Does Terrorism Pose a Threat to Visitors to the UK?

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From New York to Brussels, no city is safe from act sof terrorism. London has featured high on the list of likely targets for decades. Sometimes, those plots are not thwarted.

Westminster Bridge at sunset, London, UK Photo © iStock/IakovKalinin

Following the terrorist attack on London Bridge on 29 November 2019, increased police presence will be felt throughout the capital. Be vigilant and report any suspicious behavior to the police.

The ideological clash that is "terrorism" is the defining element of the current century. So, what is the likelihood London will be the scene of a terror attack?

In July 2005, London was shaken by bombings in three underground trains at King's Cross station, a bus and other areas, which resulted in 52 deaths. Four men, three British nationals of Pakistani background and a Jamaican, who were behind the attacks, all died.

Since the 2005 attacks, changes have been made to underground stations, such as the removal of rubbish bins. Everyone is keeping an eye out for suspicious activity (their life might depend on it), so don‘t leave bags unattended anywhere in the country.

For similar security reasons, the UK Department for Transport sometimes changes its rules on the types of luggage you can carry on planes and other modes of transportation.

The country was on edge again in December 2010, after incidents which included a suicide bombing in Stockholm, Sweden and an alleged plan for a shooting spree in Copenhagen, Denmark, which involved men who had been living near London. Nine men were later charged with conspiracy to bomb several spots in London like the Stock Exchange and U.S. Embassy around Christmas.

English police went on high alert early in 2011 after intelligence revealed some terrorist cells could be planning attacks in London‘s transportation centers.

In 2013, Lee Rigby, a British soldier returning to barracks was murdered by two men operating as a 'lone wolf' pack. 

In 2017, 22 people died when a nail bomb was detonated by a suicide bomber at a pop concert in Manchester. Most of the dead and injured were teenagers. 

Our thoughts are with the families and friends of those killed or injured in these cowardly attacks on innocent people. We will continue to urge travelers to use caution wherever they go, but also hold true to our belief that travel can change the world for the better. The exchange of ideas, and being able to see we are all just human beings, can only enhance understanding and promote peace.

Avoid all political rallies and large gatherings. The most recent problems have come from radical left groups such as Extinction Rebellion, Anarchists, and other Eco Terrorists. Their antics can be very disruptive to travel schedules.

Rise of the ‘Lone Wolf’ terrorist

Since the attacks of 9/11 in the United States, and Mumbai in 2011 there has been a move away from mass coordinated attacks and a rise of small cell, or 'lone wolf' terror attacks.

This type of operation was responsible for the attacks in Paris in 2015 and Brussels in 2016. A smaller operating group with no formal links to a larger organization makes the killers harder to detect... and the fear this could happen anywhere at anytime more terrifying.

London's police and anti-terror authorities have identified this type of attack as the most likely to occur.

Is London at risk of a terror attack?

The implications on travel to the United Kingdom and Europe remain unchanged. The threat of terrorism is the new normal. Just two months after the Westminster attack in London, security authorities reported they were investigating and thwarting potential attacks on a weekly basis. It is impossible to predict where or when the next one will occur.

But the fact remains the chances of being involved in a terror event are extremely small. According to a 2011 report from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the average American is many, many times more likely to be killed in a vehicle accident as they are to be killed by a terrorist.

The UK is at the same risk of terror attack today as it was before Manchester, we’re just more aware of it now, feeling the hurt and the fear.

For some perspective, read this: How do you decide if it’s still safe to go?

What to keep an eye out for

The London police have asked all citizens and visitors to play their part in helping maintain security, and implore you to be on the lookout for and to report suspicious activity, such as:
  • People in stationary vehicles watching a building or structure, for no apparent reason
  • Vehicles moving slowly near public buildings, structures or bridges, or parked in suspicious circumstances
  • People using recording equipment, including camera phones, or seen making notes or sketches of security details for no apparent reason
  • Someone paying close attention to specific entry and exit points; stairwells, hallways, fire escapes for no apparent reason
  • People loitering at or near premises for long periods, watching patrons, for no apparent reason
  • People asking detailed or unusual questions about buildings and business operations, facilities (such as room layouts), security or parking for no apparent reason
  • Members of the public in offices and ‘off-limits’ areas, plant rooms and similar locations.

