‘South West not immune from terror attacks’


- Credit: Archant

Devon and Cornwall are not immune to terrorism and a number of perpetrators have had links to the South West.

That is the message from counter terrorism police, who spoke to business owners at a Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting on Wednesday.

The member of the South West Counter Terrorism Unit (SWCTI), who asked to remain anonymous for operational reasons, said local communities were at the heart of keeping themselves safe.

She said: “I’m not here as a result of any intelligence to suggest there any anything going to happen in Sidmouth or the South West. If today gives you the confidence to report suspicious activity we have achieved our objective.

“We’re in sleepy Devon and Cornwall – but in my mind, if terrorists manage to do anything here it’s going to put even more unrest in people. A lot of us think we are still safe down here.

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“If your instinct is to report suspicious behaviour and you do it in good faith, you won’t be criticised. Please tell us. Even with what happened recently in London and Manchester, we still have the best security service in the world.”

The SWCTI officer said a number of terrorists have had links to the South West – among them Newton Abbot student Damon Smith who planted a homemade bomb on the Tube; Nicky Reilly, who had been in touch with Al Qaeda and tried to blow up an Exeter restaurant; and Ciarán Maxwell, a former Royal Marine who made bombs for dissident Irish republicans.

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Counter-terrorism consists of four Ps – preventing people becoming terrorists, pursuing those planning attacks, protecting against attacks and preparing to mitigate the impact of a terrorist act.

The ‘fifth P’ is the public, who should not be afraid or embarrassed to report a suspicious package or someone acting in an unusual way.

“If someone’s coming back to a point on a regular basis or taking lots of photos or videos, that’s something we need to know about,” said the SWCTI officer. “Sometimes it’s just a gut feeling.”

Some acts take place on a massive scale, such as the London attacks on July 7, 2005. Some 34 plots have been disrupted sine then. There are also lone attackers, for example on Westminster Bridge earlier this year, when a vehicle was used as a weapon.

The perpetrators may have links to ‘Daesh’, also known as the ‘so-called Islamic State’, or they may be inspired by its propaganda. The meeting heard it even puts out magazines, with articles such as ‘How to make a bomb in the kitchen of your mum’. It is an offence to access this material.

The SWCTI officer played the ‘Stay Safe’ video, which promotes the ‘run, hide, tell’ protocol in the case of a suspected terror attack. There is also an app, Citizen Aid, that explains first aid and immediate actions after a stabbing, bomb incident or mass shooting.

The officer advised business leaders to consider their own safety procedures and what they would do in the event of an attack.

The Anti-Terrorist Hotline number is 0800 789321. Information can also be recorded urgently by calling 999, or 101 if it is historical.

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