London became the scene of the latest European terror attack on Wednesday, as a lone man drove a four-wheel drive vehicle through a crowd of people before going on to stab a police officer to death on the grounds of the UK Parliament. At least five people were killed, with forty more injured, seven of whom were still in critical condition at the time this article was written.
The attacker himself was killed by law enforcement officials at the scene, though police still conducted raids all over the city of London in the hours following the incident, arresting eight people thus far believed to have ties to the man and his attack. According to official statements, the attacker was a British born citizen with a history of ties to extremism, though he was apparently not “part of the current intelligence picture,” according to British Prime Minister Theresa May.
This latest attack, which British authorities believe was inspired by recent acts of international terrorism such as those that occurred in Nice, France and Berlin, Germany last year, demonstrates once again that the risk of terrorism isn’t easily weeded out – even in a country that limits access to firearms as stringently as the UK. A British citizen wielding nothing but a set of keys and an “eight inch” knife irreparably scarred the fabric of London’s citizenry, and extinguished the lives of innocent people for nothing more than attempting to make a political statement. A statement about what? Ironically, that has yet to be determined.
This latest attack isn’t the first time terrorism has reared its head in the historic streets of London. On July 5th, 2005, four coordinated explosions around the city killed fifty-two people and injured more than seven hundred others. On May 22nd, 2013, a British soldier, Lee Rigby, was run down by a car right down the street from his barracks before being stabbed to death by two Muslim extremists that were already the subject of seven different investigations. On December 5th of 2015, a Somali-born man with a history of mental illness launched a knife attack in the London subway, but was fortunately detained before managing to kill anyone.
Then there are the plots law enforcement managed to end before they could even begin. No less than three separate bomb plots have been foiled by London’s police since 2005, including one that occurred just weeks after the infamous “7/7” bombings that could easily have matched it in casualties. Car bombs and backpacks laden with explosives are among the other attempts terrorists have made in the city of London that were fortunately discovered and removed before having the chance to hurt anyone.
At the center of addressing the situation at a local level is London mayor Sadiq Khan, a Muslim man who has been accused in the past of being lax on terrorism, particularly in media outlets such as the Mirror and Telegraph. Donald Trump Jr., son of U.S. President Donald Trump, drew sharp criticism on Wednesday for using a Telegraph headline from 2016 in a tweet he posted directed at the London mayor that speaks to some people’s concerns about Khan’s stance on terrorism.
The tweet posted by Donald Trump Jr. read:
Although a seemingly inappropriate statement, the article cited by the president’s son depicts a generally different tone than Trump, and the headline, would lead you to believe. Despite the Independent’s choice in paraphrasing, the long form quotation, which appeared in The Evening Standard, showed Khan not simply stating that terror attacks were “part of the parcel” of living in the city, but rather, that having to be prepared for such events is a modern reality.
“It is a reality I’m afraid that London, New York, other major cities around the world have got to be prepared for these sorts of things,” he said. “That means being vigilant, having a police force that is in touch with communities, it means the security services being ready, but also it means exchanging ideas and best practice.”
He added: “I’ve had a sleepless night thinking about all of this and I’m sure the Mayor [of New York City] has as well. Nothing is more important to me than keeping Londoners safe. I want to be reassured that every single agency and individual involved in protecting our city has the resources and expertise they need to respond in the event that London is attacked.”
It would seem those sleepless nights are far from over for London’s mayor. In his official statement on Wednesday, Khan first explained the incident and mourned the loss of the London Metropolitan police officer, Keith Palmer, before expressing his gratitude to emergency officials and law enforcement and warning Londoners of changes they might expect.
“Londoners should be aware that there will be additional armed and unarmed police officers on our streets from tonight in order to keep Londoners and all those visiting our city safe.” The mayor said. “I want to reassure all Londoners and all our visitors not to be alarmed – our city remains one of the safest in the world.”
“London is the greatest city in the world and we stand together in the face of those who seek to harm us and destroy our way of life. We always have, and we always will. Londoners will never be cowed by terrorism.”
Indeed, if past incidents are any indicator, London will rebound and flourish despite Wednesday’s despicable acts, and political discourse will continue to be pointed and unapologetic, just as we find all too often in our own media outlets.
The investigation into what led to Wednesday’s attack is ongoing, and it’s likely that, although the attacker was alone, he had ties to an extremist community located within Great Britain’s borders. If that’s the case, Sadiq Khan will yet have an opportunity to prove his detractors wrong… or right.
Image courtesy of the Associated Press