Only concerted action can fight terrorism
Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor
The horrific triple murder in Reading, England, is a chilling reminder of the continuing threat posed by terrorism. No country is immune to the virus of terror. And there’s no cure.
The attacks are almost always driven by hatred, fomented by religious fundamentalism or sectarian interests. The mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, and the Easter day bombings at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka last year are still fresh in our memory. So are the 9/11 attacks in the United States in 2001.
If sectarian elements engineer the terror attacks in India, most of the recent shootings in the US are perpetrated by individuals struggling to cope with mental illnesses and extremist ideologies. School children have been the victims of some of the worst shootings in North America. Canada too, has seen some isolated attacks. Many countries in Europe haven’t been spared either.
Police have been treating the attack in Reading as a terror attack, although the motive is yet to be established. The suspected attacker, a Libyan refugee, is said to be suffering from mental illness. Unless more details emerge, the terror threat cannot be confirmed.
Britain has faced the brunt of terror attacks. From the IRA bombings in the seventies and eighties to the London bombings of 2005 and the Manchester Arena bombing of 2017, Britons have suffered a lot. And there have been several other sporadic attacks, mostly stabbings.
The names, ideologies and modus operandi of terror groups may be different, but all of them have the single despicable aim of killing people. And the world can’t let that happen. All countries have a responsibility to share information and cooperate in fighting a scourge of our times.
The frequency of attacks calls for more investment in counterterrorism operations. More vigilance and concerted action are critical to winning the war on terror.
Brits in Dubai share their views
Are Brits becoming desensitised to terror in UK? Do they worry about knife crime?
“I’m a Londoner and it might be different to what others think, but I think not. This is nothing new, when I grew up it was Irish terrorists bombing us and now it’s someone else bombing and driving cars into us. It’s still a tragic thing and I really feel for them so I don’t think we are becoming desensitised. As it’s at home it’s still really raw, the same can’t be said for things that happen in Syria. Stabbings are a concern but it’s part of London life it comes with overpopulation and too many people coming there therefore crime is going to happen. I don’t think that it is related to austerity or economics it has to do with the UK interfering in countries that it shouldn’t be interfering in. If England minded its own business and didn’t get involved this wouldn’t happen. It doesn’t happen in Switzerland. I’d say it’s still raw and impactful because we all have friends and family there.”
"I don’t know if I would class this as a terror attack given the man’s mental health issues. I don’t think the UK is densitised to attacks but I do think British people have always just got on with their lives after an attack on others. I am sure the people of Reading are shocked and horrified by what has happened but currently the greater population is suffering a lot more than three deaths from a random killer. With an attack like this you can see the knife. With COVID-19 you can’t. In the 70s and 80s the UK suffered a huge spate of attacks from the IRA. We now have attacks from elsewhere. Many countries do but the UK names them and is open about them. I think compared to homegrown terrorist attacks in the USA the UK has very few attacks. Of course people here care and are concerned but I think that a random stabbing in a small city is quite different to say a bombing in the heart of London. There are attacks, but attacks are everywhere. As for knife crime, this has increased in London over the last 10 years. This is widely reported. Knives are easily available in the home and a lot easier to get hold of than guns. It does worry me that young people may feel the need to carry a knife as carrying any weapon makes it more likely that you are going to get wounded by that or a similar weapon. Personally I don’t feel unsafe in London when I visit ascrimes seem to be mainly within certain populations or between certain groups of people. I am not sure that I am desensitised to risk. It is highly unlikely that I will be a victim of knife crime if I am aware of my surroundings. To be honest I believe I am more likely to be involved in a car accident."
"It’s possible people might become desensitised to terror attacks in the same way they arguably have to weekly school schootings in the US. It’s human nature to adapt to recurring situations. I’m not sure the Reading event is even a terrorist attack though. It was a lone kid with mental health issues. Media giving murderers publicity, elevating their acts to mean something more than mindless slaughter just encourages others. As for knife crime, I lived in Rio de Janiero, so how safe I feel in a city wouldn’t be the usual."
"Reading about random stabbings is always sad wherever they are in the world. Brits are still highly aware of terrorism, and knife crimes seem to be a new mode of attack. It makes me realise how safe my family and I feel so safe in the UAE. Knife crime in London is so common now it is hardly reported as it is not so newsworthy, however it would never be a deterrent to moving back to our home country ultimately."
