After London Attack, U.K. Voters Prioritize Security Ahead Of Election
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Now to the U.K. where British police have named the third suspect in Saturday's terror attack on London Bridge. The police say the man was not on their radar, but Italian authorities say they told the U.K. he was a risk. All of this is putting more heat on Prime Minister Theresa May just two days before national elections. NPR's Frank Langfitt joins us now from London.
And, Frank, first update us on the investigation. Who's the third attacker?
FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Well, British police say his name was Youssef Zaghba. He lived in East London, had an Italian passport and was of Moroccan descent. Police here have insisted that he was not what they call a subject of interest for them or MI5. That's the domestic security agency here in the U.K.
SIEGEL: But that evidently isn't what the Italians - you say.
LANGFITT: No. It's a different story out of Italy. Giuseppe Amato, he's a public prosecutor in the Italian city of Bologna, he was speaking with Radio 24, that's a national radio network in. And here's the quote, "we informed London about him as a possible suspect." Authorities reportedly stopped Zaghba at an Italian airport. He had a one-way ticket to Turkey.
They thought he was ultimately headed to Syria. An anti-terrorist squad apparently followed him but didn't have enough evidence to charge him as a terrorist.
SIEGEL: So how is Prime Minister Theresa May responding to these questions about Britain's security just a couple of days before the election?
LANGFITT: Well, Robert, she knows she has a big problem here, especially because another London Bridge attacker had been the subject of complaints from a neighbor who had complained to police that he had been trying to proselytize her son in a park. And this other attacker, he'd also appeared in a documentary on jihadis here on national TV.
Here's how Theresa May responded to all this on Britain's Sky TV today.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: I absolutely recognize people's concerns. MI5 and the police have already said after the Manchester attack that they would be looking and reviewing how they dealt with that. And I would expect them to do exactly the same in relation to London Bridge.
LANGFITT: And May was referring to the suicide bombing outside an Ariana Grande concert last month that left 22 dead. In Manchester, an imam at the mosque where the bomber's family had worshiped said he'd warned police the young man was at risk of radicalization. The revelations that police knew most of the people behind three terror attacks in the last three months have undermined Theresa May's campaign slogan of strong and stable leadership.
Peter Catterall is a professor of history at the University of Westminster.
PETER CATTERALL: If enough is enough, as she said on Sunday morning, who's actually been in charge of counterterrorism for the last seven years? Well, the home secretary between 2010 and 2016 was Theresa May.
LANGFITT: The terror attacks have led May's opponents to scrutinize her past record. Budget cuts during her tenure as home secretary seem to be coming back to haunt her.
CATTERALL: You've now seen this phenomenon - senior police officers and senior counterterrorism officers coming out of the woodwork and saying, well, the prime minister has been the one who's been responsible for cutting expenditure.
LANGFITT: Which raises the question, will this cost May heavily at the ballot box on Thursday?
YVONNE DOWIE-SHOSHANYA: I don't think it will, to be fair. I think people probably have already made up their minds.
LANGFITT: Civil Servant Yvonne Dowie-Shoshanya attended last night's vigil for the victims of the London Bridge attack.
DOWIE-SHOSHANYA: I suppose what would be interesting is the types of questions that get asked around security and terrorism. And that might swing, you know, a minority of people. But I think generally, people have made up their minds.
SIEGEL: And, Frank, do the views of Miss Dowie-Shoshanya seem to reflect the consensus among British voters?
LANGFITT: I think they do. And certainly it's what you've been hearing from political observers as well. You know, Jeremy Corbyn, head of the Labour Party, he's Theresa May's main opponent, he's been talking about putting another 10,000 police on the street. But Corbyn is a socialist, he's also seen as a pacifist. And so he's not that well-positioned to attack May on the issue of security.
For instance, if there were a more credible figure to the right of May, we might have a different story.
SIEGEL: How close does this election appear to be?
LANGFITT: Well, average polls right now show the Tories with a six-point advantage. Most political observers do think the Tories will win. But there are at least a couple of caveats here, Robert. Polls in the last two races - this was true of Brexit and the 2015 general election - were off. And when May called this election back in April, the Tories were up by 20 points.
So if it ends up being fairly close, she's not going to get at all the majority that she hoped for, which she really wants to be able to negotiate a strong Brexit with the European Union. And if the Tories don't do that well, I think it's going to weaken Theresa May's standing.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Frank, thanks.
LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.