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15 November 2021

UK raises terror threat level to “severe”. What does this mean?

A further terrorist attack is now regarded as “highly likely” by the independent Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre.

By Tim Ross

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has confirmed that the terror threat level is being raised from “substantial” to “severe”, following what he called the “sickening attack” outside the Liverpool Women’s Hospital on Sunday 14 November.

What does this mean?

The threat level means that “in the near term” an attack is regarded as “highly likely”, whereas previously an attack was seen as “likely”.

Why is the threat level being raised?

The decision follows two recent attacks in the space of a month. On Sunday, one man carrying what was believed to be a homemade bomb was killed when it exploded in a taxi outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital. Last month, Conservative MP David Amess was killed during a constituency surgery, an act police are also treating as terrorism.

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Who made the decision to raise the threat level?

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Threat levels are decided by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, which is independent of ministers and accountable to the head of MI5. It is comprised of experts from 16 government departments and agencies and the police, among others. It’s based in MI5 headquarters at Thames House, in central London.

What is the government doing?

Johnson told a press conference that he had recently chaired a meeting of the government’s “Cobra” emergency committee, which convenes relevant experts and intelligence chiefs to discuss the threat facing the country.

The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, will continue to receive briefings from police and security services as investigations into the Liverpool terrorist attack continue. The police have so far made four arrests.

“Our security and intelligence services prevent all sorts of acts, day in, day out,” Patel told Sky News. “They see all sorts of things that keep our country safe every single day and that work will continue.”

What should the public do?

Patel said people should be “alert… but not alarmed”. Anyone with information “or who suspects any suspicious activity” should report it to the police, she said.

Johnson emphasised that the threat level does fluctuate over time. The public should remain “utterly vigilant” to potential threats, he said. “But what yesterday showed above all, is that the British people will never be cowed by terrorism. We will never give in to those who seek to divide us with senseless acts of violence, and our freedoms and our way of life will always prevail.”

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