LONDON — Anti-terrorist firearms officers have been deployed to patrol the streets and shopping malls of London as the city woke up on Thursday to the murder of a woman in Russell Square by a man wielding a knife.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe has announced the start of Operation Hercules, which provides for an extra 600 armed officers – pulled from various parts of England – to protect London against the threat of terrorist attacks similar to recent ones in France and Germany.
The Met said the armed officers would be on “proactive operations and targeted patrols,” both on foot and in vehicles, across London. Some have been given BMW motorcycles to ensure a quicker response to threats.
“Anyone who’s been following events in Europe over the past few weeks will understand why we want to show our determination to protect the public. We are deadly serious about the protection that we are offering the people of London, and we will never be complacent,” said Hogan-Howe.
The commissioner said the forces have “substantial resources and a range of tactics” to protect the public and “deal with armed and deadly attackers.” Hogan-Howe also called on the public to engage with London police officers. “If you have fears or concerns, we want to know,” he said.
The Met’s move comes as France and Germany step up public security in the wake of attacks large and small that have killed and injured hundreds in past months.
London mayor Sadiq Khan said: “There is no reason to be alarmed. All of our police officers are playing their part and working closely with all of our communities to prevent the possibility of an attack.”
The Met confirmed that the move to bulk up police on the streets is not based on any specific intelligence “but is a long-term response to make London … as hostile an environment as possible for any would-be attacker. That means the locations, types of tactics and numbers of officers deployed at once will continually change to be most effective and avoid predictability.”
In December, a husband-and-wife team of terrorists who were planning a suicide-bomb attack on London’s Westfield mall and the London Underground were jailed for a minimum of 27 and 25 years, respectively. They were planning to mark the 10th anniversary of the 7/7 London Underground and bus bombings in the British capital.
The police deployment comes just hours after a woman in her 60s was knifed to death in Russell Square by a teenager said by police to be mentally ill. Five others were injured in the attack and, according to news reports, police are not ruling out terrorism as a motive.
Russell Square is near The British Museum, the Brunswick Centre, a shopping mall with an arts cinema and a host of show venues during London Fashion Week. A former show and presentation space used by the British Fashion Council is also located nearby.
Russell Square, a public garden, has seen its share of terror: The neighborhood was the site of two of the 7/7 terrorist attacks, though it remains unclear whether the attack on Wednesday night was related.