Britain’s terrorism threat level has been raised to ‘severe’, Home Secretary Priti Patel said today, meaning an attack is now seen as ‘highly likely’.
The change comes after a gunman in Vienna identified as a convicted jihadist killed four people in a rampage overnight.
‘This is a precautionary measure and is not based on any specific threat,’ Patel said on Twitter.
‘The British public should be in no doubt that we will take the strongest possible action to protect our national security.’
She did not mention the Vienna attack in her statement.
The new threat level means an attack is highly likely, according to the government’s classification system. The previous ‘substantial’ level meant an attack was likely.
Britain’s threat level is assessed by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre which is accountable to the domestic intelligence agency MI5 and made up of representatives from 16 government departments and agencies.
Home Office sources told the Telegraph the public should be ‘alert but not alarmed’ by the upgrading of the threat level which was last at severe exactly a year ago.
Home Secretary Priti Patel, pictured, is expected to say the rise in threat level is a ‘precautionary’ response to the terror attacks in Paris, Nice and Vienna in recent weeks
Shocking footage from Israeli TV showing a gunman carrying an AK-47 and handgun and shooting a person in the street near the start of the attack in Vienna on Monday night
HOW THE UK’S TERROR THREAT LEVELS WORK
The threat level for the UK from international terrorism is set by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC).
Analysts take a variety of factors into consideration before determining the appropriate threat level for the UK.
This could include available intelligence, an examination of known terrorist capabilities and the timescale.
There are five levels of the terror threat system. These 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
The last time the UK was facing a severe terror threat level was from July 2019 to November 2019 at which point it was downgraded to substantial.
The threat level has only been critical twice since 2010 – once in May 2017 for four days and once in September 2017 for two days.
The critical levels followed the Manchester Arena bombing and the Parsons Green bombing respectively.
Security analyst Will Geddes said British cities could be targeted by terrorists this week as would-be attackers rush to launch atrocities before the country goes back into lockdown, warned a leading security expert.
He said terrorists found the deserted streets of many European cities during the first wave of the pandemic harder to commit mass murder.
But as lockdowns around the continent have eased, potential attacks have become more likely.
And as many countries return to lockdown restrictions, would-be terrorists could be looking to launch atrocities before major cities become empty again, according to Mr Geddes.
Both France and Austria suffered deadly terror attacks in the last week, the day before a fresh lockdown was due to come into effect.
Last Wednesday President Emmanuel Macron announced France would be plunged back into new nationwide restrictions on Friday.
The day after his address, on Thursday, a Tunisian-born knifeman stabbed to death two women and a man at the Notre-Dame de Nice cathedral.
The attacker reportedly shouted ‘Allahu akbar’ (God is greatest in Arabic) and was shot by police but did not die, so was arrested by officers.
On Saturday the Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, announced new restrictions in his country to begin on Tuesday.
A day before this lockdown was due to kick in (Monday), a gunman armed with rifles opened fire in six different locations across Vienna, killing four people and wounding as many as 22.
The shootings took place near the capital’s central synagogue but it is not yet clear if that was the target as he opened fire on drinkers sitting outside in a busy area of the city.
Police urged people to avoid all open spaces and public transport in Vienna. Police said trams and buses were not stopping and urged social media users not to post videos of the police
A police van blocks a thoroughfare in Vienna after a gunman went on a rampage through city
The ISIS shooter announced the attack on Instagram and had previously been jailed for trying to go Syria.
Mr Geddes, managing director of ICP Group that advises on security threats around the world, said these latest killings could have been planned to take place before lockdowns and while there were still many unsuspecting victims outside.
He said: ‘One of the biggest issues we have to remember is that terrorism is not very successful if there are empty streets, where there are less potential victims and it is easier for security services to identify them.
‘Terrorists like to target highly populated areas, which there are less of when people are not on the streets as much.
‘Where a country has implemented a lockdown it makes it far less appealing for terrorists to undertake attacks because it’s not going to achieve the casualties and fatalities they want – as they have in Vienna and Nice.
‘Nothing can be discounted right now, the hardest part for counter terrorism is trying to look at what opportunities these groups will try to exploit.’
Mr Geddes warned security services in Britain should also be on high alert as England goes into a new month-long national lockdown to start on Thursday.
He added: ‘I think as any country that relaxes a lockdown they have to be on their guard because terror groups will take that opportunity as people start to go back into the streets.
‘Similarly security services have to be on their guard as new lockdowns approach.
‘Terror groups will be looking to attack as many non-combatants as possible and this will be more likely when people are still innocent people in the streets, so security services will be on their guard over the next few days..’
Initially there was a drop in terror incidents across Europe during the widespread lockdowns instigated in March to curb the spreading virus, Mr Geddes said.
He added: ‘There has been very little terrorism in central Europe for the last few months – since the beginning of the year in March.
A security officer secures the area after a reported knife attack at Notre Dame church in Nice
Three people were killed by a terrorist in the Notre Dame basilica in Nice at 9am last week
People light candles outside the Notre-Dame Basilica in Nice following an Islamist terror attack
‘These groups feel like they have to keep themselves current and relevant and one way to do that is to launch attacks again, as they have. Relaxing lockdown is an opportunity for them to potentially exploit.
‘What are the key objectives for terrorists? Causing chaos and high casualty rates.
‘If you have got empty streets it makes it more challenging for terrorists to move around and easier for the authorities.
‘More and more attacks have recently been Low-fi, with the use of vehicles or easily accessible weapons.’
The Vienna shooting has put European authorities on alert as it mimics the ‘marauding’ attacks seen in Mumbai in 2008 in which gunmen roamed the city picking off passers-by.
Mr Geddes said: ‘It feels like we are right back to 2008 in Mumbai when there were spontaneous attacks in the city with marauding gun attacks.
‘With marauding terrorism, terrorists can utilise the situation to cause chaos and disruption wherever they possibly can.’