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6 December, 2017 00:00 00 AM

The fear of terrorism

Colin Randall
The fear of terrorism

Some acts of terrorism – and the despicable attack on a Sinai mosque is among them – are so horrific that talk of responding with a stiff upper lip seems not only meaningless but offensive to the bereaved. But in a general sense, successful resistance to extremists without any trace of human value does require a spirit of defiance, an insistence that life goes on in spite of their wickedness. Adopting a measured response is arguably as much a duty as it is desirable.

No matter how harrowing individual atrocities may be, it remains broadly true that terrorists have limited capacity to damage society as a whole. While any of us could find ourselves caught up in an outrage, the chances of it happening – except, of course, in conflict zones – are still small.

The psychology of terror was demonstrated in mundane ways on the busy shopping day of Black Friday, when fears that an attack was underway in the Oxford Circus area of central London sparked panic. Confirmation that no such incident had taken place came after hundreds of people had fled the scene in fright or found themselves locked as a precaution inside shops, restaurants and other premises. The reaction was understandable. I was in the area and experienced 10 seconds of fear as scores of people, some screaming or in tears, charged upstairs from the ground floor of a cinema complex to the bar where I was seated.

Brief as the period of anxiety may have been, there was time for imaginations to run wild: would the hordes be followed by armed fanatics intent on mass murder? There was also emotional paralysis. What would I do next to escape or, if brave enough, intervene?

Fortunately, there was no need. No one I spoke to seemed to know why they were running, save to repeat vague and, it turned out, untrue reports of gunfire, people being killed or wounded. Social media had, not for the first time, made matters worse and a major British newspaper was among the culprits. The Daily Mail’s website tweeted a wholly false message about shots being fired and armed police surrounding Oxford Circus Tube station after a lorry “ploughed into pedestrians”.

The tweet was an accident. MailOnline later apologised for making a “grave error” but with glaring hypcorisy ran a report implying that the pop singer Olly Murs had added to the alarm by tweeting about what he thought was gunfire in a department store.

From such misreporting and confusion, ISIL and similar perpetrators of evil, profit without lifting a finger. Their cynical aim to spread terror is unwittingly aided by its enemies.

The dangers are hardly unknown. Witness the haste with which authorities deny them spurious pride by offering swift reassurance when an incident is shown to have originated from an individual’s mental state or been a product of “ordinary” crime.

None of this can minimise the horror felt by people trapped in or near a mosque under mass attack in Egypt, or a concert hall in Paris, or desperately trying to flee a New York building struck by aircraft. Two men fighting on a London Underground station platform were the spark which set off a terror scare at Oxford Circus station, police have said. Officers investigating the incident — which saw hundreds of people break into stampedes, and frenzied reports of a gunman on the loose — now believe it began with the "altercation," which soon escalated into mass panic.

British Transport Police published two CCTV images of the men they believe were involved in the brawl at around 4.40 p.m. on Friday, saying they would like to speak with them.

Although in hindsight the incident seems trivial, it sparked sufficient panic that large numbers of people called 999, seemingly convinced they had heard shooting.

Faced with potential news of a gunman, and fearing the worst, police commanders dispatched large numbers of heavily-armed officers to the scene, in line with their terror attack protocols.

Shops on Oxford Street, heaving with shoppers hunting Black Friday deals, either evacuated or went into lockdown. People unsure of what was going on joined crowds of people running away.

Although police ultimately found no evidence of an attack, and nothing to substantiate the reports of gunshots, 15 people were hurt in the chaos.

The London Ambulance Service said they were able to treat and discharge seven patients at the scene, and took eight others to hospital with minor injuries. A statement from the British Transport Police, issued around five hours after the panic began, said: "Officers believe an altercation erupted between two men on the platform.

"They would now like to speak to these two people in the CCTV images, who they believe may have information about the incident and the circumstances around the incident.

"They would also like to speak to anyone who was at the station or in the area at the time and saw or heard anything that would have caused mass evacuation." London has been the scene of four real terror attacks in 2017: Westminster Bridge, London Bridge, Finsbury Park, and Parsons Green.

Police have said that terror attacks are being planned with more intensity than ever before, and have a much better chance of succeeding than in the past.

The UK government's official terror threat level is currently "severe," the second-highest level.

Panic swept London's popular shopping strip on Friday night as reports of "shots fired" at Oxford Circus underground station briefly brought parts of the city to a standstill.

British Transport Police responded to "reports of shots fired" at the tube station at 4.37pm (3.37am AEDT). Six minutes later the London fire brigade was called.

But in the 85 minutes between, Londoners took to their social media accounts to share their panic as they watched a human stampede emerge from the underground. Without any evidence, one media outlet reported a lorry or truck was at the centre of the incident.  The chaos further spread when the reports of gunshots emerged several blocks down Oxford Street at Selfridges. Singer Olly Murs was shopping in the high-end department store at 5pm when he urged his nearly 8 million Twitter followers to get out, if any were inside.  "F--- everyone get out of @Selfridges now gun shots!! I'm inside," he tweeted.

"Really not sure what's happened! I'm in the back office ... but people screaming and running towards exits!"

"Evacuating store now!!! F--- heart is pounding."

Within half an hour he followed up: "Being told no shots in Selfridges! Have no idea, the whole store went crazy."

Selfridges said it was evacuated "as a precautionary measure."

"We have been working with Metropolitan Police and can confirm that were no reported incidents in store," the store said.

Murs was being hammered on Twitter for spreading false rumours.

But the jumpiness the Black Friday incident sparked is understandable.

    Repulsive figures of hate have created an atmosphere of apprehension. We adapt to the the possibility of sudden, brutal interruption to everyday life, while also relying on security services to develop ever more effective means of prevention and detection.



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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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