01:23 - Source: CNN
Witnesses describe 'horrendous' Parliament attack

Editor’s Note: Timothy Stanley is a historian and columnist for Britain’s Daily Telegraph. He is the author of “Citizen Hollywood: How the Collaboration Between LA and DC Revolutionized American Politics.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are his. This story has been updated to reflect the latest number of fatalities from London Metropolitan Police.

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Tim Stanley: UK terror attack reminder of threat but also professionalism of police, citizens quick to help each other

He says we have seen this violence before, will endure more to come, but won't give in to terrorists

London CNN  — 

The terror attack that left four victims and an assailant dead near the Houses of Parliament in London showed the worst and the best of British life.

It was a reminder of the threat we’ve lived under for a very long time. But it also was a demonstration of a professional police service swinging into action and of our citizens rushing to each other’s aid.

We have a saying here: Keep calm and carry on. I’m sure that even on a day such as this we’ll live up to it.

Timothy Stanley

Britain has been dealing with various forms of political violence since the 1960s, when the sectarian Troubles erupted in Northern Ireland. Last year, one of our members of Parliament, Jo Cox, was murdered by a sympathizer of the racist far-right. And we’ve been on alert against Islamist terrorism since 9/11. On July 7, 2005, 52 people were killed by suicide bombers in London.

Our security services are second to none and are believed to have prevented 13 terror attacks since 2013. Their job, however, is made all the more difficult by the situation in the Middle East. The Syrian civil war has radicalized some young Britons; around 850 of them are believed to have traveled to Syria or Iraq to support or join the fighting. About half that number are thought to have returned. Others have tried to travel to the region and been stopped.

That Britain hadn’t had a significant, successful attack since 2013, when a soldier, Fusilier Lee Rigby, was beheaded in the street, is a testament to how well our security agencies have been coping.

So was the swift response of London’s police force on Wednesday. We know that one officer lost his life. The officer was given CPR by Tobias Ellwood, an MP and former soldier who lost his brother in a bombing in Indonesia. There’s no greater testament to the strength of Britain’s institutions than the selflessness of our police and the quality of MPs like Ellwood.

As for the attacker, there’s a lot of speculation at the moment. But the location of this attack was surely picked to say something about the British state and its vulnerability. Reports indicate that an attacker drove along Westminster Bridge, mowing down tourists, and then into the railings outside the Houses of Parliament.

An attacker then approached the grounds of the Houses of Parliament and stabbed a police officer. This is a place where, as a journalist, I go all the time. My newspaper colleagues were inside the building in the lobby offices. There were MPs at work in the Commons. The Prime Minister was inside the palace grounds.

What if the attacker had a bomb? What if he had got farther into the complex? The situation could have been even worse.

One piece of good news is that Parliament intends to sit tomorrow, Thursday, and continue its business as normal. That’s how a democracy wins. Britain’s extremist right will demand tough measures – it has always confused me that people who claim to love their country as much as the far-right does are so keen to change it at a moment’s notice.

Modern Britain is defined by tolerance. Please don’t believe the worst that you might read online: We have fine community relations here. We are a generally peaceful and good-natured country. We are also known for our coolness under fire. We have seen this violence before and will endure more to come. But we don’t give in to terrorists. A barbarian cannot change a country as old and civilized as ours.