The decades-old European project appeared under increasing strain on Tuesday after three blasts in Brussels – the seat of the European Union – killed 34 people, switching on emergency measures in London, Paris, Berlin and elsewhere in the continent.
Wracked by a migrant crisis, terror attacks in Paris, economic meltdowns in member-states such as Greece and growing tensions in Britain before the June 23 referendum, the EU was grappling with the longest calender of challenges since its inception before the blasts struck in Brussels. Britain scaled up its preparedness for terror attacks with increased police presence in London and elsewhere, while Prime Minister David Cameron chaired an emergency response committee soon after the Brussels blasts.
Belgium was put on its highest terror threat level of 4. Britain has been on a “severe” threat level since August 2014, which means a terrorist attack is highly likely. Security officials recently conducted exercises in London to test responses to terror attacks.
After an emergency meeting, President Francois Hollande of France said: “The terrorists have struck Belgium but it is Europe that was targeted. And it is the whole world that is concerned with this.” European Union president Donald Tusk said: “These attacks mark another low by the terrorists in the service of hatred and violence.”
Mark Rowley, a top Scotland Yard officer and the national lead for counter-terrorism policing, said: “As a precaution forces across the UK have increased policing presence at key locations, including transport hubs, to protect the public and provide reassurance. This is not in relation to any specific information or intelligence.”
Security was heightened at Heathrow and Gatwick airports, while the police increased their presence in key areas such as Mayfair and Westminster in London.
“In London specifically, the Metropolitan Police Service has mobilised additional officers, who will carry out highly visible patrols at key locations around the Capital including the transport network.The number of officers deployed will be regularly assessed.These additional officers are deployed as part of reassurance measures,” Rowley said.
“The police presence across London and the rest of the UK is constantly under review. We are in close liaison with the Belgium authorities and will continue to monitor the situation.”