Terrorism ‘targets economic activity’

Terrorists aim to harm the West by striking at economic activity, so an attack on a tourist area in Greece is a possibility, according to Metropolitan Police Service Commissioner Sir Ian Blair, though he has heard no specific intelligence suggesting it will happen. Blair told Kathimerini that the constantly changing methods of modern terrorism render it unpredictable, and make international cooperation on combating terrorism imperative. The commissioner was in Athens to collaborate with the Greek police force on security for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. He said the challenge was to hold the Games safely in an environment that was friendly to visitors. Why are you in Athens? We have been collaborating with the Greek Police for many years, but very closely since the murder of Brigadier [Stephen] Saunders [by the November 17 terror group], but more particularly in view of the London Olympics in 2012. With respect to the planning in Beijing, it’s a very different environment in which to hold Olympic Games to that of a Western liberal democracy. What we want to do is to establish the contacts and then start to unpack the Greek experience; compare and contrast the threats that we now face versus the threats that they faced. They’re not that dissimilar; things have moved on, but the Athens Olympics were less than three years after 9/11. So while London is a target, of course, it’s a target, so must Athens have been. At the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, security became the main issue. Is it going to be the same for London? I hope not. Of course, there was that awful juncture, with the London bombs [in 2005] killing so many people just one day after the Olympic announcement, so from the very beginning security has been the main issue. There’s normally a seven-year planning process for the Olympics, so we will have been planning for a secure Olympics for seven years, and what I hope is that we will be able to provide a friendly and open Games with built-in security, much of which I hope will not be too visible, rather than have a Games that is visibly dominated by security. I wasn’t in Athens in 2004, my memories are that security might have been the big debate on the way into it, but I don’t remember feeling that’s what it was like. How great a danger is international terrorism now? If we look at the international situation, there is a clear international grouping of terrorist activity which is either directly arranged, facilitated or inspired by al-Qaida. Terrorist events have ranged across Europe, Africa, Asia. They have aimed at economic targets or tourist areas. This is a threat which is continually changing, it’s global in nature, they don’t offer any warnings and there’s no negotiating position. The only approach is by international cooperation, by developing a narrative about liberal societies that is more compelling than a narrative about al-Qaida. So in terms of my meetings here, I have not been suggesting that there is any specific threat to Greece, but if the stated aim of al-Qaida is to drain the West dry, they don’t mean oil. If it’s an economic attack, then one on a tourist area in Greece has to be a possibility. I have no intelligence, but it has to be a possibility and therefore it’s useful for us to talk. New methods From your experience and the information you receive, is there any new methodology followed by terrorist groups these days? When we were dealing with what we described as the Irish Republican threat, they really only had about two or three methods, assassination and bombing. Now, every single plot we have uncovered in Britain is different, so methodology changes all the time. As a particularly chilling example, there was a plot to kidnap a Muslim British soldier, behead him and put that on the Internet. Nobody had ever thought of that. It’s something that’s happened in Iraq. We see that methodologies used in Iraq can move to the West. Is cooperation between the British and Greek police continuing as it did after the murder of Saunders? Not at that same level of closeness, because that was such a special investigation and we were delighted to be able to assist the Greek authorities. This was one of our own who was murdered while working for his country and of course we wanted to help. The relationship has remained close and if there are ways in which we can help the Greek police we will. This isn’t just one way; we’re now reaching out to the Greeks and saying come and help us because we need assistance. In late 2004, a guard was murdered outside the residence of the British military attache in Kifissia. Do you know how that investigation is progressing? I can’t discuss that. Do you consider it a terrorist attack? That is one of the lines of enquiry but it has not been proved. Under-protected Concerning everyday crime, you said there was a big danger of societies or parts of societies feeling over-policed but under-protected. That was a phrase used by an African-Caribbean spokesperson during the enquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence, and I think it was a very interesting point. Minority communities want policing; what they don’t want is to be made to feel isolated or suspect. The work we have done with our many independent advisory groups is that we have brought people closer to policing in Britain, so that they have a stake in it. We invited our critics to tell us what they thought. Of one of the people on that original independent advisory group, his daughter has now joined the police and as he has said to me many times, 10 years ago it wouldn’t have been possible, because she wouldn’t have wanted to and he wouldn’t have allowed her to. How important is a good, close relationship between the people and the police? If you don’t have the consent of your community, policing becomes far more difficult, and it becomes impossible. I think that one of the really interesting things about the fall of the Soviet Union has been working with the countries of the former Soviet Union to recreate a police force in each of them that the community believes in, as opposed to fear. Does working with the community help the fight against terrorism? It must do. If we look at the difficulties that you and I have just been talking about, finding the individual who is the bomber is a job probably for the police, but finding the individual who is in danger of falling into extremism or radicalization, that’s a job for the community, the family. The ultimate place we want to get to is where nobody gets to that kind of behavior without somebody saying «we’re not happy with this and we need to report this to the right kind of authorities.» If I take one of the bombers from July 7, he quite clearly went through some kind of transformation before the bombings, from a happy-go-lucky, man about town and smoker of cannabis to a very, very strict religious adherent.