Britain’s most senior counter-terrorism officer today said it is not possible to watch every extremist on UK streets because there are too many – as he backed plans to keep terrorists locked up for longer.
Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said the sheer scale of the challenge meant that officers needed the public’s help to stop future terror attacks.
He told the Evening Standard that he hoped bystanders would raise the alarm about suspicious conduct and remain vigilant at all times – adding that the threat of terrorism in the UK is ‘not diminishing’ following a third attack in three months.
Mr Basu also hailed the ‘courage’ of the officers involved in stopping attacker and convicted terrorist Sudesh Amman – and said he backed the governments plans to keep extremists locked up for longer.
In an article for the Evening Standard he said: ‘With 3,000 or so subjects of interest currently on our radar and many convicted terrorists soon due to be released from prison, we simply cannot watch all of them all the time.’
He said he was ‘supportive’ of government plans to introduce emergency legislation to ensure existing terrorist prisoners are not freed automatically after serving up to a third of their sentence.
Met Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu (pictured) said the sheer scale of the challenge meant that officers needed the public’s help to stop future terror attacks
Mr Basu said: ‘Part of the solution must be ensuring those who pose the greatest threat to our society are removed from it, and so my colleagues and I are supportive of the Government’s plans to strengthen our ability to keep the most dangerous terrorists locked up for longer.
‘But all parts of the system are responsible and, crucially, that includes communities themselves.
Sudesh Amman was shot dead by armed police on Streatham High Road on Sunday
‘We need your help to stop vulnerable people from being drawn down the path that leads to the awful violence we saw on Sunday.’
Mr Basu’s comments are his first since armed police shot dead Amman, a freed terrorist convict, as he began stabbing passers-by in Streatham High Road.
He had been jailed for possessing and distributing terrorist documents in December 2018, but was freed automatically halfway through his term less than a fortnight ago.
Two people including nursery teacher Monika Luftner were stabbed in the attack.
A team of about 20 officers had been following him round the clock since his release from Belmarsh Prison a week earlier.
The attack was the second in London by a freed terrorist prisoner in just over two months, after Usman Khan stabbed two people to death at Fishmongers’ Hall in November.
Mr Basu said Sunday’s attack was a ‘vicious’ incident.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick told the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee today (pictured) that paramedics could get specialist training for terror scenes
Armed police shot dead terrorist Sudesh Amman, who was wearing a fake suicide vest, after he grabbed a knife from a shop and a female nursery teacher and another man
He added: ‘I am in no doubt the quick reactions of our covert officers prevented many more people from being injured, and they exemplified the courage and sense of duty our officers have shown time and time again to protect the public from the terrorist threat.
‘We need people to trust their instincts and trust us with that information, and not just signs of suspicious activity or behaviour.
‘That means vigilance wherever you go. Sunday’s incident is proof that attacks can happen anywhere, and at any time.
Meanwhile Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick defended her officers’ response after paramedics were delayed from getting to the scene for their own safety.
The first London Ambulance Service medic arrived within four minutes, but they were held at a ‘rendezvous point’ until police confirmed it was safe to approach.
Miss Dick added that Amman managed to stab two people while under surveillance because the operations are not ‘man-to-man marking’.
She told the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee that a time delay in responding would be ‘inevitable’ if someone did something ‘totally unexpectedly’.
Amman, from Harrow, North West London, was put under 24-hour police surveillance on his release, and sources have said he was an ‘extremely concerning individual’.
Dame Cressida gave evidence to the assembly today about general tactics used by counter-terror police.
She said: ‘They are conducting covert surveillance, so they are not of course providing man-to-man marking.
‘They are there covertly and that is a deliberate thing. It is inevitable that there could be a time delay before somebody totally unexpectedly does something.’
Up to 20 officers would have been involved in watching Amman.
Dame Cressida added: ‘I wish I could assure the public that everybody who poses a risk on the streets could be subject to some sort of thing that would stop them being able to stab anybody ever, but it is clearly not possible.’
A team of 75 officers is working to gather evidence for the coroner about Amman’s rampage.
Watchdog the Independent Office for Police Conduct is also investigating how he came to be fatally shot, as is standard when any police operation ends in a death.
The Government is pressing ahead with plans for emergency laws to keep terrorists behind bars for longer, by ending automatic release halfway through a sentence.
There are 224 terrorists in prison in Britain, with most thought to be holding Islamist extremist views, according to the latest published figures to the end of September.
As many as 50 terrorists could be freed from jail this year, figures suggest.
On Monday, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said emergency legislation was needed to make sure offenders serve two-thirds of their sentence before they are considered eligible for release, at which point their case would be considered by a panel of specialist judges and psychiatrists at the Parole Board.
Asked about the proposals, Dame Cressida said: ‘If there are to be changes to the sentencing regime, the one thing we would be asking for, I think, is that people should still be released as they are under the current regime under strong conditions, licence conditions.’