Terrorism. It could happen in a town near you..

PUBLISHED: 14:45 15 February 2007 | UPDATED: 22:34 28 May 2010

TERRORISM happens in other places, not Cambridgeshire, right? Wrong. And the biggest intelligence operation to combat terrorism can start with you, the public, and knowing your neighbours. TELEVISION dramas depicting terrorist cells and secret government

TERRORISM happens in other places, not Cambridgeshire, right? Wrong. And the biggest intelligence operation to combat terrorism can start with you, the public, and knowing your neighbours.

TELEVISION dramas depicting terrorist cells and secret government organisations may be the work of fantasy in some urban landscape far away.

However, the reality is that no place is immune from a terrorist threat, including sleepy, rural Cambridgeshire.

It may not be headline grabbing incidents though, where people are hurt and property is damaged.

"We don't want people to worry needlessly about that," said one specialist officer.

"But they should be aware that the preparations could be made in Cambridgeshire or any other rural county, for terrorist violence."

It is getting that message across to the community's small towns and villages which is always one of the biggest problems for anti-terrorist officers.

"A lot of planning goes into any terrorist plot and that planning needs to take place somewhere - it may be a house, a flat, a rented room, garage or storage facility may be used," continued the officer.

"Essentially there may be groups of people coming and going from a property on a regular basis.

"Obviously, a vast majority of communities in Cambridgeshire have community get-togethers, or book clubs, religious events at homes, or classes run from houses. It is not these events which are unusual.

"However members of the community can watch out for oddities - does a house near you have new residents? Do you know them, or know why groups of people come and go regularly from the house?"

Following a number of police operations targeting cannabis factories around the county, appeals to the public were released with signs of what to watch out for.

Just as it is typical for windows to be boarded up and huge amounts of heat to be coming from a house where cannabis is being grown, terrorism and other criminal activity could also produce 'unusual' signs which should be reported to police.

"Landlords have a particular role by knowing who rents from them and asking for valid identification to back it up,"continued the officer.

"Essentially, it is about spotting the unusual within the usual and being a conscientious neighbour. Areas with an active community spirit will know who their neighbours are, what kind of people they are and what is normal for them.

"We need Cambridgeshire residents to be vigilant; decide if something is not `normal¿ and report unusual activity to us."

The Met Police have produced posters depicting a shopping centre, with an abandoned bag on a bench. The caption reads: "Innocent bag or terrorist bomb?"

"Would you think to report an abandoned bag in a shopping centre, or someone taking pictures of the inside of a multi-storey car park?

"It could take just one call to alert police to unusual activity which may help with intelligence investigations."

But still, detectives find it hard to get the message across.

"The public's eyes and ears are some of the most valuable assets we have," he added.

Though "terrorism' is not necessarily like the dramas depicted on television, it is a realistic threat in every community - even rural ones.

And by being a conscientious member of the community, and spotting the 'unusual within the usual' this threat can be tackled together.

In September last year containers of chemicals were found by the side of the road in a village on the outskirts of Cambridge.

A passing motorist may have seen them and believed they were recklessly dumped, but what if they had been used for a sinister reason?

"In this instance police officers and fire crews were called to the scene to investigate and make the area safe," explained the specialist officer.

It took almost 12 hours to deal with the situation which involved finding out what the chemicals were, the dangers associated with them, closing the road, arranging recovery and asking the necessary questions about their origin and how they came to be by the side of the road.

Ambulance crews were also on alert, the Environment Agency was in attendance and the council was notified about the incident.

"This time, it was a case of fly tipping," continued the officer.

"The chemicals could have caused a nasty fire, but because of preventative measures by us and the fire service, they didn't.

"However, we needed to ask the question - is this part of something bigger? Thankfully this time it wasn't.

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