Festival is key terror target

ONE of Britain's most senior counter-terrorism officers has warned it is only a matter of time before Edinburgh is subjected to a devastating attack.

Superintendent Brett Lovegrove said Scotland's capital would be an "extremely attractive" objective for terrorists – and said the Edinburgh International Festival, which last year attracted 380,000 visitors, was a prime target.

Speaking at an anti-terrorism seminar in the capital, Mr Lovegrove, the head of counter-terrorism for the City of London Police, said: "Edinburgh is an extremely attractive proposition to terrorists, as it has many international businesses, an airport, sports stadiums and crowded streets.

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"In particular, the Festival ticks all the right boxes, so it's essential the public are made aware of the threat and what action should be taken.

"Like London and New York, it is also an iconic city which is flooded with tourists all year round.

"Last year's Glasgow airport attack proved Scotland isn't immune to the threat of terrorism. Unfortunately, it isn't a case of 'if' there will be an attack on Edinburgh but 'when'."

Mr Lovegrove went on: "Festivals by their nature can be a risk. Edinburgh also has the Tattoo. events at Edinburgh Castle, Hogmanay, and even this weekend there is major rugby match attracting upwards of 70,000 people.

"It is important not to be complacent. Just because Edinburgh had not been attacked doesn't mean it won't be. However, I don't have specific intelligence that Edinburgh is going to be the next target."

The City of London Police introduced Project Griffin – designed to educate security staff and other public workers on spotting potential terrorist threats – four years ago.

It has since been implemented by a number of cities in the UK, and also by Sydney, New York and Hong Kong.

At yesterday's conference, which delivered the project's message to some 60 delegates, including representatives from Lothian Buses, the car park firm NCP Services and the city council, Mr Lovegrove said "everyone" had a vital role to play in recognising potential threats.

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Delegates were introduced to "hostile reconnaissance" to help spot potential targets.

"This means noticing people who suddenly start appearing at a caf and perhaps draw maps of the surrounding area. It could be someone using video equipment where it wouldn't normally be done," Mr Lovegrove said.

He added: "We mustn't be stereotypical – a terrorist is just as likely to be a white, blonde woman as opposed to the image many people may hold."

Superintendent Keith Chamberlain, of Lothian and Borders Police, said knowledge-sharing played a key role in fighting terrorism and he called on the public to play its part.

"We want people to be an extension of the police and help us fight the threat by being our eyes and ears," he said. "The seminar is designed to teach people how to spot potential terrorists – not by their appearance but by their behaviour.

"By doing this, we can then reduce the risk of any potential attack."

Yesterday's warning echoes comments by Stephen House, the new Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police, who last November said Scotland was likely to face another terrorist attack. However, one leading academic stressed that life in Edinburgh should not be affected by the obvious threat.

Professor Paul Wilkinson, who chairs the advisory board of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at St Andrews University, said: "I don't think we can allow the problems of terrorism to disrupt the normal lives of people.

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"Gatherings like the Edinburgh Festival are a very important part of the life of the city and we must not allow any alarmism to affect it."

Max Taylor, a professor of international relations at the University of St Andrews, said terrorists had changed their targets in recent years, aiming for mass casualties.

"There is a lack of focus on iconic buildings, such as in the IRA days of going for Downing Street, the City of London or the Royal Family. That is not evident now," he said.

"They are not going for the obvious, up-front capitalist things. Instead, one of their main aspirations is mass casualty terrorism, such as transport infrastructure.

"They are also quite conservative and tend to do the things that work. The problem is in identifying the targets.

"Threat levels are unquestionably high, but I don't know of any particular threats to Edinburgh."