Although the emergency response to the 7/7 bombings was widely praised, the attack led to substantially increased investments in intelligence and counterterrorism capabilities in the U.K. The attacks triggered the creation of the country’s national counterterrorism strategy (CONTEST) and the establishment of a Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC), based in the headquarters of Britain’s domestic intelligence service MI5. In 2007, a new office to lead the country's counterterrorism efforts, the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism (OSCT), was set up.
Both JTAC and OSCT specialize in synthesizing and coordinating counterterrorism responses across different government agencies. JTAC is also the group that decides the national terrorism threat level ratings that inform bodies like The Met, which for has for some time now indicated that an attack was imminent.
Hours after Wednesday’s incident, weary MPs started to emerge from the police cordon through a gate next to Westminster Abbey. There was a clear sense that the day’s events had been inevitable. Hilary Benn, an MP and former cabinet member for Tony Blair, said, “The tragic truth is this is the day that we feared would come, and it has.”
“I think we’ve all been expecting something like this to happen. … It doesn’t lessen the shock.”
Stephen Timms, another MP who was stabbed by an Islamic extremist at one of his constituency meetings in 2010, told me, “I’m sure there will be a review and a reflection about whether there are any changes that are needed, but in terms of our safety inside the building I didn’t feel at risk at any stage.”
Over December 2016, heavily armed police could be seen at Christmas markets and other landmarks in the U.K. The Met announced plans to deploy an additional 600 armed military personnel around London on a permanent basis. Equipped with high-speed BMWs to enable them to reach an incident as quickly as possible, the new team was trained to deploy at a moment's notice, which is exactly what happened on Wednesday.
Although the majority of London police officers are unarmed, there has been a very visible rise in armed police across the city since 2015; they now number 2,800 officers out of more than 31,000. This is unprecedented for a country where the vast majority of police officers are not routinely armed.
Increasingly elaborate, and more realistic, mock-ups of terrorist attacks run by police and security services are now a common fixture in London as well. Last week police staged a drill involving a siege on a Thames cruise boat, while 2015 saw London’s largest-ever counterterrorism exercise.
Part of the U.K.’s counterterrorism strategy also involved specifically training personnel to respond to an attack resembling the one that unfolded in Mumbai in 2008, when several attackers from Lakshar-e-Taiba marauded through the city with automatic weapons, ultimately killing more than 160 people.