Tom Smith: Westminster attack has hallmarks of lone wolf

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The attack around the Palace of Westminster is obviously shocking for its violent nature, and while knife attacks in public are not new to the UK, they are very rare. Attacking Westminster is notable though, probably more symbolic rather than anything else.

The MP Jo Cox was of course stabbed to death by a terrorist with political allegiances to far right groups heightening the stakes that MPs and other public officials are often vulnerable targets. This attack in it its location looks to have meant the general public and local police forces, were actually in the most danger.

Though far right extremists and the threat from dissident Irish groups remains high, the spectre of a jihadist connection will naturally be at the forefront of people’s minds – and for good cause. In December 2015 at Leytonstone Tube Station, four people were stabbed by an attacker who shouted “this is for Syria”. The attacks in Paris, Brussels and Berlin – though on a much larger scale – and not aimed at political assemblies like this one was, have rightly meant that there was almost a sense of inevitability as to when a similar attack would occur in the UK. Hopefully this will be a small in scale and the work of so called ‘lone wolves’ who are untethered to a group – be it Isis or al-Qaeda.

While it should surprise nobody if Isis claimed responsibility (in motive if nothing more) it would be very surprising if this was an attack that was carried out by individuals connected, in any material sense, to such groups. Given previous UK experiences such as the beheading of Lee Rigby in Woolwich or the 7/7 bombers, these are often not battle-hardened jihadists from foreign conflicts. Security forces find these home-grown untethered attackers much harder to track and their motivations are often much harder to understand.

Dr Tom Smith is a lecturer in international relations at Portsmouth University