RAF Marham: Police not ruling out terrorism as two men attempt to abduct officer near airbase
- Credit: Ian Burt
Norfolk police launch a hotline for the public to report sightings of a dark people carrier as it emerges that two men of 'Middle Eastern origin' attempted to abduct a serviceman close to the RAF Marham air base yesterday afternoon.
The RAF officer, who is in his 20s, was jogging on Squires Hill near the airbase at around 3.30pm when a man got out of a dark people carrier, believed to be a Ford Galaxy, shouted at the serviceman and tried to drag him into the vehicle.
Norfolk police said there was then a 'melee' when the married RAF officer fought off the attacker. He didn't hear what the man shouted at him because he was running with headphones.
A second man then got out of the car carrying a knife, which police said was around three inches long. He went to help the first attacker who was lying on the floor and they made off in the car. The RAF officer, who was not in uniform, ran off and is described as being 'very shaken' by what happened.
Police said the road was a popular running route for service men and women from RAF Marham.
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Officers are still hunting the two men who fled the scene and said they had received reports of a car similar to the one used in the attack spotted in west Norfolk. They are also trying to obtain as much CCTV footage as possible.
Meanwhile, police are urging the public to call 0800 056 0154 or 0207 158 0011 particularly if they saw a dark coloured people carrier in the King's Lynn area yesterday afternoon.
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The first suspect is described as between 20 and 30 years old, approximately 6ft tall, of athletic but stocky build, with dark hair which was long on top and had a well-groomed beard. He was of Middle Eastern origin in appearance with a dark skin tone and wore dark casual clothing.
The second is described as between 20-30 years old but younger than the first suspect and of a slimmer build. He was approximately 5ft 10, clean shaven with short dark hair. He was also of Middle Eastern origin in appearance and wore a white t-shirt and dark shorts.
The knife, which has not yet been found, is described as military style with a three-inch long handle and a the blade between 2.5 and 3 inches.
Det Supt Paul Durham, from the Norfolk and Suffolk Major Investigation Team, said: 'I can confirm we are treating this as an attempted abduction and detailed enquiries are being carried out at the scene to establish the full circumstances.
'The motivation for the attack remains unclear at this time, and whilst we are currently unable to discount terrorism, there are a number of other possible hypotheses. We are therefore carrying out a thorough investigation to understand what has happened, why and who is responsible.
'Visible patrols continue in the area and officers will be carrying out house-to-house enquiries and detailed searches of the scene in Squires Hill, which remains closed for the time being.'
Det Supt Durham added: 'I'm keen to hear from anyone who may have seen the vehicle described above in the King's Lynn area but particularly towards Marham between midday and 6pm yesterday and would urge anyone with information, no matter how insignificant it may seem to them, to call police on 101 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.'
Norfolk police area leading the investigation and are liaising with anti-terrorism police and also Scotland Yard.
A number of hypotheses are being explored in relation to the abduction attempt, including that it was a terror related incident. Also being considered is the possibility that it was an attempted abduction without the link to terrorism or simply an attempted robbery.
There is not believed to be a wider terrorism threat to the public in the area following the incident.
Personnel who work at the airbase, which is home to the famous squadron of Tornados and is soon to be home to Lightning aircraft, were being advised to be vigilant following the incident.
An internal memo seen by the EDP sent to staff from Rich Curzon, in Protective Security at the MoD, said: 'Following a security incident at RAF Marham, it is directed that all personnel keep a low profile and not make themselves vulnerable.
'Specifically, until the threat subsides, no-one is to be on their own on foot, or on a bicycle, within the local area in uniform or clothing which might identify them with the military.'
A further information note to all personnel described the incident as an 'alleged attempted abduction' and explained the incident occurred when a serviceman had been running 'approximately one mile outside of RAF Marham's main gate'.
A 'heightened' police presence remains around the airbase in the form of 'reassurance patrols' to support local residents who work there.
South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss said: 'I know the investigation is ongoing and I am concerned when any member of the public or our service personnel are threatened in this manner.
'I am in contact with both the Station Commander at Marham and Norfolk Constabulary to get an update on what has taken place.'
A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: 'The Met's counter-terrorism command is aware but the investigation remains with Norfolk Constabulary.'
The UK threat level was already at severe following the events in Nice last week.
Police and Crime Commissioner for Norfolk Lorne Green said we 'must not draw any conclusions' as investigations into the incident are in their early stages.
'The incident is under close investigation at the moment with an open mind,' he said. 'There is nothing at the moment to strongly suggest one motive above another and it is all subject to a very intensive investigation at the moment.
'Incidents of this kind are very rare in our county and our constabulary, working in co-operation with other forces, are well-equipped to respond to any eventuality of violent crime, regardless of motive.
'There is a very close co-operation between the constabulary and the military police, which is ongoing at the moment.'
A families day being held at RAF Marham on Thursday went ahead as planned.
The ticketed event, which is not open to the public, allows families and friends of servicemen and women to see the base and enjoy displays from aircraft.
North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham said: 'Whilst it is still too early to draw any specific conclusions, our local police are very well equipped to work alongside the RAF Police to fully investigate this deeply unpleasant and cowardly incident.
'At a time of ever increasing threats from Islamic terrorists around the world we all need to be on sensible alert, but on no account should we allow incidents like this to detract from our normal way of life - that is why I am delighted that the RAF Marham Family Day will go ahead.'
The base is home to almost 10,000 people, including members of the RAF, Navy and Army, as well as the civil service and other staff.
Frontline squadrons of the RAF's Tornado GR4 Force, which is focused on operations in the Middle East, operate from RAF Marham, while the Tactical Imagery-Intelligence Wing, the No 3 (RAF) Force Protection Wing and the No 93 Expeditionary Armament Squadron, the RAF's specialist weapons support squadron, are also based there.
The station is being redeveloped ahead of the arrival of the F-35 Lightning Force, the UK's new stealth fighter jet.
• Updates to follow