Violence in Media: Why We Don’t Care Anymore
Theoretically, desensitisation to violence represents a type of non-associative learning that leads to diminished response to a stimulus after repeated exposure. According to social psychology research, as we see more and more violence over time, we become habituated to it and subsequent exposures produce fewer and fewer negative emotional responses. In the end, we become accepting of it as a normal part of everyday life.
Psychologists have been able to find a positive correlation between exposure to media violence and desensitization to real-world violence.
Here’s a typical scenario these days. News channels and social media posts show a video of someone getting shot or stabbed at. The cable tv captions read “breaking news” as powerful words scroll across the bottom of our TV screens. Comments erupt in all social media sites.
The supreme court of social media jumps in and the accused are deemed guilty without any accurate information. This choreographed pattern has become a commonplace for most of us.
Sometimes, we don’t even bother if it is real. What is really concerning is how our emotions to acts of violence have become normalised and far from shocking.
We need to examine deeper into the potential ramifications of too much exposure to violence.
According to a research paper by Bartholow, Bushman &Sestir (2006), continually viewing violence substantially changes how we think about and how our brains respond to the events that occur to us. This constant exposure primes aggression and makes that aggression seem more normal and less negative.
In the wake of what seems like a constant barrage of violence and negativity in major news networks and in social media, it should be, more than ever, our focus to generate a national dialogue leading to positive change.
Timeline of terror
Recent attacks to have plagued UK
- 2020, 20 June - Shortly before 7pm a man with a knife attacked people picnicking in Forbury Gardens, Reading, about 40 kilometres west of central London. Three people died from their wounds, and three others were seriously injured. A 25-year-old Libyan man was arrested at the scene on suspicion of murder, and subsequently under the Terrorism Art 2000.
- 2020, 2 February - Two people were stabbed in Streatham, East London in what police said was a terrorist incident. The attacker, Sudesh Amman, was shot dead by the police. At the time Amman was under active counter-terrorism survillence surveillance, after having recently being released from prison on licence. He had been convicted in 2018 for disseminating terrorist material.
- 2020, 9 January - Two inmates wearing fake suicide vests and armed with improvised blades are accused of attacking a prison officers at Whitemoor Prison in Cambridge. Convicted terrorist Brusthom Ziamani, 24, has been named as one of the men allegedly involved. The second man is said to be a Muslim convert jailed for a violent offence.
- 2019, 29 November - Two people were stabbed to death when a convicted terrorist launched a frenzied knife attack at an event in central London. Usman Khan killed the couple of Cambridge graduates at an event on prisoner rehabilitation called Learning Together. The incident spilled out onto nearby London Bridge as former prisoners and members of the public tried to tackle Khan using a fire extinguisher and an ornamental whale tusk.
- 2018, 31 December - Three people were stabbed in a knife attack at Manchester Victoria Station. A man and woman in their 50s and a British Transport Police officer were seriously injured. The suspect, originally held on suspicion of attempted murder, is now detained under the Mental Health Act.
- 2017, 15 September - Ahmed Hassan’s homemade bomb partially exploded on a London Underground rush hour train at Parsons Green, injuring more than 50 people. He was sentenced to life with a minimum jail term of 34 years.
- 2017, 19 June - A group of Muslim worshippers were hit after a van slammed into them near Finsbury mosque in North London, after many of them had attended evening prayers during the Ramadan. One person died. Darren Osborne was jailed for at least 43 years for murder and attempted murder.
- 2017, 3 June - Eight people were killed during a car and knife attack in the London Bridge terror attacking central London. Three men drove into pedestrians on the bridge and then stabbed people in nearby Borough Market. They were shot to death by armed police.
- 2017, 22 May - Around 10.30pm British-born Salman Ramadan Abedi, 22, walked into the foyer pf Manchester Arena as crowds streamed out of an Ariana Grande concert and detonated a device packed with shrapnel, killing 22 people, including children.
- 2017, 22 March - Five people were killed when an Islamist terrorist launched a car and knife attack in Central London. Khalid Masood drove a hired car over Westminster Bridge, near the Houses of Parliament, mounted the pavement and hit pedestrians before crashing into railings outside the Palace of Westminster. He killed six people before he was killed by armed police.
Lucrative drug trade fuels London crimes
Gangs will do anything to share a slice of £11 billion drugs trade
By Mick O’Reilly, Foreign Correspondent
From its discreet office located between London’s Victoria Station and the River Thames, the UK’s National Crime Agency is trying to put criminals behind bars. But those bad guys will do anything to gain a piece of the UK’s £11 billion (Dh50 billion) illegal drugs trade.
