LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 03: An ambulances sits outside the Accident and Emergency department of Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital on January 3, 2018 in London, England. Hospitals in the UK have been advised to postpone all non-urgent operations until the end of January as the NHS struggles to cope with the surge in patients over the winter period. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Terror threat to UK hospitals during coronavirus lockdown, says senior officer

There are fears that terrorists may be looking to target hospitals and other places on the coronavirus pandemic frontline in the UK, according to a counter-terrorism officer who said that additional security advice is being issued to the country’s NHS Trusts.

Scotland Yard chief superintendent Nik Adams, the National Coordinator for the UK’s Prevent Counter-Extremism programme, said the force is closely monitoring if terror outfits such as Islamic State (ISIS) could be looking to exploit the crisis to find new recruits to target the places currently busiest given the social distancing lockdown in place to curb the spread of the virus.

“We’re seeing the exploitation of the circumstances to encourage acts of violence,” Adams was quoted as saying by The Independent.

“The reality is we’re very prepared for any such eventuality, and monitoring any literature being disseminated around the world.

“We are working closely with colleagues across the Five Eyes [UK, US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand] countries, with academics and community advisory networks to monitor how that information is playing out, and making sure that protective security advice is being adapted for the places that might be considered more vulnerable now,” he said.

Adams warned that terror supporters could be “encouraging people to target the places that appear most vulnerable” and calling for attacks during lockdown in the hope that police and security services would be “distracted and overwhelmed”.

“We are looking for evidence of people mobilising towards violence and taking on some of those narratives that are coming out of ISIS propaganda,” he added.

The senior Metropolitan Police official also raised concerns that coronavirus conspiracy theories were being used as a “hook” by extremist groups to draw in new recruits.

The closure of schools, rising unemployment and extended lockdown measures mean that more people are spending time online, often alone, and could be more vulnerable to these tactics.

Security advice, drawn up by the UK’s National Counter Terrorism Security Office, is routinely given to large venues, places of worship and other places that draw crowds – which are currently mostly hospitals.