Manchester attack - Jihadist war on our leisure + pleasure

Following the terrorist atrocity in Manchester Prime Minister Theresa May addressed the nation to defiantly state "that our values - the liberal, pluralistic values of Britain - will always prevail over the hateful ideology of the terrorists".

We expect such words after such an attack, yet May's emphasis on liberal, pluralistic values could not be more poignant. For Manchester, more than any other jihadist attack experienced yet in the UK, has highlighted the determination of jihadists to target our very values and culture.

While a first for the UK, the attack is the latest globally against aspects of modern leisure and cultural pursuits - having fun, attending events and gatherings purely for leisure and pleasure, are treasured aspects of modern life, but it is exactly for these reasons that they so offend militant Islamists.

To them such activity represents the godless, immoral, hedonistic value system of the West, which they see as a direct rebellion against the will of God, and thus constitutes a legitimate and priority target of their jihad. 

This view has been long-held by militant Islamists, but what has changed in recent years is the increasing choice by jihadists, especially IS/ISIS/Daesh and its followers, to make it a priority in their targeting *. It is a profound challenge for the UK authorities, with a huge number of major events taking place annually - from concerts to festivals to sporting events - and policy will now be actively reassessed in response to the events in Manchester. 

The UK is unusual in having a specialist counterterrorism agency that is specifically tasked with protecting public places and spaces - NaCTSO, the National Counter Terrorism Security Office – so addressing this issue is hardly new.

Until now however actual physical security measures differed dramatically from one setting to another - go to a Premier League football match and you may be subjected to a frisk search, your possessions being searched, electronic scanning and other measures, yet go to a play at a West End theatre and be subject to no direct security whatsoever.

The rationale behind this was clear - provide only the security level needed, and where possible allow the public to go about their lives without constantly being subjected to and inconvenienced by security checks. 

This will now have to be reevaluated, and the UK counterterrorism and public-safety system will be examined and reformed in light of the reality that events like concerts and other public cultural gatherings are now priority targets for jihadists. 

And the deliberate targeting of a venue which was known to be full of children and young people is an element of the attack that will only heighten the urgency to protect public cultural, sporting and similar gatherings.

Meanwhile the UK threat level has been raised from 'Severe' to 'Critical', warning that other attacks may occur. This reflects the dramatic increase in threats to the UK, and the priority directly following the attack to ensure that no-one associated with it is still at large and able to carry out a second attack. 

The critical threat level also reflects the scenario that the authorities have feared for sometime – that the defeat of IS/ISIS/Daesh on the ground in Iraq is going to have the knock-on effect of increasing the attempts by IS/ISIS/Daesh and its returning fighters to carry out attacks against its enemies including the UK. 

Stopping jihadist fighters getting into/back into the UK, disrupting plots and terrorist planning, and better understanding how this attack occurred will now be the priorities. Exhaustive efforts will be made by UK authorities, across the board, to learn from Manchester and ensure that no further such attack follow.

* = These include the following high-profile attacks:-

·         In Kenya in June 2014 al-Shabab carried out multiple attacks on bars showing the football World Cup, killing tens of people and forcing the government to urge people to avoid watch matches in "crowded and unprotected open places".

·         Public World Cup screenings meanwhile were cancelled in Nigeria after threats that they would be targeted from (the now IS/ISIS/Daesh affiliate) Boko Haram

·         The multi-target attacks of November 2015 in Paris included both an attack on a theatre hosting a rock concert and one on the national football stadium.

·         The July 2016 Bastille Day vehicle attack in Nice, killing 86 and injuring hundreds. 

·         The December 2016 vehicle attack on the Berlin Christmas market, killing 12.

·         The Jan 1 2017 attack in Istanbul targeted a nightclub full of party goers drinking and celebrating a day in the Christian (New Year's Eve) not Islamic calendar.

·         Now the suicide attack on a pop concert in Manchester/the UK.