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London’s Metropolitan Police is increasing its force of armed officers by 600 as the frequency of terrorist attacks around the world increases and security jitters in European cities remain at a high.
The recent attacks in Paris, where 130 people were killed by separate gunmen in a co-ordinated rampage, “reinforced the vital role that firearms officers would be called upon to play on behalf of all of us, to run forward and confront the deadly threat that such attackers would pose”, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, Met commissioner, said on Thursday.
The force has already starting putting plans into action to more than double the number of armed response vehicles in the British capital, he said.
The vast majority of Met officers — about 92 per cent — will remain unarmed, while the number that are armed will rise to 2,800. Sir Bernard said in November he wants the number of armed officers in London to rise to 4,000.
The attacks in Paris in November came barely 11 months after Islamist terrorists assaulted staff at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 and another four at a Jewish supermarket. The most recent atrocity led to a shutdown of Brussels for several days as police went on a manhunt for alleged perpetrators of the Paris shootings.
On Thursday, Jakarta was rocked by a series of explosions that police said left seven people dead, while an attack in the tourist district of Istanbul on Tuesday claimed the lives of at least 10 people and injured 15 others. Recent attacks in Ankara and Beirut have further heightened security fears.
Sir Bernard said he wants the Met to be “as ready as can be” if there is an attack in London.
“We know that the threat we currently face is likely to be a spontaneous attack that requires a fast response to deal with it,” he said. “This increase has started already and everyday we are getting stronger. It will be an expensive option, but is vital to keeping us safe.”
The current threat level for a terrorist attack in London is “severe”, according to MI5, the British security service, meaning an attack is “highly likely”. It is the second-highest level, after “critical”.
The Met began training armed response vehicle officers and testing the force’s response to a terrorist firearms attack following the attacks in Mumbai in 2008.
The Met’s stance contrasts with that of the City of London Police, which told reporters in December that its officers would continue to patrol the capital’s financial district unarmed.
“What we must avoid is an assumption that if you armed every police officer in the UK, you would somehow enable us to address that threat that may exist,” Ian Dyson, who became commissioner of the force at the start of this year, said in December.
In November, David Cameron announced plans to recruit 1,900 intelligence and security staff as part of its efforts to counter the threat of Isis in Britain.
Additional reporting by Gonzalo Vina in London