Britain is bracing for clashes with right-wing extremists and possible copycat terror attacks after the slaying of the British soldier Lee Rigby in south London.
London’s Metropolitan Police said more than 1,000 officers will be sent to potential trouble spots with armed response units, with extra patrols deployed to mosques and religious sites as far-right groups reacted to the tragedy. Only a fraction of Britain’s police officers are armed.
Fears of a prolonged backlash against Muslims have intensified after dozens of Islamophobic incidents were reported in the wake of the murder of the young soldier.
The Tell Mama hotline for recording Islamophobic crimes and incidents recorded 38 incidents overnight on Wednesday, including attacks on three mosques, with more reported on Thursday.
Tell Mama co-ordinator Fiyaz Mughal, from Faith Matters, said three or four incidents were usually recorded a day, but that the spike after Wednesday afternoon’s killing reflected simmering resentment against Muslims and was unlikely to fizzle out.
Wednesday’s bloody attack was captured on video by passersby and made for gruesome viewing — one man is seen with his hands stained red and holding two butcher’s knives as he angrily complained about the British government and troops in foreign lands. A lifeless body is seen on the street behind him.
Terror analysts say the attackers wanted the publicity to inspire copycat attacks, and that they are already seeing an increase in chatter on extremist sites calling for such attacks.
“We can see the tempo being raised,” said Maajid Nawaz, a former jihadist who is now with the anti-extremist Quilliam Foundation.
“One of the reasons why these guys acted in this theatrical way was because of the propaganda effect so others would be inspired to do the same thing. The nature of these attacks are that they are so easy to do, and we have definitely seen an increase in chatter calling for such things since the attack,” he said.
A British government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the ongoing investigation, confirmed the increase in chatter since Wednesday’s attack, but said no specific or credible plots had been detected at this point.
Britain’s terror threat level has remained unchanged at “substantial” — the middle of five possible rankings.
Meanwhile, right-wing extremists said they would be holding demonstrations over the coming weeks. Several dozen gathered the night of the slaying to protest.
Britain’s domestic spy agency, MI5, has long warned of the difficulties in predicting self-starter attacks, or attacks that are inspired — not necessarily organized — by larger groups.
With the weakening of al-Qaeda’s leadership structure in Afghanistan and Pakistan, there has been an increase in lone-wolf attacks, which are low-tech and relatively easy to pull off.
Both suspects in the soldier’s killing were on the agency’s radar for as long as six years.
However, the men were not necessarily the focus of any specific investigation, said the British official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
There has to be compelling intelligence to suggest a real threat before suspects are put under surveillance, he said.
“It is a democratic right to protest in this country,” the British official said.
“Not everyone who shows up at a demonstration, even though they may say or believe in things that we don’t, will turn to violence,” the official added.