Then there’s illegal money to be made by prostitution, extortion, online crime, cyber fraud – anything and everything to turn a quick and dirty profit for the top level gangs who have made London a hotbed for international criminal enterprises.
Whether its Albanian cocaine barons, Russian and east European mobsters, Turkish-Cypriots or more brutal street gangs such as the ‘Mali’ boys who control a patch of London deemed to be the most dangerous street in Britain – all have violently carved out a dangerous niche.
On one street of terraced homes in Walthamstow in north east London, the notorious Somali ‘Mali Boys’ gang have left families too afraid to venture out at night.
Metropolitan London Police have deal with gang-related fatal beatings, knifings, violent home invasions and, in one bloody case, a person left impaled on railings – all linked to vicious gang warfare.
British broadcaster Sky might have recently launched the Gangs of London drama series – for cops on the street and those fighting the gangs, the reality is brutal.
“We’ve observed a rise of internationally-affiliated gangs controlling illegal trade and organised criminal activity in areas of London and across county borders surrounding London and further afield,” top London-based defence solicitor Nick Titchener says. “These criminal networks can span continents and will engage in activities such as drug, firearm and people trafficking, fraud offences and prostitution, with the proceeds of criminal activity then being laundered in a variety of ways to disguise the profit that is being generated. London has become a hotbed for the gang-controlled drug markets. Unfortunately, with the drugs and sex trade there is often an associated increase in violent crimes, serious assault charges, and murder offences as control of an area is fought for.”
The National Crime Agency believes there are at least 4,600 separate gangs operating in the UK at any one time – the majority of those London-based or with significant ties to the capital.
And as soon as police shut down one gang, there are others who are ready to step in – and kill – to control that void.
Nowhere in Britain is immune, with the devilment of so-called “county lines” gangs exerting control on small towns from bases in larger cities.
They target vulnerable teens and rope them in, making them incur money debts which leads to entrapment, then peddling soft drugs. Then harder drugs, with the very real threat of violence for failing to comply.
But there are several key gangs at the top of the crime pyramid.
The Albanian cocaine kingpins
Turf: East London
Albanian mobsters are the main players in Britain’s lucrative and illegal drugs trade, mostly controlling the £5-billion market for cocaine.
The NCA warns these ruthless gangsters - who use London as their main hub - pose a “significant threat” and are quick to use “violence, particularly around enforcing the drug trade”, News Corp reports.
Police believe the Albanians have teamed up with the ’Ndrangheta, the most powerful Italian Mafia franchise, to ship huge hauls of cocaine to the UK from European sea ports.
Once inside the country, the drug is pushed by street dealers and enforcers such as the brazen Hellbanianz, who have been blamed for rising gang violence in East London.
Based in Barking, the street gang has previously posted rap videos and pictures of flash cars, guns and wads of cash on social media, encouraging other Albanian foot-soldiers to join them.
In one set of shocking rap lyrics, Hellbanianz gangsters boasted: “We gun you down cos Albanians need no reason. They try to catch us, but these Albanians can’t be caught.”
Known as the Mafia Shqiptare, gangsters from Albania are governed by the deadly ‘kanun’ code: the right to take revenge, according to the Mail on Sunday.
They reportedly carry out assassinations in the UK for £15,000 to £100,000 a hit. They have also been accused of running brothels and torturing underworld enemies.
The Mali Boys
Turf: North-East London
In the north-east district of Walthamstow, the highly sophisticated Mali Boys, drawn mainly from the Somali community, run a terrifying campaign of drug dealing, violence and intimidation. Police say they are “most business-driven, violent and ruthless” type of gang, shunning social media in favour of keeping their activities a secret and remaining anonymous to police.
They use old fashioned Nokia phones because they are less easy to track.
The Mali Boys’ bosses originally came to Britain as children from war-torn Somalia, with police saying in 2018 they were earning up to £50,000 a week from drug sales.
One rival gang member told The Sun newspaper the group was “a whole new entity”. “Those people come from countries where there are pirates, where people are gang-raped and beaten up, and it’s all in front of them,” said the source. “Some are ex-soldiers who have seen people’s heads blown off. So they feel they can come and do it here.:
Among the Mali Boys’ turf is Walthamstow’s Vallentin Road – dubbed ‘Britain’s most dangerous street’ thanks to a string of violent attacks including fatal shootings and arson.
