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What the “critical” UK terrorist threat level means

The security services believe that Salman Abedi, was not a lone operator but part of a wider cell.

By Stephen Bush

Following the Manchester bombing, the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (an inter-agency organisation comprised of 16 different agencies) has raised the UK’s threat level from “Severe” to “Critical”, the highest possible level.

What does that mean? It doesn’t mean, as per some reports, that an attack is believed to be or is definitely imminent, but that one could be imminent.

It suggests that the security services believe that Salman Abedi, was not a lone operator but part of a wider cell that is still at large and may be planning further attacks. As the BBC’s Dominic Casciani explains, one reason why attacks of this sort are rare is that they are hard to do without help, which can raise suspicions among counterterrorism officials or bring would-be perpetrators into contact with people who are already being monitored by the security services.

That, as the Times reports, Abedi recently returned from Libya suggests his was an attack that was either “enabled” – that is, he was provided with training and possibly material by international jihadist groups – or “directed”, as opposed to the activities of lone attackers, which are “inspired” by other attacks but not connected to a wider plot.

The hope is that, as with the elevated threat level in 2006 and 2007, it will last only a few days while Abedi’s associates are located by the security services, as will the presence of the armed forces in lieu of armed police at selected locations such as parliament, cultural institutions and the like, designed to free up specialist police capacity.

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