Brexit troubles

There are also predictions of great civil unrest when and if the UK leaves the EU primarily from the remainers. You should also expect travel delays and confusion entering the UK after the UK leaves the EU due to unresolved issues of visas, permissions and requirements. This includes connecting through the UK to other destinations in Europe.

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  • Jordan Psilos said

    Its terrible to live in fear . What are terrorists gaining by it?? Let's have truce and live in peace. Much better that way. Nothing to gain otherwise by those groups.

  • Christopher Manny said

    You can't be serious, citing fear and then asking, "what do they [terrorists] gain by it?" Must be what one calls in the US "lib#arded".

  • Jeff Dalton said

    My in-laws watch too much CNN and other news. US news is geared to strike fear into the hearts of the masses because, let's face it, good news doesn't sell. Now, my daughter has a unique opportunity to travel to London, and my in-laws are trying to thwart the plans by filling my wife's head with news stories. I am not a world traveler and have only traveled outside of the US a couple of times, and even I see this as possibly a once in a lifetime opportunity which is now being hijacked by terror. The way I see it is: You could be severely wounded in a car accident on your way to work tomorrow, and as you lay in your car taking your last breaths, I'll bet there will be a long list of things that will go through your head that you WISH you would have done, but you were too afraid to do. Live your life; don't let fear live it for you.

  • n said

    i think you can travel you just have to be carefull

  • Andrea said

    I am from U.S. and now live in Europe in my 20's. I hope your daughter doesn't miss out on a wonderful life changing experience to travel. Almost always at least someone I know from back home is in Europe traveling as well as my friends that I have made over here and not one of them has had a negative experience. I have found that I am a much happier person since I turned off the TV and only read the paper ever so often. I was becoming extremely paranoid myself from CNN. It's just not healthy to live in a fear filled environment. If your daughter is careful about who she interacts with and aware of her surroundings she should have a wonderful time.

  • Julie said

    Check out this website - lots of good information about how to get prepared to have a safe trip abroad:

  • Sharron said

    Hi, I am from the UK. We are going about our lives. As many of you say, we cannot live in fear however, this doesn't mean we are complacent.
    I am travelling to London this weekend and am terrified! BUT I will be on guard, we already have a plan of "what if" and that's all we can do.
    I hope your daughter travels. The UK is a great place. And she will have a wonderful time. Xx

  • Carl said

    Please don't be 'terrified' I'm a Londoner it's a fantastic place to visit and enjoy British people are kind friendly and aware of there surroundings and almost all of us look after each other. Our Metropolitan police in my eyes are the best in the world helpful and mindful of all scenarios. The culture and different people buildings and places to visit should take your mind of these small minorities that want nothing but to harm others. Our status is severe and has been for years but honestly it is in no one's mind. We just carry on and live life. Just come and enjoy visit us and be glad you did. Always use the underground only way to travel in London great experience quick and cheap AND very safe. Enjoy life.

  • pamameen said

    Any terrorist act by any human brute must be strongly condemned by one and all

    It is an immoral retaliation for what have been happening may be in the Middle East

    We do not know yet but it may be a retaliation whereby poor and innocent people have been targeted

    The punished group of innocent people had no direct association with the geopolitical developments

    It is true that in times of war and armed conflict, collective punishment has resulted in atrocities, and violation of the laws of war and the Geneva Conventions.(It is happening right now in Syria by all fighters)

    Historically, occupying powers have used collective punishment to retaliate against and deter attacks on their forces by Resistance movements (e.g. destroying entire towns and villages where such attacks have occurred).

    But two wrongs do not make a wrong ( a terrorist act) right

  • g. squire said

    The British police do a wonderful job to keep us safe but they spend too much time on dealing with trivial matters like swearing, littering, urinating, belching, paddling in fountains and climbing trees just to issue their PNDs and recorded cautions to make their 'crime solved' figures look good that I fear they man not be paying attention to something far more serious. This also discourages the young from being supportive of the police. i.e. If your career has been destroyed over a lifelong record on the PNC for something extremely trivial, you will not be very supportive of the police will you?

