For help fighting terror, London police look to Israel

On visit to Israel, Assistant Commissioner Alistair Sutherland lauds his officers’ response to London Bridge attack, says more work to be done to prevent future attacks

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

City of London Police Assistant Commissioner Alistair Sutherland speaks at a counterterrorism conference in Herzliya in September 2017. (Screen capture: IDC Herzliya)
City of London Police Assistant Commissioner Alistair Sutherland speaks at a counterterrorism conference in Herzliya in September 2017. (Screen capture: IDC Herzliya)

On June 3, three terrorists, wielding knives and fake explosive belts, drove a van into a crowd of pedestrians on the famous London Bridge, killing four people. They then exiting the vehicle and embarked on a rampage, stabbing to death four others, before they were shot dead by police officers.

Some 48 people were injured in the attack, which lasted approximately eight minutes, but whose ripples are still felt.

As London has sought to thwart terror, increasingly it has been learning from others’ expertise in countering so-called “lone wolf” attacks, including Israel’s.

The unorganized assaults, carried out by individuals or small cells with basic, readily available equipment, are notoriously difficult to prevent.

In the past year, the British capital experienced another combined car ramming-stabbing attack, in which six people were killed, along with the bombing of a subway train earlier this month that sent 18 people to the hospital with a variety of injuries.

Israel has found some success in countering these same type of attacks, by establishing physical barriers against vehicular assaults and by monitoring social media to find potential assailants before they attack.

Which is, in part, what brought City of London Police Assistant Commissioner Alistair Sutherland to Israel this month.

As part of the British police’s search for methods to better prevent terror attacks, Sutherland visited the country to deliver an address at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya’s annual counterterrorism conference. During his visit, he met with representatives from the Israeli government, as well as local security technology companies, to see how their techniques and products could be integrated into his police department.

“We have to look to world experts in the realm of protective security, and Israel would be in that realm,” Sutherland said in an empty classroom on the IDC campus.

It was Sutherland’s sixth visit to Israel, and his second time speaking at the IDC.

Police departments in the United States and Europe have often come under criticism for cooperating with the Israel Police, amid protests over Israeli policies toward Palestinians.

But Sutherland said the City of London Police is not particularly concerned about the “controversy” associated with working with Israel, though it is “aware of it.”

As assistant commissioner of the City of London Police, Sutherland’s jurisdiction comprises the “Square Mile” of the capital’s historic and central business districts. The rest of the city is protected by the London Metropolitan Police Service, a separate force.

Despite representing a small geographic area, the City of London contains many of the city’s most popular tourist destinations, like the London Bridge and St. Paul’s Cathedral, as well as some of its most notable skyscrapers.

That makes the “Square Mile,” as it is known, a prime target for terrorists, as evident by the June attack.

The car-ramming prompted police to “make physical structure changes immediately” in order to prevent similar car-rammings in the future, Sutherland said.

A security barrier between the road and the pavement is pictured after being installed on Westminster Bridge in London on June 5, 2017, in reaction to the recent terror attacks.(Justin Tallis/AFP)

As Israel did in 2015 and 2016 following a spate of rammings, the City of London Police has deployed bollards and fencing along popular streets using what’s known as the “National Barrier Asset,” Sutherland said.

The City of London Police are also looking to overhaul their surveillance and monitoring systems “to make it probably the most technologically smart control room and camera system in the world. That’s our ambition,” he said.

In order to bring together the best technology for the project, Sutherland has traveled to the US as well as to Israel.

“It’s likely that because of the contacts I’ve made here, I will now be sending officers back to Israel to speak to the Israel Police about some of the technology that they’re using,” he said.

Sutherland would not say which Israeli products and companies he was eyeing for the City of London Police, but said he was seeking both real-time monitoring and the ability to prevent terror attacks by finding assailants before they act.

On that front, Sutherland said the British police were also encouraging “social media providers to do more” to prevent inciting remarks from being published on their platforms.

He said the British police “work within very strict policy guidelines and frameworks” as it relates to monitoring social media.

“We understand our limits,” Sutherland said. “We’re very comfortable with the systems that we have in place.”

UK Prime Minister Theresa May visits the British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth after it arrived in in Portsmouth, England, on August 16, 2017. (AFP Photo/Pool and AFP Photo/Ben Stansall)

British Prime Minister Theresa May has indicated that she is in favor of granting law enforcement a freer hand in cases involving terror suspects.

Speaking after the London Bridge attack, May said she supported “doing more to restrict the freedom and the movements of terrorist suspects when we have enough evidence to know they present a threat, but not enough evidence to prosecute them in full in court.

“And if human rights laws stop us from doing it, we will change those laws so we can do it,” she said.

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