A man in his late 20s has been arrested on suspicion of terrorism offences after a silver Ford Fiesta crashed into security barriers outside the Houses of Parliament. Counter-terrorism consultant, Major Chris Hunter QGM, provides his insight into what happened and the potential next steps of the investigation.
“What was quite interesting was the route that the car appeared to have taken. It looks to me that it was definitely pre-planned, definitely some form of reconnaissance went on there. It looks like the vehicle approached on the on-coming traffic side of the road to crash into the cyclists. At traffic lights in London, cyclists usually all go to the front of the traffic queue and it was virtually exclusively cyclists that were injured in the incident. It looks like he has driven into those and then taken a direct path towards the security barrier.
“If you are trying to get any pedestrians, it is virtually impossible to do so at that particular area, unless you were to crash through that security barrier. It’s quite well documented that those barriers protect certain sized vehicles travelling at certain speeds. It looks like he has taken a direct trajectory to hit the barrier with as much force as possible with the intention of continuing onwards onto the pavement to then subsequently mow down more members of the public, but clearly the barrier stopped him.
“Many people think the aim of terrorism is to kill as many members of the public as possible. Of course, it’s not. Terrorism has one objective and that is to terrorise. In order to terrorise you need to perpetuate the message and that requires media coverage. The Palace of Westminster is one of the most iconic buildings, not just in the country but in the world. It certainly increases the opportunity for global media coverage. For all of those reasons, it certainly has a high propaganda value in terms of the location for a target.
“There are a number of theories into the timing. One is that it was poor intelligence and planning on the part of the perpetrator. Two is that the perpetrator’s hand was forced – the Haymarket bombing and the Glasgow Airport bombing are both examples where the terrorist’s hand was forced, they knew they were being closed in on, so they went and carried out the attack. Obviously, in the course of time more information will become available. Even though there is an absence of politicians in Parliament, there is still a significant increase in the footfall when it comes to tourists and members of the public.
“The police will be taking witness statements from the cyclists and those that were injured, and the fact that so few were actually injured and that to date there have been no fatalities, they will look into potentially why they survived. There can be tactics, techniques and procedures actually gleaned from that as to appropriate actions to take if you are approached by a speeding vehicle in a deliberate vehicle-ramming attack for example.
“In due course they will look at a review of the actual area itself for what more can be done. It’s always a measure, counter-measure race, a cat and mouse race if you like. The terrorist uses a certain kind of attack methodology, we then produce a counter-measure. Obviously you can’t just go and fortify the entire country because we still have our freedoms which we enjoy and we can’t allow terrorism to dictate those. We have already seen the main road alongside the front of Westminster Palace reduced from two lanes to one lane for example, there has been talk about that being fully pedestrianised. This will certainly be another potential reason for that to be fully pedestrianised now.”