A fatal attack at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London, does not indicate any new or increased terrorist threat to business operations or staff in the country. On March 22, a single perpetrator drove his vehicle into pedestrians along Westminster Bridge and then launched a knife attack on police officers guarding the Parliament complex. Although the Islamic State (IS) militant group has claimed responsibility for the incident, the attacker's methods indicate that he was acting alone. The UK has faced a latent threat from terrorism for many years, and the security forces remain capable of rapidly responding to related incidents. A visibly heightened security presence should be expected at high-profile locations across the country, and disruptive security alerts and hoaxes are possible in the coming weeks.
- While IS has claimed responsibility for the incident, which occurred on the anniversary of IS attacks in Belgium, the perpetrator's methods indicate that he was likely a so-called "lone wolf" inspired by the group.
- The Westminster incident did not trigger an increase in the official UK terror threat level. The government's terror alert level remains unchanged at "Severe," indicating that an attack is "highly likely," reflecting a longstanding warning by authorities.
- Travelers, expatriates, and local populations can take basic precautions to reduce the risk of becoming involved in a terrorist incident and to assist recovery efforts if an attack occurs; see the "Tactical Advice" section below.
At approximately 1440 on March 22, a single perpetrator drove his vehicle onto the sidewalk at the foot of Westminster Bridge, striking pedestrians before crashing into the perimeter of the Houses of Parliament. He then fatally stabbed a police officer in the Parliament compound before being shot and killed by police. Four people, including the attacker, died in the incident, while at least 40 others sustained injuries. Police have identified the suspect as Khalid Masood, a British-born citizen, who had previously been convicted of assault and possession of offensive weapons.
Although IS claimed responsibility for the incident March 23, UK security officials believe Masood had no links to international extremist groups, although investigations are ongoing. IS' claim is likely to be retrospective, and investigators have found no corroborating evidence. Masood's methods instead indicate that he was a "lone wolf" who may have been inspired by IS, which in November called for supporters to use motor vehicles to cause mass casualties; the appeal followed the July 14, 2016 attack in Nice, France, in which a tractor trailer was deliberately driven into crowds who were celebrating Bastille Day, killing 86 people. A similar incident Dec. 12, 2016 killed 12 people at a market in Berlin. In contrast to more sophisticated plots involving firearms and explosives, such attacks, using readily available civilian items, require minimal preparation and are therefore less open to detection by security forces. As the attack is unlikely to have been part of a cohesive terrorist campaign, it does not indicate any radical change in the UK's security environment.
Terrorism Threat Remains Unchanged
The UK has faced a latent threat from terrorism - including from Islamist, sectarian, and extremist political groups - for many years, and the country's security forces remain capable of detecting, deterring, and responding effectively to terrorist incidents; the country had not suffered a mass casualty attack since July 7, 2005. The government's terror alert level remains unchanged at "Severe," indicating that an attack is "highly likely." Police have so far arrested eight people in relation to the attack; the suspects were detained in raids carried out at six addresses in London and Birmingham. Officials have emphasized that the raids and detentions were intelligence-driven and do not necessarily indicate a wider plot or networks of actors.
A visibly increased security presence should be expected, both in London and nationwide, and further security operations are possible in the coming weeks. Additional security measures, such as checkpoints and restrictions on the movement of traffic, particularly heavy vehicles, are likely in the vicinity of possible terrorist targets, including government sites, transport hubs, critical infrastructure, and crowded public areas. Disruptive security alerts and hoax terrorist threats are also possible in the short term, due to likely increased public sensitivity to suspicious items and behavior.
Although it is impossible to predict where and when the next terrorist incident may occur, there are measures individuals can take to reduce the risk of becoming involved, as well as strategies to assist recovery efforts if an attack occurs. iJET's Security Operations team offers the following advice for consideration.
Before You Go:
- Identify a friend or family member as a support person for your trip. Provide that individual with your itinerary and copies of your passport and visas. Save electronic copies of these documents that can reside in your phone, not in the cloud.
- Photocopy the contents of your wallet including credit cards, insurance information, travel documents, etc. Email this information to yourself.
- Prepare or review and update your will, power of attorney, and other related documents. Ensure your passport has 5-10 pages left and is valid for at least six months.
- Program into your phone contact information for your host, members of your party, nearest diplomatic mission, and other trusted local contacts. Print and carry a paper copy.
- Schedule flights that arrive and depart during offpeak travel times. These times may vary from airport to airport.
- Be aware of and prepared to use alternative transportation options should flights be canceled. Prearrange airport transfers.
- Have your transportation contact email you a picture of your driver, the vehicle to be used, and the license plate.
- Select hotels that have been vetted by a reputable travel security company.
- Prebook your first night's hotel stay. Request a room near the stairs or fire exit away from the street or entrance; ideally your room should be between the second and seventh floor.
