London Olympics as target for terrorist?

Not unlikely.

Questions:

1. I know it may sound like scaremongering, but the UK is perceived as one of the likeliest potential targets for jihadi group for years and as we have seen in Burgas bombing one of the other problems (but perhaps interconnected) could be the security of Israeli targets. Would you say that with the Olympic Games it is even worse or not, and why?

2. Is it any other security threat you perceive as serious?

Answers:

Adrian Guelke, Professor, Centre for the Study of Ethnic Conflict, Queen’s University of Belfast

1. Any event with billions of viewers makes a very attractive target for any group wishing to gain publicity for themselves.  Whether that is enough motivation by itself for groups thinking about putting the resources together for the launching of an attack is a moot point.  But the possibility that the global audience for the Games will tempt one or other group engaging in terrorism also means that the authorities are on their guard.  A lot of publicity has been given to security measures ahead of the Games.  Its effect can be interpreted in two contrary ways – that it will deter anyone thinking of using the Games as the backdrop for an attack.  At the same time, the emphasis on security also might be seen as a challenge to groups to show that they are able to breach the measures put into place.   Given the huge focus on security, some sort of security scare during the course of the Games might be expected, so I would not be surprised if there was a false alarm at some point, even if no attack takes place during the Games.

2. The remnants of violent organizations linked to Northern Ireland’s troubles are responsible for most of the acts of political violence that have taken place within the UK over the last decade and there is little reason to suppose that will change in the next few years even as violence in Northern Ireland declines further.  The fear of jihadist attacks is very much greater but in practice far more plots have been uncovered than there have been attacks.  The implication would seem to be that the resources that have gone into monitoring this threat have effectively limited the dangers from this source, but it might also be interpreted as suggesting that there is very little active support for global jihadists and their strategy of attacking the far enemy to be found in any segment of the population in the UK.

David Lowe, Principal Lecturer, Law School, Liverpool John Moores University

1. It is correct that the UK is one of the main targets for a jihadi group attack and security has to be at its highest, perhaps the highest ever seen at an Olympic Games. A concern for the UK government, the security services (MI5) and Special Branch Counter-Terrorism Unit (CTU) is having the world arrive in the UK. This includes two other major jihadi targets, the USA and Israel. Following the London bombing in July 2005, the day after it was announced that London was to host the Olympic games, 2005, the UK’s security services and Special Branch CTU have been successful in preventing a number of jihadi based acts of terrorism. In the last few months jihadi cells in London, Birmingham and northern England have been investigated and a number of suspects have been arrested and are currently going though the UK’s judicial procedure. It should not be forgotten that Abu Qatada, (who was seen as Al Qaeda’s Bin Laden’s right hand man in Europe and whose preaching was said to influence Mohamed Atta, the leader of the 9/11 attacks) is still in Belmarsh prison awaiting extradition to Jordan where the Somali based group Al Shabaab have said that if the UK Government send Abu Qatada to Jordan, they will attack the UK, My own research in this area revealed that there are members of UK based Somali communities have gone to Somalia to join Al Shabaab, so this threat should not be taken lightly. Al Qaeda’s influence should also not be underestimated. Although Bin Laden is dead, al Zawahiri is now the head of Al Qaeda and he has always been seen as the intelligence behind the group. Now they have a strong foothold in Yemen ,their potency should not be underestimated. This is on top of the home grown jihadi terror threat that is harder for agencies like Special Branch’s CTU to investigate.

2. The UK faces not only the jihadi based terror threat but the rise in Irish dissident groups’ activity, in particular the Real IRA and its political wing the 32 County Sovereignty Movement has resulted in UK national security agencies and Special Branch CTU having to in effect fight a terror war on two fronts. My own recent research (that I am currently writing up) revealed the Real IRA want to spread their campaign from Northern Ireland over to the British mainland and emulate the successes of the Provisional IRA during the 1969-1998 Irish Troubles. It was only in late 2011 we saw a member of the Real IRA, Michael Campbell convicted of terror related offences related to purchasing firearms and explosives for use on the British mainland in Lithuania. My research also showed that in areas like Liverpool and London in England and Glasgow in Scotland there are Real IRA and 32 County Sovereignty movement sympathisers that have the potential to assist Real IRA operatives on the British mainland.

MI5 recently published that the jihadi based terror threat is high and also acknowledged the threat from the Real IRA. The stakes are high and there is no room for complacency. This has been part of the furore over the private security firm. G4S’s failure to provide the 10,000 staff for stadium security. As to date, G4S has only been able to recruit 4,000 security staff for the Olympics it has resulted in the UK government having to revert to it’s contingency plan and use over 3,500 UK military personnel to carry out the stadium security. There are different levels of terror threat and over the last few years, from both my own experience as a former Special Branch CTU officer and now an academic researcher into terrorism and security, I know that plans have been in place for a number of years by the UK’s national security agencies and Special Branch’s CTU to try and remove the serious terror threat at the Olympics. One can never be complacent. As a former Provisional IRA operative, Patrick Magee said, the security services have to be lucky 100% of the time, terrorists only have to be lucky once.

