UK raises terror threat level to ‘severe’ following Vienna attack

The decision to escalate the UK terror threat level to "severe" was a "precautionary measure" following Islamist attacks in Austria and France, Home Secretary Priti Patel said.

The change means that an attack on UK soil is now deemed "highly likely".

It comes after gunmen, believed by Austrian police to have an Islamist motive, killed three people and left several wounded on Monday night as they went on a shooting spree through Vienna armed with an assault rifle, carrying other handguns, and wearing a fake explosive belt.

The attack happened on the eve of Austria entering a coronavirus lockdown – a move England will emulate on Thursday after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced bars, restaurants and most other hospitality venues will have to shut for four weeks until December 2 in a bid to stifle the rate of the virus' transmission.

In a statement, Ms Patel said: "The Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre has this afternoon changed the threat level from terrorism from substantial to severe.

"The British people should be alert but not alarmed.

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Armed police arrive at the first district near the state opera in central Vienna on November 2, 2020, following a shooting near a synagogue. - Multiple gunshots were fired in central Vienna on Monday evening, according to police, with the location of the incident close to a major synagogue. Police urged residents to keep away from all public places or public transport. One attacker was "dead" and another "on the run", with one police officer being seriously injured, Austria's interior ministry said according to news agency APA. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP) (Photo by JOE KLAMAR/AFP via Getty Images)
Police officers check a car at the scene after gunshots were heard, in Vienna, Monday, Nov. 2, 2020. Austrian police say several people have been injured and officers are out in force following gunfire in the capital Vienna. Initial reports that a synagogue was the target of an attack couldn't immediately be confirmed. Austrian news agency APA quoted the country's Interior Ministry saying one attacker has been killed and another could be on the run.(Photo/Ronald Zak)
Police officers walk between emergency vehicles at the scene after gunshots were heard, in Vienna, Monday, Nov. 2, 2020. Austrian police say several people have been injured and officers are out in force following gunfire in the capital Vienna. Initial reports that a synagogue was the target of an attack couldn't immediately be confirmed. Austrian news agency APA quoted the country's Interior Ministry saying one attacker has been killed and another could be on the run.(Photo/Ronald Zak)
Police officers stay in position at the scene after gunshots were heard, in Vienna, Monday, Nov. 2, 2020. Austrian police say several people have been injured and officers are out in force following gunfire in the capital Vienna. Initial reports that a synagogue was the target of an attack couldn't immediately be confirmed. Austrian news agency APA quoted the country's Interior Ministry saying one attacker has been killed and another could be on the run.(Photo/Ronald Zak)
A police officers walk near ambulances at the scene after gunshots were heard, in Vienna, Monday, Nov. 2, 2020. Austrian police say several people have been injured and officers are out in force following gunfire in the capital Vienna. Initial reports that a synagogue was the target of an attack couldn't immediately be confirmed. Austrian news agency APA quoted the country's Interior Ministry saying one attacker has been killed and another could be on the run.(Photo/Ronald Zak)
En este fotograma se ven policías en el lugar donde se reportaron disparos en Viena, Austria, el lunes 2 de noviembre de 2020. (AP Foto)
Police officers check a person following a gunfire in the neighborhood of a synagogue in Vienna, Germany, Monday, Nov. 2, 2020. (Photo/Ronald Zak)
Armed policemen patrol in the center of Vienna, Austria, on November 2, 2020, following a shooting. - Multiple gunshots were fired in central Vienna on the evening of November 2, 2020, according to police, with the location of the incident close to a major synagogue. Police urged residents to keep away from all public places or public transport. One attacker was "dead" and another "on the run", with one police officer being seriously injured, Austria's interior ministry said according to news agency APA. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP) (Photo by JOE KLAMAR/AFP via Getty Images)
A policeman points his gun in the air as others stand in front of a shop in the center of Vienna on November 2, 2020, following a shooting. - Two people, including one attacker, have been killed in a shooting in central Vienna, police said late November 2, 2020. Vienna police said in a Twitter post there had been "six different shooting locations" with "one deceased person" and "several injured", as well as "one suspect shot and killed by police officers". (Photo by ROLAND SCHLAGER / APA / AFP) / Austria OUT (Photo by ROLAND SCHLAGER/APA/AFP via Getty Images)
Armed policemen stand guard in a shopping street in the center of Vienna on November 2, 2020, following a shooting. - Multiple gunshots were fired in central Vienna on the evening of November 2, 2020, according to police, with the location of the incident close to a major synagogue. Police urged residents to keep away from all public places or public transport. One attacker was "dead" and another "on the run", with one police officer being seriously injured, Austria's interior ministry said according to news agency APA. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP) (Photo by JOE KLAMAR/AFP via Getty Images)
VIENNA, AUSTRIA - NOVEMBER 02: Heavily armed police stand near Schwedenplatz square in the city center following reports of shots fired nearby on November 02, 2020 in Vienna, Austria. Police blocked off nearby streets and urged people to stay away in what seems to be an ongoing event possibly involving several attackers. (Photo by Thomas Kronsteiner/Getty Images)
Armed police patrol at Mariahilferstrasse in central Vienna on November 2, 2020, following a shooting near a synagogue. - Austrian Interior Minster Nehammer said late on November 2 that a shooting in central Vienna near a major synagogue appeared to be a terrorist attack and was ongoing. (Photo by ROLAND SCHLAGER / APA / AFP) / Austria OUT (Photo by ROLAND SCHLAGER/APA/AFP via Getty Images)
Armed policemen stand witha a dog near the State Opera in the center of Vienna on November 2, 2020, following a shooting near a synagogue. - Multiple gunshots were fired in central Vienna on the evening of November 2, 2020, according to police, with the location of the incident close to a major synagogue. Police urged residents to keep away from all public places or public transport. One attacker was "dead" and another "on the run", with one police officer being seriously injured, Austria's interior ministry said according to news agency APA. (Photo by Joe Klamar / AFP) (Photo by JOE KLAMAR/AFP via Getty Images)
Police cars and policemen stand in the central Vienna on November 2, 2020, following a shooting near a synagogue. - Multiple gunshots were fired in central Vienna on the evening of November 2, 2020, according to police, with the location of the incident close to a major synagogue. Police urged residents to keep away from all public places or public transport. One attacker was "dead" and another "on the run", with one police officer being seriously injured, Austria's interior ministry said according to news agency APA. (Photo by Joe Klamar / various sources / AFP) (Photo by JOE KLAMAR/AFP via Getty Images)
Police patrol near Stephansplatz in central Vienna on November 2, 2020, following a shooting near a synagogue. - Austrian Interior Minster Nehammer said late on November 2 that a shooting in central Vienna near a major synagogue appeared to be a terrorist attack and was ongoing. (Photo by Ales HALADA / AFP) (Photo by ALES HALADA/AFP via Getty Images)
Women run away from the first district near the state opera, central Vienna on November 2, 2020, following a shooting near a synagogue. - Austrian Interior Minster Nehammer said late on November 2 that a shooting in central Vienna near a major synagogue appeared to be a terrorist attack and was ongoing. (Photo by Joe Klamar / AFP) (Photo by JOE KLAMAR/AFP via Getty Images)
Police cars and armed police officers patrol in central Vienna on November 2, 2020, following a shooting near a synagogue. - Multiple gunshots were fired in central Vienna on the evening of November 2, 2020, according to police, with the location of the incident close to a major synagogue. Police urged residents to keep away from all public places or public transport. One attacker was "dead" and another "on the run", with one police officer being seriously injured, Austria's interior ministry said according to news agency APA. (Photo by GEORG HOCHMUTH / APA / AFP) / Austria OUT (Photo by GEORG HOCHMUTH/APA/AFP via Getty Images)
An armed policeman stands guard near the state opera in central Vienna on November 2, 2020, following a shooting near a synagogue. - Multiple gunshots were fired in central Vienna on Monday evening, according to police, with the location of the incident close to a major synagogue. Police urged residents to keep away from all public places or public transport. One attacker was "dead" and another "on the run", with one police officer being seriously injured, Austria's interior ministry said according to news agency APA. (Photo by Joe Klamar / AFP) (Photo by JOE KLAMAR/AFP via Getty Images)
Armed police patrol at the area around the state opera in central Vienna on November 2, 2020, following a shooting near a synagogue. - Multiple gunshots were fired in central Vienna on Monday evening, according to police, with the location of the incident close to a major synagogue. Police urged residents to keep away from all public places or public transport. One attacker was "dead" and another "on the run", with one police officer being seriously injured, Austria's interior ministry said according to news agency APA. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP) (Photo by JOE KLAMAR/AFP via Getty Images)
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"This is a precautionary measure following the horrific events of the last week in France and last night in Austria and is not based on a specific threat.