  • Tom said

    Specially UK can be considered as the nation who burn many other great civilizations ruthlessly and currently what we see is more of less kind of return of investment of what UK did in past. Unfortunately innocent people suffers from this activities and politicians needs to be more responsible before hands on other countries..

  • George said

    Think if the UK stops selling bombs to Saudis and stops supporting extermist financial/ideological sponsor regime in the Arabian pennensula then people all around the world will see a safer world.

    Saudis need to be isolated and be held responsible for their clients acts around the world. you cannot ignore terrorists killing people in other country but be concerend about their action in your country. enough is enough

  • Juilian said

    I have traveled to the UK twice and have never felt threatened. You just need to be careful. Make sure you don't carry huge amounts of cash. Get yourself a waist bag where you can keep your passport and any documents and wear it so that the buckle is at the back and the bag is in front. Pick pockets live in London. They will get their hands on your personal effects if it's behind you. Don't ride the tube late at night and only buy tickets for the tube from the ticket machines or the tube staff. Ticket touts operate at tube stations trying to sell tickets to unwary people like tourists. If you buy from them you will be caught by the staff watching the multitude of CCTV cameras and you can face a fine of several thousand pounds. When driving always obey the speed limit. There are speed cameras everywhere and in a rental car the company will take the fine money out of your bank account as they'll have your credit card details.
    There's no need to be paranoid about safety in the UK and in country areas it's extremely low to non existent risk. Terrorists only go for the big city targets to kill and injure the maximum number of people.
    You wont find terror attacks happening in a tiny English village.
    One thing to remember is that you are as a tourist your countries ambassador so you want to leave a good impression.

  • Lisa said

    I'm going to the UK for the first time (minus a 24-hour layover in London once). I was a bit hesitant for a brief while there but my intellectual side won out and I decided to go for it anyway.

    I have traveled solo through most of Europe and have never felt unsafe. The standard rules apply:
    1. Don't carry huge amounts of cash on you and don't flash your wallet around.
    2. Be aware of your surroundings (i.e. don't keep your nose glued to your cell phone)
    3. Don't go along with overly-helpful strangers or any random person offering you a "deal".
    4. Definitely DO NOT LOOK like a TOURIST (selfie stick, anyone?)

    Traveling is amazing and I've encountered so many wonderful people everywhere I've gone. I don't regret any of my trips.

  • pnig said

    Really? No city is same from terrorism? What about one of the top 10 largest cities on Earth, Tokyo? Warsaw? Zurich? You know cities that don't have many or almost no Muslims or Africans.
    If the UK government actually cared for the safety of its NATIVE people they would highly restrict immigrants from outside of Europe. Of course it's feelings over actions here in the West sadly, everyone here supports individualism so you don't see a cultural bond like you do in Asian countries which means mass immigration runs loose

  • fred said

    Rubbish bins were not a feature at railway and underground stations in London for decades. They were removed during the IRA attacks back in the 70s and 80s. In fact there now are some (with transparent plastic bags as the rubbish containers). People seem to have forgotten that the UK has been subject to much more dangerous terrorist attacks in the past.

  • Amy said

    I'm a Londoner myself, and let me just say that this is massively over-dramatised. London, like any successful city, is of course a point of interest (terrorists included) but this does not impede the daily running of the city or indeed the country. We do not live in fear, nor should you, as we understand the Met police, home security and SIS are as on top of potential threats as it is possible to be.
    London's atmosphere is brilliant and totally unsurpressed by the infrequent shocking acts you have been made aware of. Rest assured, everyone is welcome in London and the chance of something happening to you here is barely existant. Come see for yourself!

  • ameli said

    London is such a good destination where had fun as I have on <a href=>tours of west coast of america</a>. That was just incredible for me.

  • Allis said

    It's just really great to read out this great stuff. I just would love to be around the London to enjoy the safest travel around that for sure after

  • JP said

    Zero tolerance for any acts or threats of terrorism.

    Why are the Britt's allowing these people on the streets?

  • Nazrul Islam said

    This is very useful information for those of you who have studied abroad, let us know in the comments if you can think of any more good reasons to study abroad and whether you agree with the list so far! Thanks again for the post.

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