May Ramps Up Anti-Terror Rhetoric After Attack Kills Seven

  • U.K. prime minister vows to seek new anti-terror powers
  • Police step up security on bridges across River Thames

U.K. PM Theresa May Ramps Up Terror Rhetoric

Prime Minister Theresa May said extremism has been tolerated for too long and signaled she’d seek new powers to root out terror, toughening her rhetoric after last night’s attack on London as she prepares for a general election in just four days.

“It is time to say, ‘enough is enough,”’ May told reporters outside her Downing Street office on Sunday. “There is -- to be frank -- far too much tolerance of extremism in our country.” Stamping it out “will require some difficult and often embarrassing conversations.”

May says U.K. faces "new trend" of terrorism.

Source: Bloomberg

Seven people were killed and 21 were critically ill in hospitals after the attack, which began just after 10 p.m. in a popular nightlife spot and lasted eight minutes. A van swerved into crowds on London Bridge, before three men got out and went on a stabbing spree. The assault ended when police officers shot them dead, wounding a bystander as they fired, according to the Metropolitan Police. Twelve people were arrested, though one was later released without charge, and four properties searched.

It was the third attack in the U.K. in less than three months. In March, a lone assailant rammed into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge and then stabbed a police officer outside Parliament. Then two weeks ago, a bomber killed 22 people -- including children -- at a pop concert in Manchester. May said that while the attacks weren’t directly linked, “terrorism breeds terrorism,” and five credible plots have also been thwarted.

Read more: May’s Journey to Zero Tolerance

It remains to be seen what impact the attacks will have on the election -- which will be held as armed police patrol the streets in the greatest show of force for decades. National campaigning was temporarily suspended, but opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn used a speech on Sunday night to attack May’s record and cuts to police numbers.

“You cannot protect the public on the cheap,” Corbyn said in Carlisle, northern England. “The police and security services must get the resources they need, not 20,000 police cuts. Theresa May was warned by the Police Federation, but she accused them of ‘crying wolf.”’

Corbyn said the terrorists wanted to disrupt or halt Thursday’s election, but he insisted the vote must go ahead -- and campaigning must resume. He also accused May of covering up a report on foreign support for extremism, and said her proposal for “difficult conversations” must start with tackling Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states that “have funded and fueled extremist ideology.”

The election is now “about the struggle between terrorism and democracy itself,” he said.

Corbyn’s speech came after his party accused May of making political comments in her statement from Downing Street on the attack, despite an agreement to suspend national campaigning for the day.

Police Cuts

After the Manchester bombing, the Labour Party criticized the ruling Conservatives for cuts to police and prison budgets, and Corbyn made a link between foreign wars and domestic terror. Still, polls show voters rate May as better equipped to protect Britain from terrorism than Corbyn, who is accused by the Conservatives of being soft on terror.

A group of Islamic State fighters carried out the attack, the terrorist group’s Amaq news agency said. Islamic State, which has encouraged followers to use vehicles and knives to kill civilians, also claimed the previous two, and May said the assault on Saturday night was inspired by Islamist extremism. The last two strikes, targeting revelers and concert-goers, were reminiscent of the attack on the Bataclan concert venue in Paris.

Police are increasingly confident that the three men they shot dead were the only perpetrators of the attack, which injured a total of 48 people. Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley defended the actions of armed police, in an apparent effort to preempt criticism of officers who injured a bystander with their gunfire.

Security will be stepped up on London’s iconic bridges, after two of the last three attacks started with a vehicle slamming into pedestrians as they crossed the River Thames.

Trump Tweets

Emotions were also fired up by a series of tweets from U.S. President Donald Trump, who immediately seized on the attack and took to Twitter early Sunday to criticize London Mayor Sadiq Khan for urging calm.

"It is unbelievable and unforgivable that the president of the United States of America should launch such a self-serving and cheap political attack on London’s mayor,” said Wes Streeting, a Labour lawmaker.

Londoners, meanwhile, showed little sign of being disrupted from their weekend routines as people poured out into cafes and parks on a warm Sunday.

The prime minister said her response would cover four areas:

  • Confronting the ideology of Islamic extremism, and making the case for “pluralistic British values”
  • Coordinating with other governments to force Internet companies to stop providing “safe spaces” online for extremists to recruit and coordinate
  • Dealing with “safe spaces” in the real world, both abroad, where she pledged military action would continue, and ending the “toleration of extremism” in Britain, including by public-sector bodies
  • Examining the criminal justice system, including the lengths of prison sentences for offenders

Home Secretary Amber Rudd said social-media and Internet companies, including Facebook Inc. and Google Inc., need to do more to stop their platforms being used by extremists. Group of Seven leaders called on them last month “to substantially increase their efforts to address terrorist content.”

Read more: How U.K. Is Taking on Tech Firms After Attacks: QuickTake Q&A

“It’s not good enough just to say ‘do no harm,’ we have to get them to actively work with us to stop their platforms being used to radicalize people,” Rudd said in an interview on ITV.

Politicians including Brexit Secretary David Davis and Labour’s Thornberry said the June 8 election should go ahead as planned. The latest polls indicate the Conservatives’ lead over Labour has shrunk to between 1 and 12 percentage points, from more than 20 points at the start of the campaign.

Two major events in Manchester went ahead as planned on Sunday with additional security in place, Greater Manchester Police said in a statement on its website. They included a concert by U.S. pop star Ariana Grande -- who was performing at the venue targeted by terrorists last month -- and other stars to raise money for people affected by that attack.

— With assistance by Clementine Fletcher, Kathleen Hunter, Tim Ross, and Zaid Sabah

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