Another spate of random murders in Britain, less than two weeks since the bomb in Manchester, underlines the scale of the challenge faced by police in Europe at present. It is hard to think of an easier crime to commit, or a more callous one, than to drive a motor vehicle into city pedestrians. The bollards that have appeared at entrances to pedestrian precincts in cities around the world are testimony to the extent of this threat. But it is impossible to protect pedestrians everywhere.
The slayings on London Bridge and nearby area yesterday come just two months after four people were killed in similar ways, with a car and a knife, at Westminster.
In the wake of the Manchester bombing, the threat level in Britain was raised to critical, and as the public learned the Manchester killer had previously been a suspect under watch, British counter-terrorism officials made known the scale of the task facing them. They said they have 500 operations under way monitoring 3000 potential suspects. Since all of these people are watched around the clock, the demand on the resources of the Metropolitan Police must be immense.
The fact the 3000 under surveillance did not include the Manchester suicide bomber, Salman Abedi, speaks volumes for the threat they present. Abedi was known to have recently been in Libya and perhaps Syria. His family, friends and others who knew him had contacted the authorities with their concerns about him at least five times before he blew himself up at a Manchester pop concert, killing 22 people.
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Everyone is wise in hindsight after these incidents, but if a young man with Abedi's known jihadist sympathies and travel pattern did not rank high enough on the risk assessment of British counter-terrorism operations to warrant their constant surveillance, it means the 3000 given priority must be considered even more dangerous. Presumably they did not include the killers in London yesterday.
Just days away from a general election, British political leaders will be under pressure to promise increased resources for surveillance and pre-emptive measures to try to rid Britain of this menace. The perpetrators have probably timed this attack for maximum political impact, hoping to incite the kind of response that will harden Islamic resentment of the West. Donald Trump was quick to respond as they hope, taking to Twitter to cite the latest outrage as reason for US courts to back his travel ban on selected Muslim countries.
It is hard for democratic countries to keep a sense of proportion about those incidents at the best of times. When a country suffers several in succession as Britain has now, it is doubly hard. But if police resources are to be increased they should be directed to much greater threats than terrorism. The risk of becoming a victim of these random atrocities remains very low, as most people know. That is why the citizens of London will be out in their streets today, not cowed by the knowledge that malcontents lurk in their city, inspired to murder in a foreign cause.
To them it is not terrifying, it is contemptible.