Last Friday night’s terrorist attacks in the French capital perpetrated by gunmen and suicide bombers who left in their wake horrific scenes of devastation at the Bataclan concert venue, the Stade de France, Le Petit Cambodge restaurant and at Le Carillon bar in the Canal Saint-Martin area of eastern Paris prompted the UK Government to convene an emergency COBR meeting aimed at formulating a response on home shores.
With 129 civilians dead following the attacks, this morning French Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced that 23 individuals have been arrested and “dozens” of weapons seized in a series of 150-plus raids on suspected militant targets across France, with Valls also stating that Friday’s episodes were orchestrated from Syria.
According to reports on BBC News, addresses located in the Paris suburb of Bobigny and the cities of Grenoble, Lyon and Toulouse have all been targeted in special operations conducted by law enforcement officials.
Here in the UK, Prime Minister David Cameron and Theresa May convened and chaired a COBR (Cabinet Office Briefing Room) meeting for updates on the situation in Paris. The intelligence agencies and the UK’s Ambassador to Paris, namely Sir Peter Ricketts GCMG – confirmed that one of those who died in the attacks was a British national while over 350 people were injured.
A Home Office statement issued in the wake of the COBR meeting said: “As the situation continues to unfold, we are working closely with the French authorities through our security and intelligence agencies, the police service, the UK Border Force and our Embassy in Paris. The UK’s Ambassador to Paris visited the site near the Bataclan venue on Sunday to pay his respects to the victims.”
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office sent a rapid response team to Paris immediately following the attacks. The consular team in Paris and the UK continues to provide family-centric support, including through family liaison officers. Work is ongoing to identify those killed and injured, including any British nationals.
Safety and security of UK citizens
At the COBR gathering, Government ministers discussed the ongoing support that would be available to people returning from Paris who have been affected by the attacks. They also talked about a “continued offer of support” to the French authorities as they carry out their investigations as well as “collaboration” between France and the UK designed to reinforce borders while at the same time ensuring minimal delays for travellers.
The safety and security of UK citizens remains “paramount” for the Government, with the meeting playing host to discussions on the operational response measures now being put in place by the police service (such as additional patrols and policing at the border).
Greg Clark – the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government – and the Counter-Extremism Minister Lord Ahmad informed the Home Secretary of the work they have been doing to reassure community leaders, including those in the Muslim and Jewish communities, that we “stand united” at this difficult time.
Finally, attendees at the meeting discussed the minute’s silence which was observed across Europe at 11.00 am this morning by way of marking solidarity with the French people.
Other attendees at the COBR meeting were Penny Mordaunt (the Minister of State for the Armed Forces), Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood, Liane Saunders (the Deputy National Security Advisor), Boris Johnson (the Mayor of London) and several senior representatives from the intelligence agencies.
The UK’s Ambassador to France, the Director for Local Government for Wales and Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister for Scotland, all joined the meeting via a special communications link.
Response from the Metropolitan Police Commissioner
Metropolitan Police Service Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe has sent his condolences to the relatives and friends of those who were killed or injured in Friday’s terrorist attacks on the French capital.
The Commissioner said: “My thoughts, and those of Metropolitan Police Service officers and staff, are with Paris and the men and women whose job it is to deal with this horrific situation. London and Paris are linked as two of the world’s strongest capital cities, and we stand prepared to help in any way. We’ve developed appropriate tactics to deal with a firearms attack in London, but we will, of course, urgently review our approach in the light of Friday’s developments. The scale of the attacks and the range of weaponry used by the terrorists are a serious cause for concern, but members of the public can be reassured that our firearms officers are trained to deal with this kind of incident. Indeed, we’re constantly evolving new ways in which to combat such threats to public safety.”
The UK Government recognised the increased terrorism threat in the summer of 2014 and raised the threat level to a point where an attack is now considered to be ‘Highly likely’. The police and security agencies have been working flat out ever since then to protect the public. They’re currently working on hundreds of active investigations and making, on average, one arrest every day.
Additional high visibility patrols are in place to provide reassurance at key locations across London. Also, police officers are working closely with London’s communities and businesses to offer reassurance and advice following the horrific episodes in Paris.
Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s lead on counter-terrorism issues, said: “The ambition of terrorists is to sow discord and distrust and create fear. Regardless of the operations we run and the arrests we make, at the very heart of our success in countering terrorism is the relationship between the public and the police service. It needs to be stronger than ever. In particular, we as the police depend massively on information from local communities, whether the detail is about suspicious individuals or behaviours. We’ve received more intelligence reports than ever before over the last year. That situation needs to continue.”