- If available, enroll in diplomatic mission travel security programs (e.g. STEP Program). At a minimum, register your trip with your diplomatic mission and include contact information and itinerary.
- Maintain a small survival kit at all times. Water, protein bar or nuts, emergency blanket, first aid kit, flashlight, cell phone, whistle, a solar charging device, and local currency.
- Print, carry, and learn to read maps of the cities/areas you will visit. Plan your routes.
Departure and Arrival:
- Minimize your time in the common areas of airports, which are less protected.
- Move quickly from the secured official and baggage claim areas through the lobby and to your transportation. Leave the airport as soon as possible.
- Use airline lounges/clubs, if possible. Sit on the periphery of the club, away from food and drink areas.
- Minimize time spent in public access areas, such as ticketing areas. Move to and through security checkpoints as quickly as possible.
- Avoid nearby incidents of any kind, as situations can escalate without warning.
- Avoid crowded areas. If you must be in a crowded area, position yourself near an exit or other egress point, preferably at the edge or on the periphery of a crowd.
- Note sudden increases in security presence/activities.
- Trust your instincts. Avoid people who appear suspicious or act differently than the crowd. Avoid using luggage tags identifying you as an obvious foreigner. Luggage tags should be covered to protect your contact information and address.
- Maintain a low profile; avoid dress, including clothing with logos, and behavior identifying you as an obvious foreigner.
- Maintain contact with other members of your party; call and text them upon arrival.
While at Your Destination:
- Maintain situational awareness; always be prepared to run or hide from a threat. Know the room numbers of all of your colleagues.
- Leave the TV on and place the Do Not Disturb sign on the door when leaving your room. Always lock the hotel room door, as well as any doors between adjacent rooms; use all available locks. Consider traveling with a rubber doorstop for added security on inward swinging doors.
- Ask your hotel staff where foreigners usually congregate, and minimize time spent in those places, especially if there is known animosity in a country against your nationality or ethnicity. Be cautious about discussing personal matters, your itinerary, or arrangements with strangers or those who may overhear you.
- Be sure of the identity of visitors before opening the door of your hotel room.
- Refuse unexpected packages or visits from unknown people, businesses, or organizations; have all packages and correspondence delivered to the reception desk.
- Be aware of people following you or of loiterers observing your comings and goings.
- Plot police stations, hospitals that treat foreigners, major hotels and other safe havens on your paper map and in your phone's GPS.
- Do not meet strangers at unknown or remote locations; to the extent possible, select the meeting location yourself.
- Enlist your hotel or host in helping you select and make arrangements for taxis. Do not enter a vehicle you believe to be a taxi unless it is clearly identified.
- Before closing the door to a taxi, compare the face of the driver with the one posted on the displayed license; if the two do not match, do not accept the ride.
- Avoid driving in foreign countries, if at all possible.
- If you must drive, use a remote start if available and look for signs of tampering or other suspicious activity around your car before entering it (e.g. unexplained finger prints on hoods/trunks/lower door frames, tools or tool marks, screws, pieces of tape or wires, etc.) Look for dirt and debris that may have fallen from underneath the car.
- Ensure that your vehicle is in good operating condition and that the fuel tank is at least half full. Carry food, water, blankets, and a flashlight for all occupants of the car.
- Avoid driving or riding in luxury or ostentatious vehicles.
- Alter the times, routes, and modes of transportation when repeatedly traveling to and from the same place.
- When traveling long distances by automobile, try to do so in a convoy of two or more vehicles. Geotag your photos during long drives or excursions, and upload them securely to your support person.
- To the extent possible, avoid using back country or deserted roads, especially at night. Driving in the center lane of a multiple lane highway makes it more difficult for your car to be forced off the road.
- In crowded streets, always drive with windows up and doors locked. Bombs and other objects can be thrown through open windows. Unlocked doors can be easily opened from the outside during stops or in traffic jams.
If Involved in a Terrorist Incident:
- Remain calm by breathing in for four seconds, holding for four seconds and exhaling for four seconds several times after an attack.
- Silence your phone.
- Physically check yourself and travel party for wounds or injuries prior to moving. If possible, contact your nearest diplomatic mission, and ask for guidance.
- If there is a disturbance outside your hotel, keep your drapes closed, and stay away from the windows. Extinguish all lights. If you must have some light, turn on the bathroom light and crack the door. Assemble your traveling companions in one room.
- If you hear an explosion, resist the urge to look out the window. A second, and usually more violent, explosion follows many bombings. Seek shelter in your bathroom or, if possible, an interior stairwell.
- If gunfire occurs, drop to the floor, or get down as low as possible, and try to shield yourself behind or under a solid object such as a heavy piece of furniture.
- Follow all instructions and orders from terrorists or responders.
- Remain sheltered in a secure location until you are certain the danger has passed.
- Do not attempt to help emergency responders, and do not pick up a weapon.