The Chilean ‘burglary tourists’
Turf: All over London
Chilean gangsters have terrorised London in recent years –-yet instead of murders, beatings or drug offences, they have become known for raiding homes. More than 75 Chilean burglars have been arrested in the UK in two years alone for ransacking properties for luxury goods in cases of so-called “burglary tourism”.
They are reported to have swiped jewellery, watches and designer clothes in a series of multi-million-pound raids in London and elsewhere in England and Wales.
Recently, four Chilean gangsters were jailed for the £33,000 raid on one home, during which they snatched a gold Rolex and two luxury Omega watches. A court heard they’d flown in from South America just days earlier, and that three orange dots were sprayed on the back fence to tell the burglars it was a high-value property.
Sentencing the burglars to three years and four months in prison each, the judge said: “No one here or abroad should be under an illusion that somehow the UK is a soft touch. Each of you came to this country with one purpose – crime. No other reason for your visit to the UK has been offered to me.”
Police believe they burglars – many of whom have previous convictions for burglary or robbery – could be carrying out the legwork for London-based crime lords.
And it’s easy for them to fly in – they don’t need visas to visit Britain as “tourists” for up to three months.
The Bengali machete thugs
Turf: East End
Bengali gangs have also made their mark on the capital, after taking over its vibrant East End and the borough of Tower Hamlets. According to The Sun, the area has one of London’s highest ethnic minority populations, made up mainly of people of Bangladeshi origin, who are among the UK’s youngest and fastest-growing communities.
While most aren’t involved in gangs, the street mobsters here are reported to be extremely territorial, dishing out “swift and brutal” violence to anyone who dares to step in their path. They have fought rivals in the past with machetes, meat cleavers and baseball bats.
An investigation in the Telegraph Magazine also found Bengali drug runners had flooded the East End’s streets with cocaine and heroin - described as “the currency out of the ghetto”.
The Turkish-Cypriot mobsters
Turf: South London
In South London, a Turkish-Cypriot crime mob has carried out a reign of terror since the late 1960s, involving armed robbery, contract killing and drug trafficking. Named the Arifs, the gangsters rose to notoriety as they filled a vacuum left by the downfall of the Kray twins, as well as the infamous Clerkenwell and Brindle families.
By the 80s, they had become one of the most feared gangs in the capital, The Sun reports.
And even decades later, in 2004, they were branded “Britain’s No1 crime family”.
Despite a series of arrests and successful convictions, the family are thought to have maintained ties with Turkey, with accomplices allegedly overseeing drugs shipments to mainland Europe.
The extent of their operations today is unclear.
Russian hit squads
Turf: Various parts of London
Russian criminals have been linked to a string of deaths and money-laundering crimes in London. Just this month, it was claimed that a millionaire found impaled on railings below a £2 million flat in Marylebone, north-west London, in December 2014 was a fixer for a Russian mob.
Police found that Scot Young, 52, had jumped to his death from the fourth-floor balcony, but an inquest returned an open verdict – with his family maintaining he was murdered.
Scot had close links to the now-deceased Boris Berezovsky, the exiled Russian oligarch who opposed President Vladimir Putin, and it is said he “fell in with a major organised crime group”, according to News Corp.
Other foreign gangs who have been linked to London include Nigerian mobile cons, Jamaican Yardies and the ‘under-the-radar’ Italian Mafia.
Turf: Various part of London
Extensive family links are the key to the success of Irish travellers gangs who have cornered the market in fencing stolen goods.
They have few links to settled society, are transient and rely on long-established ties to move metals and cars stolen across the capital. They also operate building site scams and fraud. In recent years, elements have moved into selling street drugs and controlling street crime. They also work closely with other Roma or east-European crime groups.
- Mick O’Reilly is the Gulf News Foreign Correspondent based in Europe.
High-profile incidents have left their mark on Emiratis
London remains popular for Middle East visitors
By Mick O’Reilly, Foreign Correspondent
Career criminal Philip Spence is now six years into a 27-year sentence in a British Midlands maximum security prison for an horrific attack that forever changed the lives of three Emirati sisters staying a London hotel. That 2014 incident, along with the stabbing of an Omani student outside Harrods in December 2019, have forever altered too the perceptions of many in the UAE of just how safe the British capital remains.
Spence stalked the upper corridors of the Cumberland Hotel in Marble Arch on the evening of April 6, 2014. There he entered the room of three sisters from Abu Dhabi in search of jewellery and computers – anything he could later fence for cash.