"We have already taken significant steps to amend our powers and strengthen the tools for dealing with the developing terrorist threats we face.

"That process will continue and the British public should be in no doubt that we will take the strongest possible action to protect our national security."

She said the country faced a "real and serious threat" from terrorism and called for the "public to remain vigilant" and to report suspicious activity.

The terror threat level was lowered to "substantial", meaning an attack was thought to be likely rather than highly likely, in November 2019.

But recent events in Austria and France have convinced terror experts that there is now a greater risk of an attack on Britain.

The Vienna incident saw several shots fired shortly after 8pm local time in a city centre street, with police identifying six different shooting locations.

UK terror threat levels
(PA Graphics)

Eyewitnesses reported seeing gunmen open fire on people sitting outside bars, with one suggesting as many as 100 rounds were fired.

One attacker was shot dead by police and authorities are trying to determine if others may be on the run.

In France, three people were killed in a knife attack at a church in Nice last month, and teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded in a Paris suburb amid outrage over the country's defence of cartoons mocking the prophet of Islam.

Assistant Commissioner Neil Bas, UK head of counter-terrorism policing, said officers would be deployed to "certain locations" as part of the "severe" terror threat grading.

He said: "We have activated the established planning mechanisms across the police service, which will lead to enhanced protection and preparedness.

"Some of this will be visible and involve additional police officers being deployed to certain places and locations, which the public can expect to see over the coming days.

"From this afternoon we will begin to increase our levels of visible patrols and implement other security and protection measures."

UK terror threat level history
(PA Graphics)

Labour shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: "This decision should not cause undue alarm but shows the importance of people continuing to be vigilant."

The Prime Minister's official spokesman told reporters the Vienna shootings were not discussed at Cabinet on Tuesday, but that the Home Office had offered its counter-terror expertise to "help Austria with their investigation".

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