The British public is giving police thousands of tips to help thwart terror attacks in the U.K. in the wake of a series of ISIS-linked slayings in Europe, a top anti-terror officer in London says.
In a BBC Radio 4 "Today Programme" interview Monday, Britain's most senior counterterrorism police officer, Mark Rowley, said cooperation between the police and public was the "greatest advantage" in fighting terror attacks.
Rowley, the assistant commissioner for Specialist Operations the Metropolitan Police and The National Police Chiefs' Council lead for counterterrorism, said with the risk of a terror attack classified as "severe" since 2014, "even more public assistance" is needed.
According to Rowley, the British public make 3,600 contributions in the fight against terrorism every day, with members of the public reporting incidents ranging from people behaving suspiciously in public, to friends and neighbors they believed were at risk of violent radicalization.
"We are drawing people back from a path towards extremism through partnership activity," he said. "Even if you take a view that 90 percent of those people may have self-treated or not gone on to become terrorists, that is still a massive effect."
He said it was important that police were able to intervene before people's beliefs became too extreme, and about 60 to 70 cases a month were being resolved. About a sixth of these cases were referred to police by the public, he said.
There is a similar effort in the United States to get the public to alert police about suspected terrorist activity.
"There is very definitely a role for the public to play in this environment," Homeland Security director Jeh Johnson during the annual Aspen Security Forum, the Gazette in Colorado Springs reported last week.
"The public can and has made a difference through vigilance and awareness."
The FBI allows for tips to be left through its website.
But the mass slayings in June at an Orlando, Fla., gay nightclub by Omar Mateen, who claimed allegiance to ISIS, highlight just how daunting the effort is for agents to sift through the volume of tips they receive.
"We are looking for needles in a nationwide haystack, but we are also called up to figure out which pieces of hay might someday become needles," FBI Director James Comey said at the time, describing the agency sifting through "hundreds and hundreds of cases across the country."
According to the FBI, agents are working on more than 900 active investigations in all 50 states, and the Financial Times reports FBI agents investigating Mateen prior to his terror strike were likely handling an additional 15 to 25 cases at the same time.
"The bureau's stretched thin because the threat continues to grow," retired FBI agent Jeffrey Ringel, now a director of the Soufan Group, tells the FT.
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