He hit Ohoud Al Najjar, 34, with such force her skull split open as her nine-year-old nephew cowered under the sheets beside her. She survived the attack but was left with just 5 per cent brain function, lost sight in one eye and can no longer speak.
Her sisters Khulood, 36, and Fatima, 31, were both left with life-threatening injuries and still require medical treatment.
The attack was also carried out in front of Khulood’s three children, aged seven, 10 and 12.
Spence fled the scene with a suitcase containing iPads, gold jewellery and mobile phones.
He dumped the claw hammer just outside the hotel in Marble Arch.
In a victim impact statement read at Spence’s trial, Fatima Al Najjar said the injuries to Ohoud had left her with a “living dead sister”.
Spence was first sentenced to 18 years for the attack. That was increased to 27 years on appeal as prosecutors felt the original sentence didn’t match the severity of the shocking crime.
A little more than 18 months ago, as Britons were getting ready for Christmas celebrations, Omani student Mohammad bin Abdullah Al Araimi was stabbed to death outside luxury department store Harrod’s.
His death was the third such fatal stabbing in the UK capital in less than 24 hours after similar incidents in Hackney at 2pm on Thursday and Greenwich at 3am on Friday.
Al Araimi died tried trying to step a thief from staling his Rolex watch.
The incident prompted a strong advisory from the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, who urged citizens travelling to London to “take special care, especially at night and avoid wearing valuable items that attract attention in public places.”
He was with a Bahraini friend who was also injured in the attack Police investigating the murder, said: “The victim and his friend were entirely blameless, simply enjoying a meal out together. It does appear that the motive for this cowardly attack was robbery.”
How London has turned into stab city
Police are struggling fight with the deadly increase in knife crime in the UK capital
By Mick O’Reilly, Foreign Correspondent
The calendar page had hardly settled before police in London were investigating their first fatal knife attack of 2020. Uber Eats driver Taki Boudhane was fatally stabbed outside a shop in Finsbury Park, North London.
His elderly father arrived on the scene just as paramedics stopped working on the 30-year-old Algerian.
Boudhand was the first stabbing fatality of 2020.
That incident occurred around 6:45pm on January 3. Before the clock struck midnight, London Metropolitan Police officers were responding to another fatal stabbing – the remains of a 53-year-old man found in Barnes, just south of the River Thames in the Borough of Richmond. A 17-year-old suspect was later identified and brought to justice.
If police in the capital thought 2020 would somehow be different than 2019 – that knife crime might abate – they were sadly mistaken.
By the end of January, they has case files open on six more fatal stabbings on their patch.
One brutal attack on January 27 was particularly shocking. Louis Johnson, just 16, was knifed to death in front of shocked commuters during evening rush hour ay East Croydon station in the southeast of the capital.
Dusk was just settling in at 4:30pm when the teenager was attacked by a man with a machete.
He died at the scene and police are hunting the killer who fled on foot.
A terrified shop worker heard the brutal attack, told The Sun newspaper: “I saw the guy who was stabbed. He was screaming and shouting in pain. He was bent down, he was bleeding a lot. He was not saying anything, he was just shouting. There were people helping him, he was surrounded by people. Station staff were shouting and I pulled the shutters down because I was afraid the guy with the knife might come and do something to us.”
And Maria Jandova, 20, told The Sun: “I had just got off the train when I heard lots of screaming… He looked like a nice boy with nice clothes. He was wearing jeans and a jacket — just a normal young guy.”
That was the end of January. Within the first week of February, police were dealing with four more fatal knife attacks.
A fellow delivery driver who worked with Boudhane commented after death: “He was a good man. He doesn’t make any trouble – he works and he goes home and he ends up being killed while he’s working. This country is getting worse. It’s not safe to work by yourself anymore - what can you do? If someone comes at you with a knife you give them what you have or they are going to stab you.”
And the figures back up his sense of frustration and fear over blade crime.
London’s knife explosion has fuelled the capital’s highest murder rate in more than a decade with 149 people killed in the capital in 2019 – 90 in stabbing attacks.
Metropolitan London Police Detective John Massey said data of non-fatal knife crime can be used by police to predict where future murders will be carried out. A knife map reveals how areas in south and east London such as Lambeth, Croydon, Newham and Hackney have become plagued by gangs carrying weapons.
Westminster was the worst blackspot with 212 arrests in the last year. The borough is also the worst in the country for knife attacks.
At least the lockdown across the UK because of coronavirus has managed to temporarily put a halt to the knife and violent crime incidents.
