Editor, IFSEC Global

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James Moore is the Editor of IFSEC Global, the leading resource for security and fire news in the industry. James was previously Editor of Professional Heating & Plumbing Installer magazine.
November 3, 2020

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Counter terror

UK raises terrorism threat level to ‘severe’

Following recent incidents in Vienna, Nice and Paris, the UK’s terrorism threat level has been raised from ‘substantial’ to ‘severe’.

‘Severe’ is the second highest threat level that can be set in the UK, meaning that an “attack is highly likely” – only ‘critical’ lies above this.

The change from ‘substantial’, which the UK had been under since 4 November 2019, is said to be in response to the aftermath of the terror attack in Vienna this week, as well as a spate of incidents in France.

The incident in the Austrian capital has raised particular alarm bells, due to it coinciding with the country’s decision to introduce new coronavirus restrictions at midnight. England is set to return to lockdown on Thursday.

In addition, France has been the recipient of several terrorist attacks in recent weeks, and it is “well established that terror attacks in one country encourage copy cats elsewhere”. Three people died in a knife attack at a church in the city of Nice, while a teacher was beheaded in Paris after showing controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed to his pupils in mid-October.

Who decides upon the terror threat level?

The Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) is the government organisation responsible for assessing the UK’s terror alert level. Part of MI5 but working as an independent operation, the department makes the decision based upon all the intelligence it has available, relating to international terrorism, at home and overseas. Representatives come from 16 different government departments and agencies, with its head reporting directly to MI5’s Director General.

Established in 2003, JTAC works closely with the International Counter-Terrorism branch at MI5, which also manages investigations into terrorist activity in the UK.

Threat levels are decided upon a range of variables, including but not limited to:

  • Available intelligence – this includes the level and nature of current terrorist activity across the world and in nearby countries
  • Terrorist capability
  • Terrorist intentions
  • Timescale

The five threat levels set by JTAC are:

  • Low: an attack is highly unlikely
  • Moderate: an attack is possible, but not likely
  • Substantial: an attack is likely
  • Severe: an attack is highly likely
  • Critical: an attack is highly likely in the near future

Since the list was first published on 1 August 2006, the UK’s threat level from international terrorism has never fallen below ‘substantial’.

The Government has released updated guidance for increasing the protection of crowded places from terrorist attack. Documents cover everything from managing risk and building response plans, through to advice when guarding against different threats such as bombs, or vehicles being used as weapons. The Crowded Places guidance is available here. 

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