Christian Cullen, Director of Intelligence Analysis, SIRS Consultancy

1. We agree that this is not scaremongering at all. In fact, the UK has been repeatedly singled out alongside the USA and Israel as the most symbolic Western target by al-Qa’ida and al-Shabaab. The fact that the Olympic Games is taking place in London means that it may be the most targeted Games post-9/11 and particularly after the Iraq War. The continued presence of British and other troops in Afghanistan may also motivate Islamist extremists to carry out retaliatory attacks in response to perceived Western aggression. The UK also faces a unique combination of threats from Irish Dissidents (attacks are so frequent in Northern Ireland that they often go unreported), right wing extremists and anarchist extremists; particularly in the current difficult economic climate.

Although the identity of those responsible for the Burgas bombing has yet to be independently confirmed, it still serves as a recent reminder of the international scale of the threat to Israeli citizens. The precedent for terrorists targeting the Olympics has been set during both the Munich 1972 and Atlanta 1996 Games – so UK security needs to be highly robust during this summer. However, the G4S debacle has shown that Olympic security is in real jeopardy.

2. Given international trends and precedents, it is clear that the UK currently faces a variety of constantly changing threats including:

Al-Qa’ida and its regional factions, including al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP);

Groups affiliated with al-Qa’ida, such as al-Shabaab;

Irish Dissident Republican extremists;

‘Lone wolf’ terrorists who may not be closely affiliated to a particular group or cell;

Far-right extremists;

Anarchists who take advantage of legitimate protests, resulting from the current global financial climate (as seen in the 2010 student protests);

Extensive civil disorder;

Cyber-terrorism

The most challenging terrorist threat comes from lone wolves, as they leave a tiny electronic footprint, and are less obvious to the authorities as, by definition, they do not collaborate with anyone else. It is therefore feasible that not all of them have been identified by intelligence agencies; we must assume there are ‘lone wolf’ attackers out there. Last July, Anders Breivik demonstrated a lone wolf’s ability to carry out simultaneous strikes, in the devastating 22/7 attacks in Norway that killed 25 more people than the 7/7 bombings in London.

A wide range of groups have already announced that they are going to use the Olympics as their stage to raise awareness of their cause. In the light of the Home Office’s announcement that 20,000 media representatives from around the world are expected to attend the Olympic Games, this is an opportunity that would be attractive to certain groups or individuals.

Scott White, Director, Computing & Security Technology, Associate Clinical Professor, Homeland Security, Drexel University

You are correct, there is definitely I heightened threat level assigned to these Olympic Games.  This is as a result of the Jihadist o domestic radical movement within the United Kingdom.  The fact that there are known threats (Groups & Individuals) hostile to the Great Britain living in Manchester, Bradford, Liverpool and London makes these games unique.  Saying this however, the Police and Security Services are aware and have taken actions to mitigate for these threats.  It is the anniversary of the Munich Games and as such any attacks or attempted attacks would have great symbolic value, however, the Security Service are also aware of the history.

Personally, I am less concerned about an attack against an Olympic venue and more concerned with an attack in general.  The fact is the Olympics Games are not confined to the Olympic Village or Olympic Venues, but rather to London and Great Britain as a whole.  I am confident that there will be sufficient situational awareness amongst the population that any conduct or behavior out of the ordinary will be recognized and reported.  The Emergency Services in London are well trained and have learned from the days of the London Blitz  (World War II) right through the IRA attacks and the July 7th attack.

Will Jennings, Senior Lecturer, University of Southampton

1. The Olympics has historically tended to be associated with an increased threat of terrorism, due to the symbolic and disruptive opportunities that it offers to either domestic or international groups. While the Munich Massacre in 1972 marked a definining moment in the emergence of modern terrorism, security concerns have escalated since the events of 9/11, which is reflected in the massive growth in security costs for the Olympics over the past decade.

2. While security risks are often thought of as being visible, violent acts – such as a bomb or hostage taking – there are more routine and invisible threats that can be a source of disruption. For example, twelve million cyber attacks were reported per day during the Beijing Olympics. The other major security risk relates to the strain put on military and police resources elsewhere in the host country, as the heightened level of security required for the Olympics can lead to weaknesses in day-to-day policing operations and defence capabilities in the event of a non-Olympic-related incident.

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