Forces across England and Wales reported in late April that crime has fallen by 28 per cent since Britain was locked down to battle the coronavirus.
In their most detailed picture yet of crime since laws came in to keep Britons apart, police also revealed that drug supply might be falling, with criminals posing as key workers to deal and targeting long supermarket queues to push drugs.
Falls in crime recorded by police in the four weeks up until 12 April included a 37 per cent drop in burglary, a 27 per cent drop in vehicle crime, serious assault and personal robbery. Reported rape offences fell by 37 per cent and shoplifting fell by 54 per cent, with non-essential stores closed.
But one store owner also ended up behind bars for 21 months in May – arrested last year for smuggling in the kind of knives that bring death and misery to the streets of London – a deadly modern-day blade runner.
Kamber Ramadani, 53, from Bermondsey in East London told National Crime Agency investigators that he planned to sell the flick knives, butterfly knives and other weapons in his shop on the Old Kent Road. He’d been stopped by Border Force officers carrying out checks on incoming traffic at Dover docks, initially telling them he’d been out of the country visiting Croatia and Kosovo.
During a search of his Mercedes officers found 28 different bladed weapons in the boot, and a starter pistol and ammunition in the footwell.
In interview Ramadani told the NCA that he had bought the weapons from a car boot sale in Croatia and the gun was to have been a present for his son.
“These types of weapons are exactly the type we see being used in gang violence on the streets of London and other UK towns and cities every day,” National Crime Agency Dover Branch Commander Martin Grace said. “Ramadani admitted his plan was to sell the weapons for profit and I’ve no doubt that some, if not all, of them would have ended up in criminal hands.
“In securing this conviction we have sent out the message that, working with Border Force and other partners, we are determined to do all we can to prevent illegal weapons reaching our streets, and put those who would bring them here behind bars.”
Ramadani’s imprisonment is one small victory in the war against blades – now with lockdown lifting, police will be hoping for many more in their efforts to turn back the wave of knife crime.
- Mick O’Reilly is the Gulf News Foreign Correspondent based in London
First person experiences
Ashley Hammond, UAE Editor
We are lucky in Dubai as it’s one of the safest places in the world, but any visit to any other big city comes with an element of risk, and I would change my behaviour to compensate for that possibility.
London is no exception, and while I have never seen or experienced anything on my visits – I’ve actually had more trouble in Rome and Paris witnessing, but not being victim to, thieves and pickpockets – I wouldn’t get complacent.
The increase in terrorist attacks in the capital and the rise in knife crime and moped robberies makes it a place where you need to have your wits about you.
I admit to changing plans and not visiting the capital with my kids after the worst of the recent terrorist attacks in London. That’s probably the biggest indication of there being a problem when an Englishman would rather steer clear. And, the fact that the latest incident has occurred in a satellite town – Reading – makes it appear its spreading into suburbia, so then where are you really safe? And, is it even worth worrying about nowadays as it could happen anywhere?
Friends and colleagues in the office really love London, and I love that they love it, it makes me really proud to be British. Don’t get me wrong, I love London too, but as a Brit we are probably more sensitive to this constant negative news reel of late and are a bit less naïve. We also go to places visitors don’t, so we know the realities a bit more.
On real deep reflection though it’s probably not that much worse to how it was growing up in the 80s and 90s, it’s just the media has got better and more intrinsic. I can remember as a child running from constant alarm bells in shopping precincts after regular IRA bomb threats. We had no bins in public places growing up just in case terrorists hid bombs there. I also had to fend off other kids with my bike once when they pulled a knife after asking for money in my hometown. Crime and terrorism has always been there in cycles of austerity and politic action overseas, and we’ve just become accustomed to it. It’s a way of life living in a real, gritty, densely populated town or city. It’s a minimal percentage of the overall experience but it’s there.
I’m a Londoner and love my home – but it has changed for the worse…
Imran Malik, Senior News Editor
I’m a Londoner, born and bred. It is my home and I’ll always love it and look forward to going back to catch up with my family and friends every chance I get. Now, when I am home I certainly don’t do any of those ‘touristy’ things – I’ve seen and enjoyed most of the magical sights my town has to offer – but there’s another more serious reason why I’m in no rush to venture out into the bright lights of the city; it just isn’t as safe as it used to be.
