Police forces across the UK are on alert for “lone wolf” terrorists plotting attacks in crowded public spaces over Christmas after three incidents in France in the past four days.
Counter terror officials are examining new tactics to prevent ‘hit and run’ vehicle attacks against pedestrians.
The French government has ordered 300 soldiers on to the streets to boost security in cities after two incidents in which motorists drove cars into crowds.
In Nantes on Monday a man drove a car into a crowded market, killing one shopper and injuring nine others.
Thirteen people were injured on Sunday in Dijon when a man drove into pedestrians shouting “God is great” in Arabic and the day before a man was shot dead in Tours on after stabbing three police officers.
French authorities emphasise that the two motorists had a long history of mental illness and prosecutors investigating the incidents have insisted they were not “terrorist acts.”
However, there are fears that Islamist “sleepers” who are unknown to the authorities and have been radicalised online may resort to similar attacks.
In September a senior figure in Islamic State urged supporters to use all means, including their own vehicles, to kill westerners.
A senior Whitehall source told the Times that vehicle-based attacks was now a priority for counter terrorist officials: “We can’t put bollards up outside all the shops in Oxford Street, but there are extra protective measures that can be taken.”
Government security agencies have issued detailed advice to shopping centres and businesses about the threat of car bomb attacks but now the advice is also being applied to what are termed “lone volatile extremists.”
In London, police forces have ordered extra armed patrols around iconic sites and busy transport hubs in the capital.
There are extra police patrols in shopping centres while undercover officers are also being deployed to spot suspects.
In the City of London specially trained officers are using behavioural analysis techniques to identify suspicious behaviour.