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London Attack: Security Expert's Take On Prime Minister's Stance


We're following the attack that began last night on London Bridge and continued into an area full of bars and restaurants. To recap, seven people are reported dead not including the three suspects who were shot by police eight minutes after the first report of their spree. Twelve people have been arrested so far. Last night's attackers were found to be wearing fake suicide vests. This morning, dozens of people are being treated for injuries from being mowed down by a van or from being stabbed.

Hours ago, Prime Minister Theresa May spoke about the violence and the two other terrorist attacks in Britain in the past three months. Here's some of what she said.


PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: While we have made significant progress in recent years, there is, to be frank, far too much tolerance of extremism in our country. So we need to become far more robust in identifying it and stamping it out across the public sector and across society.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Peter Neumann is a professor of Security Studies at King's College. He joins us from the BBC in London. Thanks for being with us this morning.

PETER NEUMANN: Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As the prime minister mentioned, there have been three attacks in Britain just since March. Is this, as the prime minister says, a new trend?

NEUMANN: Well, I think it's very difficult to say. Clearly, until Manchester - until after Manchester, I would have defended British security agencies. I would have said this is the exception. The system works pretty well and look at all the plots that they've failed. I think a lot of people in Britain are now asking, what is happening? Three attacks in just two months, that seems a lot, especially in a country that has been very convinced, very confident in its ability to prevent this kind of attack.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The prime minister identified several ways that counterterrorism efforts in the United Kingdom need to change. One of them was defeating Islamist extremist ideology. Let's listen.


MAY: Only be defeated when we turn people's minds away from this violence and make them understand that our values, pluralistic British values are superior to anything offered by the preachers and supporters of hate.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She also said that governments need to better regulate cyberspace, that the U.K. needs to review its strategy and make sure security officials have all the powers they need. And as we heard in that earlier clip, that the U.K. needs to fix what she called too much tolerance of extremism. Can you put these points into context?

NEUMANN: Well, the context is that there is an election on Thursday. And a lot of people have been quite disappointed with her because that statement sounded very much like a political speech. It is, of course, exactly what she has been saying for six years. Let's not forget, before becoming prime minister last year, she'd been home secretary - that's secretary for homeland security in Britain - for five years.

And she's been giving speeches exactly like that for the entire period of time without proposing any specific measures. In fact, two years ago, she proposed a counter-extremism bill, which ultimately failed in parliament because it was not possible to define extremism, not violent, extremism in a legally sound way. I don't understand exactly what would have changed now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, what in your view does need to happen? You said that before this, you would have you defended the security services. Now, apparently, you would not.

NEUMANN: Well, at least, it makes me think. And we need to analyze very, very carefully what went wrong in each particular instance. I believe that each instance was quite different in the sense that, for example, in Manchester, it was a known network for some reason the security agencies believed that that network of known extremists was under control. That's why they didn't arrest them. Is that still the case? Are we really confident that these people are under control by the security agencies? Do we have to increase the capacity of our security agencies? These are questions that need to be seriously asked now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The prime minister said there is too much tolerance for extremism in the U.K. Is that true in your view?

NEUMANN: That depends very much on what you mean by extremism, which she has never really properly defined. I do think that in the past, there have been, if you want, ghettos - ghettos - Muslim ghettos where extremist preachers were allowed to operate. And that's the big difference, for example, to United States of America. By and large, you do not have these ghettos.

These ghettos exist in Western Europe, in the suburbs of Paris and parts of Brussels. Also, historically, they used to exist in Britain. And it is true that in these places, it was possible for extremist preachers to recruit people, for these networks to exist, and for a long time for - perhaps, too long a time, security agencies and governments were too reluctant to interfere and to stop that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Peter Neumann, professor of Security Studies at King's College in London, thank you very much for being with us.

NEUMANN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.