Without a shadow of a doubt, London has changed. Sure, I may have ‘softened up’ having lived in crime-free and safe Dubai for the past 15 years but there are hard facts that prove my hometown is going down the pan. It is more crime ridden and dangerous than New York City. Yes, crime has a lot to do with the way a city is policed and with the reduction of neighbourhood patrols across the capital, it isn’t a surprise that rape, robbery and violent offences are on the up. 2019 was London’s bloodiest in a decade - the number of homicides reached 132 – and it is back in the news with the recent stabbings in Reading.
Camden and all of those tattoo shops…
Now, I don’t like nightclubs and this place is notorious for its 24-hour party scene and so we’re already off to a bad start. The Northwest borough - home to some of London’s most famous attractions such as Camden Market, London Zoo and Dickens House - is one of London’s most dangerous boroughs. There were a total of 38,952 crimes committed there last year. That – and the fact that almost everyone there seems to be covered in body piercings, tattoos and are drunk – means I’m in no hurry to visit.
There’s plenty to see here (the West End, Houses of Parliament, St James’s Palace, Buckingham Palace, Oxford Street and Regent Street) and it’s a good job I’ve seen it all because this place is the most dangerous in London. Over 81,000 crimes were reported there. It is a pickpocket’s paradise. No thank you, I’ll just hang around Ealing Broadway and the leafy Walpole Park. If I’m feeling really adventurous, I’ll bus it to Brentford and catch my local football team in action.
Peckham at 2am…
Like anywhere, ‘The Smoke’ has its rough areas and its nice areas, and you just have to be sensible when you are out and about. For instance, you won’t ever catch me walking through the estates in Peckham at any time of the day let alone 2 in the morning because that is just asking for trouble. It also isn’t the brightest idea to mosey on along down Oxford Street flashing your smartphone around or it will get nicked. You’ve got to be streetwise. I have been approached by menacing looking fellas offering me ‘dust’, ‘beans’ and ‘oat’ (cocaine, ecstasy and khat) and I have found the best way to decline is to know the lingo. “Nah, bruv - I’m good with the baccy”.
Drug dealers and county lines…
One of the main reasons why there is so much violence in the capital is the brutal “county lines trade” where urban drug dealers and gangs entice boys mostly from broken homes to take drugs to clients in more rural areas. There is estimated to be over 1,000 “county lines” in operation with each route is making as much as £7,000 a day.
Lack of police…
Ever since Sadiq Khan took over as Mayor in 2016, knife crime has increased by 52 per cent. He has been accused of complacency and shirking responsibility – but he makes a very valid point when he says youth violence will not be kept down while police numbers and public services are cut. And with the lockdown to be eased by July 4, the scant officers on duty fear crime will surge as rival drug gangs return to the streets to re-establish their dominance.
There now is a perception that London is a violent capital, and it is prompting more and more youngsters to carry knives out of fear. It is a vicious cycle.
A bad day in London is still better than a good day anywhere else
Yousra Zaki, Senior Features Editor
I’ve been visiting London since I was 23 years old. Although I’ve been a few times as a baby, it doesn’t count because I do not remember.
I go almost every year, sometimes even twice a year. I don’t have family there and I don’t have property. But something just keeps drawing me back. Every six months, I find a well-priced direct flight and book a budget hotel in central London (I prefer to spend my money on food, rather than accommodation).
Everyone asks me why I don’t change it up and try going to other cities. My answer is, I have… I’ve been to Paris, Berlin and Amsterdam and though they were interesting in their own way, nothing was quite like London for me.
Every time I go, I push myself to explore a different neighbourhood, try different food and meet people I knew from my past. Friends I met at a wedding six years ago, became the first people I would meet over some sushi at my favourite Asian spot Kaya at the Ned on Bank street. Another friend and ex-colleague, whom I sat next to for years, now lives there with her sister. She understands my desire for pizzaz when dine out, so she will book an amazing dinner spot for us to try… Brasserie of Light, or Bob Bob Ricard, an amazing British-Russian fusion spot with waiters dressed in pink three-piece suits in an Art Deco venue that is so unique.
I always make it a point to go during the festive season, because the city of London is like the north pole on steroids. Lights everywhere, Christmas decorations take over entire buildings. Fortnum and Mason on Piccadilly turns into a giant advent calendar and the Cartier on Bond Street is converted into a giant Christmas gift box.
The one time I went in summer, I was able to experience the mild weather. I went on a rowboat in the Serpentine lake in Hyde Park.
Then took a bike ride across the park to a small pub behind Buckingham palace called the Grenadier on Belgravia. We had a roast.
