Here is a link to my latest article in The Conversation that covers some of the issues following the London Bridge attack on Friday 29th November 2019
Here is a link to my latest article in The Conversation that covers some of the issues following the London Bridge attack on Friday 29th November 2019
Britain’s most senior counter-terrorism officer, Neil Basu, made some interesting points last night on terrorism and extremism. During the interview he disclosed a number of issues related to the UK’s Prevent strategy.
He sees Prevent as the most important ‘plank of Britain’s counter-terrorism strategy’, but admitted that so far it has struggled to be widely accepted due to being ‘badly handled’.
Basu would like to see more policies introduced that go towards greater social cohesion, more social mobility and more education. In his opinion, rather than simply using the police and security service apparatus, such policies are more likely to drive down violence.
Accepting that terrorists come from a variety of backgrounds, including middle class families who seemingly wanted for nothing, Basu added some people were more ‘malleable’ than others to terrorist recruitment. Factors behind this can include a person’s high anxiety to lack of confidence, lack of education and events they suffered including bullying, racism, bigotry and lack of opportunity.
Prevent was introduced in 2005 as a pre-criminal strategy to help those vulnerable to being drawn towards violent Islamist terrorism. In 2011 this changed when Prevent was re-drafted to help those exposed to all forms of extremism. As Basu recognised in his interview, extremist narratives that are attracting individuals is not just the Islamist narrative, it includes the far-right. He missed other examples. For example the extremist narrative of dissident Irish republicans and loyalists are also attractive to many, especially in the North of Ireland where the terrorist threat is severe due to dissident Irish republican terrorist groups’ activities. Section 1 Terrorism Act 2000 states that an act of terrorism can be carried out under any political, religious, ideological or racist cause. As such, any ideological cause that promotes or glorifies violence can be classed as extremist thought under Prevent. For example there can be environmentalist terrorists who carry out violence to promote their cause.
Basu was correct when he said Prevent was initially mishandled and, unfortunately, those mistakes have led to a mistrust of the strategy that has not gone away making Prevent a toxic brand in the eyes of many. I agree with Basu when he says Prevent needs better communication, more transparency and not have the ability to create a vacuum for people to attack it. He is right when he says Prevent needs re-marketing and in doing so I suggest the many positive experiences and results related to those who have been referred to the strategy be emphasised how successful Prevent has been to date in helping those who are vulnerable to being drawn towards terrorist activity. In addition, it is important in the application of Prevent that many initiatives in driving it forward to become more effective should be community led, with change coming from the bottom-up via community groups.
Basu did state he wanted ‘good academic, good sociologists, good criminologists’ to be telling people and officials exactly why many in our society are being drawn towards various extremist causes. He could start by attending the Prevent symposium being held by Leeds Law School at Leeds Beckett University on the 19th September 2019 titled ‘Prevent Strategy: Helping Vulnerable People Drawn Towards Terrorism or Another Layer of State Surveillance?’ where presentations will be given by a wide variety of academics and practitioners. One of the key aims of the symposium is to reduce the disparity between academia and practice in relation to application of Prevent. If you are interested in attending then you can register your interest with this link.
You can read in more details issues related to Prevent in the chapter on the subject in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ published by Routledge
On the 19th July 2019 the UK’s Home Secretary, Sajid Javid not only expressed concern, but condemned how extremist politicians’ xenophobic comments, including immigration, is fuelling racism. The son of parents who immigrated to the UK, Javid was born and raised in the northern English town of Rochdale, and he said that immigration has been used as a proxy for race where migrant figures are exaggerated to stoke fear. For Javid the extremist problem has spread from radicalisation by groups like Islamic State to the far-left and the far-right of politics.
Javid’s comments were made following a Republican Party rally in Greenville, US on the 17th July 2019 where following President Trump’s verbal attack on four Democrat Congresswomen, calling them ‘hate filled extremists’ because they have been highly critical of Trump’s presidency. In an earlier tweet he posted on his Twitter account and at the rally, Trump said the four women should go back to the country of their origin. The irony is that three of the women, Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley and Tlaib were born in the US with Omar being the only one who was born outside the US in Somalia but who is a naturalised US citizen. As Trump was criticising the women at the rally his supporters aimed their vitriol at Omar, chanting repeatedly, ‘Send her back’.
Javid did say that he knows what it is like to be told to go back to where he came from, suggesting that those who made this comment did not mean his hometown of Rochdale! He added that everyone has a part to play from broadcasters in not giving a platform to extremists to public figures (including politicians) who must moderate their language.