Rowley went on to state: “We’re presently reviewing our policing stance across the country, but however strong we are, however ready we are and regardless of how many people we’re arresting, we’ll be dependent upon the confidence and strength of communities to work with us.”
Changes to policing
Commenting specifically on changes to policing, Rowley explained: “We’ve been strengthening our policing at ports and on the streets. People may notice some changes at events taking place within big cities across the country. We will constantly keep that under review in the forthcoming days and weeks.”
He added: “We cannot let the terrorists defeat us by becoming fearful and withdrawing from the streets. The term I would use is ‘to be alert, not alarmed’. People should recognise that we’ve been talking publicly about our efforts to defeat and deter terrorism and that we’ve seen a positive response from the public over the last year. It comes down to trust between communities and that ability for the public to trust the police service, work with us and supply us with the sort of information that they have been doing.”
Continuing the counter-terrorism theme, Rowley commented: “We have been planning for this kind of terrorist attack. It’s very much on the radar in terms of something that we fear may happen, but of course we constantly hope such a scenario doesn’t arise. We’re doing everything we possibly can do. I would come back to the relationship between the police service and the public and the amount of information fed through to us. We need to continue this arrangement. It’s this sort of vigilance which gives us the first insight into a possible terrorist attack.”
Worst terrorist attack in Europe for a decade
On Saturday morning, Prime Minister David Cameron issued a detailed statement on the events that transpired in Paris the night before.
“These are the worst acts of violence in France since the Second World War. The worst terrorist attack in Europe for a decade. A horrifying and sickening attack. Our hearts go out to the French people, and to all those who have lost loved ones.”
The Prime Minister said: “Today, the British and French people stand together, as we have so often before in our history when confronted by evil. Shocked, but resolute. In sorrow, but unbowed. My message to the French people is simple: Nous sommes solidaires avec vous. Nous sommes tous ensemble. We stand with you. United.”
Cameron stated: “These were innocent victims enjoying a Friday night out with friends and family, no doubt at the end of a hard working week. They were not seeking to harm anyone. They were simply going about their way of life – our way of life. They were killed and injured by brutal, callous murderers who want to destroy everything our two countries stand for: peace, tolerance and liberty. We will not let them. We will redouble our efforts to wipe out this poisonous extremist ideology and, together with the French and our allies around the world, stand up for all that we believe in.”
The Prime Minister asserted: “Ever since the co-ordinated firearms attacks in Mumbai in 2008, we have all been working together to ensure we could respond to such an attack. This summer, the police and other Emergency Services carried out a major exercise to test our response for multiple firearms attacks. In light of last night’s attacks, we will of course review those plans and make sure we learn any appropriate lessons.”
Focusing on the present terrorist threat, Cameron observed: “It’s clear that the threat from ISIL is evolving. Last night’s attacks suggest a new degree of planning and co-ordination and a greater ambition for mass casualties. We must recognise that, however strong we are and however much we prepare, we in the UK face the same threat. That’s why we continue to encourage the public to remain vigilant. We will do all we can to support our police and intelligence agencies with the resources and the capabilities they need.”
In conclusion, the Prime Minister said: “The terrorist aim is clear. It is to divide us and to destroy our way of life. More than ever, we must come together and stand united. We must carry on with the way of life that we love and that we know. Together, we will defeat these terrorists.”
Statement from the Mayor of London
Boris Johnson MP, the Mayor of London, and Jennette Arnold OBE AM (chair of the London Assembly) have also issued statements in the wake of the Paris atrocities.
Boris Johnson MP said: “I’ve written to Mayor Hidalgo to convey the sense of shock and grief of millions of Londoners at the tragic events in Paris. Our thoughts are with the victims and their families and with all of the French people. We regard Paris as our sister city, a place for which we have deep reserves of love, admiration and respect. We are two capitals united in our values – democratic freedom, openness and tolerance.”
Johnson added: “The people who launched the attacks last Friday night have no such values. They wish to undermine the things we hold most precious. They want to set neighbour against neighbour. They want to spread fear. They will not succeed. As President Hollande has rightly said, these people must and will be defeated. We stand ready in London to do everything in our power – to do whatever it takes – to assist in a struggle that embraces us all.”
Jennette Arnold outlined: “Our hearts go out to the citizens of our sister European city. As a mark of respect for the fallen and their loved ones from the London Assembly and the Mayor, we shall hold a minute’s silence at the Mayor’s Question Time meeting this week.”