After last night’s horrific attack in Manchester, Theresa May has announced that the terrorist threat level has been increased from “severe” to “critical” – meaning a further attack may be imminent. The Prime Minister, following the advice of the independent Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, said in a statement from 10 Downing Street: “The work undertaken throughout the day has revealed that it is a possibility we cannot ignore that there is a wider group of individuals linked to this attack.”
The new threat level, the highest available and last imposed in 2007, means that up to 5,000 soldiers will be deployed on the streets to replace armed police, guarding sensitive points such as parliament and railway stations. The intelligence services are likely to have been troubled by the relative sophistication of the Manchester Arena attack, a nail bomb, which murdered 22 people and injured 59 others.
May added: “This morning I said that the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, the independent organisation responsible for setting the threat level on the basis of the intelligence available, was keeping the threat level under constant review. It has now concluded, on the basis of today’s investigations, that the threat level should be increased for the time being from severe to critical. This means that their assessment is not only that an attack remains highly likely, but that a further attack may be imminent.”
Operation Temperer – allowing military personnel to take to the streets – had been enforced, May announced. “This means that armed police officers responsible for duties such as guarding key sites will be replaced by members of the armed forces, which will allow the police to significantly increase the number of armed officers on patrol in key locations. You might also see military personnel deployed at certain events such as concerts and sports matches, helping the police to keep the public safe.”
The terrorist threat level was last raised to “critical” in June 2007 following the attempted bombing of a Tiger Tiger nightclub in London and the Glasgow Airport attack. It was also increased after the failed 2006 Heathrow bomb plot. On both occasions, the “critical” status remained in place for less than a week.
May will chair another meeting of the government’s emergency Cobra committee at 9.30am tomorrow. The Conservatives and Labour have suspended all national and local election campaigning until further notice.
In her concluding remarks, the Prime Minister emphasised: “I do not want the public to feel unduly alarmed.” She continued: “We have faced a serious terror threat in our country for many years and the operational response I have just outlined is a proportionate and sensible response to the threat that our security experts judge we face. I ask everybody to be vigilant and to co-operate with and support the police as they go about their important work.
“I want to end by repeating the important message I gave in my statement earlier today. We will take every measure available to us and provide every additional resource we can to the police and the security services as they work to protect the public.
“And while we mourn the victims of last night’s appalling attack, we stand defiant. The spirit of Manchester and the spirit of Britain is far mightier than the sick plots of depraved terrorists, that is why the terrorists will never win and we will prevail.”