The bomb attack in Manchester underlines the continued evolution of the threat from Islamist terrorism in the UK and across Western Europe. The targeting of an entertainment venue also underlines the wide scope of potential targets, emphasising the need for vigilance in public places, particularly among large crowds.

In the wake of the attack, extra security measures have been announced and almost 1,000 additional soldiers have been deployed across the country. Additional identity checks are likely, especially at border crossings. Investigations may prompt localised incidents and security cordons in Manchester or elsewhere.

Threat level raised to Critical

Prime Minister Theresa May on 23 May announced that the threat level for international terrorism had been increased from Severe to Critical, the highest level on a five-point scale. We assess that a return to a Severe rating will take place by mid-June at the latest. Home Secretary (Interior Minister) Amber Rudd on 24 May stated that the increase was likely to be temporary. Both previous periods in which the threat level has been increased to Critical have lasted less than a week, though the sensitivity of the election period is likely to mean that this time the Critical level will be maintained until a new government is in place.

Control Risks maintains its terrorism risk rating for the UK at LOW. In terms of the implications for business, the LOW rating best reflects the current situation. We assess that occasional serious attacks, such as Manchester, will punctuate a generally stable security environment, and both business and society will prove resilient. An increase in the frequency of major attacks or a sense of weaker resilience would be a key factor motivating a change to our rating.

Key takeaways from the Manchester attack
  • The attack appears to have had a relatively high level of planning. It is likely to have been encouraged, even if not operationally controlled, by substantive contacts with some level of Islamic State (IS) leadership. This is in contrast to some recent attacks involving the ‘weaponisation’ of everyday objects and apparently merely inspired by transnational extremist groups.

  • This reinforces our view that ‘conventional’ attacks will continue, albeit less frequently. ‘Conventional’ attacks in this sense are those carried out by relatively capable networks, involving suicide attackers, using explosive devices and firearms, and with a degree of operational direction from transnational networks.

  • The ‘blend’ of approaches by different groups or networks poses a dilemma: the ability to deter, detect and disrupt various types of plots simultaneously is a considerable drain on resources. The range and flexibility of responses available to the UK government will mitigate the threat but not eliminate it completely.

  • Additional vigilance is necessary during significant public events and potentially on dates significant to Islamist terrorist activity. These include: Ramadan (beginning May26/27); general election campaign events; and the anniversary of the ‘7/7’ transport attacks in the capital London on 7 July 2005. Such events and dates are likely to attract a noticeably higher level of security.

Operational Advice
  • Travel to the UK can proceed. Security alerts are likely in the coming days and could result in short-notice evacuations of transport hubs. Allow ample time for travel and maintain flexible itineraries.

  • Expect but do not be unduly alarmed by a visibly heightened security presence. Members should anticipate increased security checks at transport hubs such as airports and railway stations. Additional identity checks should also be expected, especially at border crossings; carry relevant identification documents and allow additional time for journeys.

  • Exercise caution at all times in crowded public areas. Remain vigilant and report any suspicious behaviour or suspect packages to the police.

  • Adhere to official directives at all times.

  • Security hoaxes tend to proliferate in the aftermath of high-profile terrorist attacks, especially via web-based social networks. Ensure you have access to reliable intelligence and refrain from acting on the basis of unverified information.

Advice specific to Manchester
  • Expect a heightened security force presence, disruption to public transport services and road closures in Manchester until further notice.

  • There is a security cordon around the Manchester Arena and Victoria Station; traffic is restricted on sections of Great Ducie Street, Victoria Bridge Street, Chapel Street, Trinity Way, and in the immediate vicinity of the Manchester Arena (see map below). Plan routes circumventing the affected area and follow all directives issued by the authorities.

  • Anticipate further security forces operations, notably in Manchester's southern suburbs.

  • Contact the official emergency number for enquiries: 00441618569400.  

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