Year In Review 2021 | Increase in Threat Level | Counter Terrorism Policing

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Year In Review 2021 | Increase in Threat Level

As we look ahead to the new year, we wanted to look back on the role that Counter Terrorism Policing has played in protecting the public by investigating, preventing and deterring terrorist activity throughout 2021. This involves the launch of new campaigns, a sneak peek at the world-leading new Terrorism Operations Centre, and a change in the threat level…

On Monday, 15 November the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) confirmed that the threat level from terrorism was raised from “substantial” to “severe”. The threat level moving to severe means it is ‘highly likely’ that a terrorist attack could happen in the UK.

Following the explosion outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist said: “Communities defeat terrorism, and it remains vitally important that the public remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to police. Our efforts can only succeed where we have the support of the public, and communities have shown time and time again that they are united in their rejection of those who wish to divide us, and spread hate in the name of extremism.”


Threat levels are designed to give a broad indication of the likelihood of a terrorist attack.

  • LOW means an attack is highly unlikely
  • MODERATE means an attack is possible, but not likely
  • SUBSTANTIAL means an attack is likely
  • SEVERE means an attack is highly likely
  • CRITICAL means an attack is highly likely in the near future

The UK threat level from international terrorism is set by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC).

MI5 is responsible for setting the threat levels from Irish and other domestic terrorism, both in Northern Ireland and in Great Britain.

In reaching a judgement on the appropriate threat level in any given circumstance, several factors need to be taken into account.

These include:

  • Available intelligence. It is rare that specific threat information is available and can be relied upon. More often, judgements about the threat will be based on a wide range of information, which is often fragmentary, including the level and nature of current terrorist activity, comparison with events in other countries and previous attacks. Intelligence is only ever likely to reveal part of the picture.
  • Terrorist capability. An examination of what is known about the capabilities of the terrorists in question and the method they may use based on previous attacks, or from intelligence. This would also analyse the potential scale of the attack.
  • Terrorist intentions. Using intelligence and publicly available information to examine the overall aims of the terrorists and the ways they may achieve them including what sort of targets they would consider attacking.
  • Timescale. The threat level expresses the likelihood of an attack in the near term. We know from past incidents that some attacks take years to plan, while others are put together more quickly. In the absence of specific intelligence, a judgement will need to be made about how close an attack might be to fruition. Threat levels do not have any set expiry date, but are regularly subject to review in order to ensure that they remain current.