LONDON – Britain’s anti-terrorist police chief, Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, said Friday that in light of ‘heightened concerns’ based on increased extremist threats, Scotland Yard had ordered stepped up protection for the Jewish community and Jewish institutions including synagogues and schools.
Backing his moves, British Prime Minister David Cameron, addressing a joint press conference with US President Barak Obama in Washington, also on Friday, said, “These are sensible, precautionary measures, to make sure we do what we can to reassure those communities – communities who are all too aware of the threat that they face.”
Against the background of recent terrorist acts against Jewish communities in Paris, Brussels and elsewhere, Rowley, who besides heading London’s anti-terrorism policing also holds the lead for national counter terrorism strategy said, “The global picture of terrorist activity does give us heightened concern about the risk to the Jewish community in the UK. We are seeing continuing anti-Semitic rhetoric from extremists and attacks on this community in France and elsewhere.”
He added that while there was no specific threat against the Jewish community, earlier that day Scotland Yard had been in touch with the Community Security Trust (CST), which provides protection for the Anglo-Jewish community, to confirm that in addition to their existing security measures, they were in dialogue with Jewish community leaders about further actions that they would be taking, including more patrols in key areas.
However, he said there was no specific intelligence suggesting an imminent attack.
“We believe that today’s announcement will help to deliver the level of policing that we feel is required for our community, given the national threat level and the events that we see in Britain and Europe. As CST is currently on its second-highest threat level, we are not raising our own threat level further as to do so would take us to the highest level: meaning an attack was known to be imminent.”
Rowley pointed out that in practical terms, increased levels of policing “should be obvious in Jewish neighborhoods throughout the UK and extra policing will be in place for other operations relating to the protection of the Jewish community” Interviewed by BBC Radio just before the beginning of Shabbat, CST’s Communications Director Mark Gardner welcomed the extra level of protection and reassured members of the Jewish community that cooperation between the police and CST was close and comprehensive.
In a statement issued shortly after the Scotland Yard announcement, the CST said it believed the increase in the risk assessment for the Jewish community was “an appropriate and necessary response after last week’s attacks in Paris and recent anti-terror operations in Belgium and elsewhere.”
Extra policing for the Jewish community had been requested by CST at meetings with Home Secretary Theresa May and her Home Office colleague, Security Minister James Brokenshire last Tuesday and had been top of the agenda at the annual meeting of Jewish community leaders with Cameron the same day.
“We appreciate their swift response to our requests,” the CST spokesman said. “We hope that the increased police presence, alongside CST patrols, will help to reassure the Jewish community as they go about their lives during this difficult time.”
It had already received an unprecedented number of calls from the community last week.
“We are doing our utmost to deliver appropriate security, as are the police, and we hope that in time this will help to reassure our community.”
Rowley also revealed that the police themselves are now targets for terrorist attacks.
Britain’s most senior anti-terror officer said chief constables around the country are looking again at how to prevent attacks against those seen as targets for Islamic extremists, and that besides the threat to Jewish communities there had been “deliberate targeting” of police officers.
He revealed that British police and security authorities had thwarted an “unprecedented” number of terrorist attacks in the UK over recent months, and that last year there had been 327 arrests for terrorist offenses, a 32 percent increase from last year.
Police, as a result, stepped up patrols in areas with large Jewish communities in response to last week’s Paris attacks, and a review of overall security measures was also looking at the safety of other minority communities including Muslims, and at how to protect police officers who might be deliberately targeted by extremists.
However, a Scotland Yard spokesman refused to comment on whether the review of officers’ security would lead to more police routinely carrying guns. Only a very small minority of police are authorized to carry guns, but it has been made known that more police will be provided with Tasers.
In an interview with ITV’s Ch. 4, Cameron said these measures had been discussed in a meeting with police and intelligence forces earlier this week.
“It’s very important to learn the lessons from anything happening elsewhere in Europe. Could that happen here? What steps should be taken? So the police have announced today that they’ll be stepping up patrols, particularly to protect the Jewish community.”
Pressed as to whether there had been any specific threats had led to the decision to heighten security in Jewish communities, he replied ,“We don’t give a running commentary on specific threats, but these steps were taken because of what happened in Paris and because of the situation that we face generally,” and he added, “The government has a very strong relationship with the Jewish community. It talks to them regularly about these issues. We have to be incredibly vigilant and look at all of these risks, particularly risks to police officers themselves, and take every action that we can.”