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Ahead Of Elections In Britain, Terrorists Strike London


Let's ask what Britain's prime minister, Theresa May, plans to do differently after an attack over the weekend. Three men drove a van into people on London Bridge, then came out of it slashing people with knives. ISIS claimed responsibility. The prime minister says things cannot remain as they are. So we'll discuss this with a longtime adviser to the U.K. Parliament on security matters, Michael Clarke. Welcome to the program, sir.


INSKEEP: And sorry for your country's loss once again. What is one thing that the prime minister can change?

CLARKE: Not very much actually. Well, I suppose she can change the atmosphere. And what she said yesterday, saying that things - we can't go on like this is very similar to what Tony Blair said after the London bombings in 2005, which is the biggest terrorist attack we had in this particular era of jihadist terrorism. And in a sense - I think the most important thing she said was the least tangible in a way. She said that we must have conversations, both within our Muslim communities and between our Muslim communities and the rest of society. And she said those conversations will be difficult and embarrassing. Those were the words she used.

I think she was quite right to do that because we have to confront this issue. But she then laid out a number of practical things, first of which she doesn't have much control over - sentencing policy, getting the Internet service providers on board, doing more with our partners internationally. All good ideas, but we're doing all of those things already. There's only so much that she can really affect.

INSKEEP: And you mentioned Internet service providers - that's trying to crack down in some way on extremist content if you can do that without limiting free speech too much. That's what she's talking about there.

CLARKE: Exactly, yeah. I mean, there's two elements to that. I mean, one is, you know - I mean, getting hate material off the - off cyberspace. I mean, to reduce the amount of space that these people can operate in to radicalize young people, not just for jihadism but for all sorts of hateful things. And in a way, the argument there is, well, the companies have been very reactive so far. They tell us all that they do, the thousands of people they have moderating stuff, but they need far more than that. They actually are reactive. They react when people complain, but they don't get ahead of the curve.

INSKEEP: Do you assume...

CLARKE: But the other issue...

INSKEEP: Do you assume, Mr. Clarke - forgive me.

CLARKE: The other issue is encryption. Go on, go on.

INSKEEP: Oh, you said encryption. Of course, there's a big - we could have an entire discussion about that. But I'd like to know - do you assume that this attack over the weekend, like the previous attacks, is - we don't know the identities of the attackers, although the authorities say they do. Do you assume that this is going to be traced back to people who are citizens of Britain at this time, as past attacks have been, that this is not about outsiders coming in but about people within society who commit these attacks?

CLARKE: All of the indications point that way at the moment. The person that we know of - we don't have a name but we know a certain amount about one of the perpetrators - sounds as if he is the son of a Pakistani asylum-seeker, is a British citizen. I'd be surprised if the other two didn't turn out to be British citizens. And, you know, what we are suffering from at the moment and have been for the - in these three attacks this year is homegrown terrorism again - as indeed was the case in 2005. The four perpetrators of the London bombings in 2005 were all homegrown British nationals.

INSKEEP: Mr. Clarke, I need to ask about this. President Trump sent a number of tweets out over the weekend in which he, among other things, offered sympathies to the British people but also took the chance to attack the mayor of London and promote his own proposed travel ban in the United States. Has the president been helpful?

CLARKE: No. I mean, nobody in Britain has taken very much notice of it to be honest. And Mayor Khan in London, his office said he's got more important things to do than worry about ill-informed tweets because the attack on Sadiq Khan was that he had said not to be alarmed, you know, exclamation mark in President Trump's tweet. But what he was saying don't be alarmed about was the extra police presence. I mean, his statement was actually there will be more police presence as a result of this. Londoners know that. Don't be alarmed. We all know the game that we're playing. That was his - I mean, his comment, in any case, seems, by the president, to have been taken completely out of context. But I have to say, of all the commentary over the last 24 hours, the president's tweets really don't rate very highly in the media here.

INSKEEP: Has - speaking as a professional yourself, has Sadiq Khan done an adequate job as leader of London at this moment?

CLARKE: He's making the right sort of statements and - which is this is a city of 9 million people. Everyone goes to work as normal. Everyone understands the police presence. He is working very closely with the Metropolitan Police who did perform incredibly well on Saturday night, as did the emergency services. It all worked more or less exactly as it should have worked.


CLARKE: So he's been doing a reasonable job, I think. I mean, he hasn't been there for all that long, but he's been doing a reasonable job in making sure that the police can do what they need to do.

INSKEEP: Michael Clarke, adviser to the U.K. government, or the Parliament, on security matters, thanks very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.