Competition is high in the London F&B market, so everyone fights for a spot on the coveted breakfast, brunch, dinner lists. Topping my list of great breakfast spots in central London has to be Dean Street Townhouse. Best buttery crumpets I ever had.
My favourite dinner spot and probably the best truffle pasta I ever had? Circolo Popolare on Tottenham Court road. I still dream about that pasta.
As for the best dessert I had in London: Blondies Kitchen’s cookie dough. A little booth that’s hidden on the left side, right as you enter the Selfridges food hall.
The energy of the city is something else. The food scene, the architecture (which I won’t get into because we could be here forever) and the shopping make this multicultural city seriously one of a kind.
Once the pandemic ends and the bad, bad very bad situation in London is better, I will be booking my flight soon.
Forget the naysayers, London is one of the best places on Earth
By Omar Shariff, International Editor
Has violent crime and terrorism become a routine part of life in and around London? This was the question some were asking following a knife attack in Reading near the British capital that killed three innocent people. The attack grabbed international headlines despite news being dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic. It could be due to the terror angle ascribed to the incident. But I suspect it is more due to the fact that it happened near London - one of the world’s most important cities.
I have never lived in London, just visited. Walked around for God knows how many kilometres, even late at night. One thing I absolutely didn’t feel is unsafe. In fact, I was amazed at how safe and hassle free London was for such a large and politically, financially, historically, and scientifically significant city. London just seems to do too many things too well. In fact, what is most surprising to the visitor is how much Londoners complain about their city. They can do so due to the atmosphere of openness and freedom London, and to a large extent Britain, has engendered, which empowers residents, many of them not native to the land, to express themselves freely without fear of any sort of retribution.
Then there is livability. Tight building norms mean that high-rises are not even allowed to impinge on ‘protected views’! And with a 40 per cent green cover (there is a park at every corner it seems), this metropolis of 9 million has just 43 people per hectare. Comparable cities, like New York and Paris, have 93 and 83, respectively. In his book The Road to Little Dribbling, Bill Bryson writes: “If London were as densely populated as Paris, it would have a population of 35 million.” Add to all this the world-class free schooling and healthcare for all.
London also takes multiculturalism to new levels. Were someone from another planet to drop in and ask what people on Earth look like, all you need to do is take him to a Tube station! It’s a virtual United Nations of nationalities, languages and skin tones. For people of colour in Europe, London is quite possibly the best place to live in and, more importantly, to have a fair chance in life. How many major Western cities have someone with a name like Sadiq Khan as their mayor? How many Western countries have someone with a name like Priti Sushil Patel as their interior minister?
When Londoners complain about life in their city, they should do so with the realisation that they still live in one of the best cities in the world.
Thanks London, for exorcising those knifing fears
Sanjib Kumar Das, Senior News Editor
The first drop of chill grazed against the chin as I stepped out of the Central Park. It had started raining yet again and the temperature was way below what the confines of the Radisson Blu Edwardian Hampshire at Leicester Square had got me acclimatised to all through the afternoon.
As I hopped on to the open-top yellow bus for a night tour of London, apart from the weather, there was one other thought on my mind: The bus would drop me back at Central Park around 10.45pm. So by the time I get back to Leicester Square, it would be well past 11.
I had read stories about stabbings in and around London. I also had those words of the guest relations office at the front desk ringing in my ears: “Like in any other big city, you ought to be careful when you step out here.”
Nonetheless, the sights and sounds of London by night were so overwhelming that by the time I got back to Leicester Square, all those worries about knifings had evaporated into thin air.
Over the next five days, my tour of London in the summer of 2018 had a set pattern: Explore the tourist spots by the day, watch a theatre in the evening and then embark on a walking tour -- late into the night. So every night, soon after ‘Mamma Mia!’ or ‘42nd Street’ would get over at West End, my walking tour of one of the most venerated cities on Earth would begin.
I soaked up the thrill and chill of London way beyond midnight. Leicester Square, Soho, Covent Garden, Piccadilly … the list was long, but never for once did I see or hear anything that would remind me of knifings. A middle-aged, inebriated man hurling abuses at the police, as he was being helped out of a pub by the men in fluorescent green jackets, on Shaftesbury Avenue was the closest I got to a lawbreaker!
I only have happy memories of London – a city so charming in its new-world allure and yet so steeped in history and culture. And it’s not stabbings but the sight of an old man outside Ladbrokes near Charing Cross that served as an islet of pathos in an ocean of vivacity: A homeless lying at the doorstep of an edifice that sees fortunes made and unmade in a day!