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Armed police officers patrol near Woolwich Crown Court.

The Evolution of the United Kingdom’s counterterrorism program

Lessons from Great Britain

January 2013, Number 04.01

The United Kingdom has a long experience with terrorism. Anarchists and Fenians bombed targets in London in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and 3,500 people were killed during the provisional Irish Republican Army’s (PIRA) 30-year campaign for a united Ireland. In response, the UK developed a comprehensive range of anti-terrorist measures, including a tough legislative regime. However, there is little historical precedent for the kind of terrorism that threatens the UK in the early 21st century. PIRA did not embrace an extreme ideology, had tangible political demands and waged a campaign characterized by relative restraint. Noncombatant casualties from terrorist attacks were the exception rather than the norm. The mass-casualty, suicide bomb attacks by Islamist terrorists in London on July 7, 2005, were of a very different kind and alerted the British authorities to the fact that they faced a threat from violent extremism of unprecedented and uncompromising lethality.

In the 1990s, UK security services became aware of the activities of foreign extremists, such as Abu Hamza and Abdullah al Faisal, who preached openly in mosques in London,1 but most surveillance was still focused on Irish republican splinter groups opposed to the Northern Ireland peace process...

Excerpt from James Wither, “Lessons from Great Britain,” per Concordiam: Journal of European Security Defense Issues  4, No. 1, 2013: 34-39.

This article reflects the views of the author and are not necessarily the official policy of the United States, Germany, or any other governments.