is currently provided. If this attack had been successful, be it a bladed or marauding gun group, there would have been commensurate business interruption to small medium sized enterprises, which are unlikely to have insurance cover in place. The closing of the “insurance gap” is an area of focus for Pool Re in 2017.

Pool Re is finalising its analysis on our next counter terrorism assessment, due to be published in February 2017. It will offer our comprehensive view of the past four months’ terrorism activity and the implications for the UK (re)insurance market, our Members and other key stakeholders.

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