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The changing nature of terrorism

students studying at UEL

Ten years on from the London terror attacks in 2005 we are still facing a significant terrorist threat, according to Dr Anthony Richards, an expert on terrorism.

Dr Richards, a Reader at UEL’s School of Business and Law, said that in the UK the current threat level set by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre is ‘Severe’ which means an attack is highly likely.

“What has changed since 7/7 has been the emergence of ISIS,” said Dr Richards. “While those claiming to be acting on behalf of Al Qaeda carried out the attacks of 7/7, and that particular threat remains, there is a particular concern that some of those returning British so-called ‘foreign fighters’ will aim to carry out acts of terrorism within the UK. What has also persisted is the threat from ‘small group’ or ‘lone wolf’ terrorism.”

Dr Richards added that the role of intelligence agencies was crucial.

“They have thwarted a number of attacks since 7/7 but unfortunately we cannot expect them to prevent everything,” said Dr Richards.

In terms of tactics, Dr Richards points out that there does seem to be an increase in terrorist shooting attacks in recent years. The attack in Mumbai in 2008, as well as the shootings carried out by Anders Breivik in Norway and by gunmen in a shopping mall in Kenya, all fall into this category.  Guns were also used in the Charlie Hebdo Paris attack in January this year, and in the recent attack in Tunisia.

“Looking at recent attacks you can make the case that a ‘lower level’ lone wolf or small group attack is more likely,” said Richards. “However, we still cannot discount the possibility of a more sophisticated and coordinated plot of simultaneous attacks similar to 7/7, if not by Al Qaeda, perhaps by those returning from Syria with a degree of training and direction from those within ISIS controlled territory.”

On being asked whether terrorism could eventually be eliminated from the world Dr Richards said that he thought that there will always be a degree of terrorism.

“I think the extent and impact of terrorism, though, is often dependent on the nature of a state’s response to the problem. For example, some state responses can actually exacerbate the terrorist threat.”

Notes to Editors

The University of East London (UEL) is a global learning community with students from over 120 countries world-wide. Our vision is to achieve recognition, both nationally and internationally, as a successful and inclusive regional university proud of its diversity, committed to new modes of learning which focus on students and enhance their employability, and renowned for our contribution to social, cultural and economic development, especially through our research and scholarship. We have a strong track-record in widening participation and working with industry.