THIS country has, of course, seen many terrorist attacks with far greater loss of life. But there can have been few more shocking or sickening incidents of violence than a young man being hunted down and hacked to death in broad daylight on a London street simply in order to make a political point.
The bizarre nature of the appalling attack on former Yorkshire soldier Lee Rigby was only emphasised by the fact that the two perpetrators then waited by his body for police to arrive, in the meantime trying to justify this cold-blooded murder to passers-by with wild, senseless rants.
Nor is the terrifying savagery of this incident lessened by the knowledge that these kind of attacks are likely to be attempted with far greater frequency.
The two men involved may well have devised and carried out this dreadful murder by themselves. But, for several years now, leading al-Qaida activists have called on their followers to carry out home-grown attacks on shopping centres or military bases, rather than attempt sophisticated operations such as the September 11 attacks or the 7/7 bombings in London.
And though the police and security services still have an astonishingly successful record of preventing such attacks – including a plot, six years ago, to kidnap and behead a British soldier in the Midlands – the very nature of this kind of terrorist activity means that success for the perpetrators will sometimes be inevitable.
The temptation, therefore, will of course be for people to change their behaviour accordingly, for the Army to order soldiers to conceal their uniforms in public as in the dark days of Irish Republican terrorism, for people to live in fear of incidents in suburban streets and for suspicion of Muslims to grow and spread, encouraged by the poisonous rhetoric of the far Right.
In the face of such worries, David Cameron had the perfect riposte yesterday, emphasising that the best way of thwarting the warped ideology of terrorism is for people to continue going about their normal lives, to avoid knee-jerk responses and to recognise that terrorism is a betrayal of the values of Islam, with Muslims being the victims of terrorism far more often than they are the perpetrators.
With this in mind, it was also encouraging yesterday to see the Muslim Council of Britain move quickly to denounce the murder of Lee Rigby and even more heartening to hear the hundreds of Muslim voices who spontaneously took to Twitter to express their disgust at the notion that Islam could have been invoked to justify such a barbaric act.
In the end, though, as the Prime Minister emphasised in his considered and restrained response to this outrage, the final word should go to Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, the woman who confronted the murderers and asked them why they had killed Drummer Rigby.
When told that they wanted to start a war, Mrs Loyau-Kennett surely spoke for the nation as a whole when she warned the killers; “You’re going to lose. It is only you against many.” Whatever happens in the future, that sentiment must always be remembered.