'SAS-style' police unit set up to counter terrorism threat
Elite unit established as security services take part in London's largest counter-terrorism exercise
Scotland Yard has announced the creation of an elite police unit, set up to respond to a large-scale terrorist attack in Britain.
The "SAS-style" unit is made up of 130 counter-terrorism specialist firearms officers who have been given new weapons and training, reports The Guardian. The armed officers have been trained alongside Special Forces in tactics such as fast-roping from helicopters and storming burning buildings to rescue hostages.
A senior police source told the newspaper that armed officers would always attempt to arrest the attacker first, and would only be prepared to "neutralise" them in extraordinary circumstances.
"We're police officers, not soldiers," the source said. "We're not at war. Our job is to arrest people."
The announcement came as police, soldiers, emergency services and intelligence agents took part in the largest ever counter-terrorism exercise in London.
Authorities say the exercise has been six months in the planning and is not a response to the recent Tunisian attack, neither does it mean that an attack on Britain is imminent.
The two-day exercise - codenamed Strong Tower - involves 1,000 police officers at locations across London and aims to prepare security personnel for a possible gun attack, reports the BBC.
The exercise is said to be based on the events that occurred during the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris and the Sydney cafe siege last year.
While much of the simulation will be hidden from view, the public may notice that some areas have been cordoned off or hear loud bangs.
The exercise coincides with the introduction of new counter-terrorism legislation, which requires local authorities, prisons, NHS trusts, schools and universities to prevent extremist radicalisation under their watch.
Under the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act, schools and universities will be given guidance on how to spot grooming of pupils by extremists and will be obliged to ensure that speakers from outside the campus are "appropriate" and that fundamental British values are promoted, reports The Guardian.
The newspaper suggests the scale of the new duties is "potentially vast and intrusive", but Education Secretary Nicky Morgan insists the risk of young people being drawn into extremism "is a very real threat in this country".