Christmas markets prime targets for ‘ticking time bomb terrorists’ roaming UK

Christmas markets are prime targets for “ticking time bomb” jihadi terrorists who are roaming the UK, it has been warned.

Experts have warned of the possibility of a fresh terrorist attack at festive events following on from the double stabbing on London Bridge.

Jihadis have previously targeted the season with attacks in Strasbourg in 2018 and Berlin in 2016, and police are known to have foiled plots in the UK.

Met Police chiefs have assured they are not aware of any direct threat, but said they will remain “vigilant” and urged the public to do the same.

Professor Anthony Glees, from the University of Buckingham, warned jihadis in the UK are “ticking time bombs” and that Christmas markets are seen as prime targets by those inspired by ISIS.

Security expert Will Geddes also warned about the possibility of a threat of the season, urging the public to follow government advice and “run, hide, tell” in the wake of an attack.

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Professor Glees told Daily Star Online: “What will worry the security authorities is that on December 19, 2016, there was a Christmas market attack in Berlin and on December 11, 2018, a Christmas market attack in Strasbourg.

“[The] markets are seen as iconic sites to attack by jihadists because they're about Christmas and Christianity, they are markets that attract a lot of people and they are usually in sites that are hard to defend and usually undefended.”

The security expert added as the UK threat level is now lowered we should not “expect” an attack over Christmas, but said shoppers should “be careful” and “no one wants to be a hostage to fortune”.

He went on: “I say would-be jihadists will also need to be careful. The British public are determined not to be frightened by these goons and will not give these markets a miss.

“Jihadists may think we're slightly all over the place in the UK right now and that it'd be a good time to attack. But then again MI5 and [the security services] will know this as well."

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Usman Khan’s terror attack on London Bridge has renewed focus on the threat, especially after it emerged he was a convicted jihadi who had been released from jail.

Professor Glees said there are now at least 220 prisoners like him behind bars, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson as admitted there are at least dozens of Khan-esque prisoners who have been released from prison.

The professor explained: “This spells danger, a ticking time bomb. In my view, once a jihadi always a jihadi. You can't change their extreme ideology, or only very rarely.

“All you can do is deny them the opportunity, either by locking up them for a very long time, like sex offenders or by monitoring their every move which may be impossible."

He added you have to make sure de-radicalisation works "at all" and warned jihadis are "highly dangerous sociopaths".

Professor Glees warned along with Christmas markets, festive concerts, the Stock Exchange, the Bank of England, royal palaces and the London Eye could all be seen as targets for the terrorists over the season.

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Will Geddes, boss of the International Corporate Protection Group, also warned about the possibility of an attack of Christmas.

He told Daily Star Online: “We have to be aware of the threat, government agencies will be watching and listening to any chatter amongst these groups.

“It will come from Islamic extremists based on what we know about them and their modus operandi.”

Geddes added the Christmas market attacks are “symbolic” for the jihadis – but the sites also become attractive targets due to them simply being crowded with distracted people.

He explained the jihadis will always look to make things easy for themselves and look for the “path of least resistance”.

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Geddes pointed out that Christmas markets around the UK will be stepping up security – as they have done in previous years – including barriers to stop vehicles.

He warned however there is “not much” you can do to stop “an individual with a couple of knives walking into the market and hacking into people”.

The security expert added: “The public have to remain vigilant, go to the Christmas markets, enjoy yourselves, but be cautious that the threat is still potentially prevalent.”

He also urged people to “run, run, run” if there is an attack, not stop to try and film what is going on in an attack.

And he suggested anyone concerned to take the new Action Counter Terrorism training course online, which takes just 45 minutes to complete.

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Britain’s terror threat level remains at substantial — which is the middle rating of the five-tier system.

The Government reduced the threat from “severe” just weeks before Khan’s stabbing rampage on London Bridge.

It means an attack remains “likely” amid the ongoing threat from lone wolf jihadis and ISIS.

And after it emerged Khan had previously been jailed for terror offences, it has renewed fears about more than 67 other jihadis currently out on licence.

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Justice Secretary Robert Buckland has already announced restrictions on these convicted terrorists – banning them from Christmas markets and crowded locations.

Conditions will be tightened up for both those on licence and those placed on “anti-terror orders”.

Buckland said: “Christmas is coming so we are absolutely right to do this.

“Given what has happened, there will be much more comprehensive restrictions for these people.”

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Met Police deputy assistant Commissioner Lucy D’Orsi, however, assured that the police are not taking any chances.

She said “attacks can be carried out anywhere, at any time” and added urged the public to “put security at the top of their festive list and report anything suspicious or of concern”.

Cops have also deployed Project Servator, a squad of specialist trained officers who can spot the tell-tale signs of trouble before it happens.

Knife arches have also been deployed at certain events, along with number-plate detection technology, police security advisors at festive markets, and an increase in police patrols, undercover officers, and counter-terror cops across London.

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The top cop said: “December sees a large number of Christmas events and festivals which draw in thousands of tourists and Londoners into the city centre.

“Accordingly, we deploy a seasonal uplift in policing activity to prevent and tackle crime, and any other threats, to keep people safe over the Christmas period.

“Throughout December, until January 5 the Met will be involved in a number of additional preventative and engagement activities across London, particularly at festive events.”

She added: “Whilst there is no intelligence to suggest any increased risk to festive events this year, the national threat level remains ‘Substantial’, meaning an attack is ‘likely’, so we all need to remain vigilant.”

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