As I have covered in many of my blog posts on the far-right, immigration and xenophobia is an issue that fuels the far-right’s ideology and political agenda. Such issues are not solely a problem for the UK and the US. On the 20th July 2019 the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, used the 75th anniversary of the failed plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler to call on citizens to counter rising right wing extremism. Her comments were made as a result of a rise in far-right activity in Germany. This is poignant as we know how the 1933-1945 Nazi regime in Germany led to the largest loss of life in modern history from both the military and civilian casualties, the holocaust and deaths in concentration camps. The far-right party, Alternative for Germany recently had relative electoral success in both national and EU parliament elections, resulting in the Party being the largest opposition party in Germany’s federal parliament. As I have commented in my previous blog posts on the far-right, the increase in right wing populist politics has created an environment providing a form of legitimacy in the far-right being more open in expressing their views and ideology.
Such views have inspired far-right violence in Germany, including the assassination of a CDU politician, Walter Lubcke, that happened on the terrace of his home in Isthain, June 2019 because of his liberal views on immigration. The mayors of Cologne and Altena have received death threats because of their liberal approach to asylum policy. This is in addition to other violent acts carried out by German far-right groups or people inspired by their cause. A far-right group gathering momentum in Germany is Der Dritte Weg (The Third Path). Formed in 2013 by former members of the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany, the group held a march in May 2019 in Plauen, Saxony on the eve of the Jewish remembrance of the Holocaust. Marching with flags, torches and drums and banners saying, ‘Social justice instead of criminal foreigners’, it was reminiscent of Nazi parades in Germany in the 1930’s.
It’s not only Germany on mainland Europe that have issues regarding the far-right. Along with neo-Nazi propaganda, on the 15th July 2019 Italian anti-terrorism police seized an air-to-air missile and other sophisticated weapons during raids on far-right groups. These raids were part of an investigation into Italian far-right involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. While the Italian police did not ascertain which side the Italians were fighting with, one logical assumption is it highly likely to be with the Azov Battalion. An attachment of Ukraine’s National Guard, the Azov Battalion is a volunteer force that attracts and recruits foreign fighters globally.
The Azov Battalion has links with the far-right and has Nazi-related insignia on their uniform, in particular the Wolfsangel badge. This badge was worn on the uniforms of the German SS Divisions ‘Third Reich’ and ‘Landstorm Nederland’ who were fighting on the eastern front against the Soviet Union’s Red Army in World War Two. Just like Islamic State recruited foreign fighters from around the world, so has the Azov Battalion where many of their recruits have come from the US, Spain, Italy, Germany, Poland and the UK. Since 2015 in the UK recruiters for the Azov Battalion have been actively recruiting those who have associations with the now proscribed groups like National Action and other far-right groups. While there was a justifiable concern in relation to state security about North American and European citizens going to Syria to join Islamic State as foreign fighters, there has been no mention of far-right influenced citizens joining the Azov Battalion, but this might be due to the fact the numbers who do so are much smaller than those who joined Islamic State.
What is this telling us?
To conclude, in essence, in relation to any form of extremism be it Islamist, nationalist like dissident Irish republicanism, or far-right, as the saying goes, ‘from small acorns do large oak trees grow’. Returning to Javid’s comments, public figures, including politicians, should think before they voice what can be perceived as inflammatory language as far-right will seize on this to legitimise their activity. As witnessed at the Greenville rally, while it may not have been President Trump’s intention, his inflammatory tweet and rhetoric at the rally legitimises extremist thinking in the minds of many individuals. This can lead to the uncomfortable scenario of racist chants or shouts that in turn can lead to the commission of hate crime, that in turn can lead to violent acts carried out against those who are simply different or who have a different viewpoint to the ideology of those carrying out violent acts on behalf of any extremist cause. This is not an exaggeration as the facts are there, like those I have covered in previous blog posts and in this post. The bottom line is irresponsible rhetoric by influential persons where the content of that rhetoric is an exaggerated or distorted version of what actually is can lead to any form of extremist inspired violence, not just the far-right.
You can read in more detail similar issues covered here in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ published by Routledge.
Following a lengthy trial in the UK, on the 21st June 2019 John Letts and Sally Lane were convicted for the terrorism funding offence of making funding arrangements (section 17 Terrorism Act 2000). This conviction received widespread media coverage in the UK. The main reason for this is both are parents of a 23 year old male, Jack Letts, who went to Syria to join the terrorist organisation, Islamic State (IS). Both received a 15 months custodial sentence, suspended for 2 years. The couple were tried on three counts of making funding arrangements, but were only convicted on one count, with the jury finding them not guilty on the second count and unable to reach a verdict on the third count. The value of the count they were convicted for was £223. As stated, the case received widespread UK media coverage and I gave a number of interviews to provide expert commentary to the BBC and independent broadcasters. One may wonder why this case received such media attention. This blog post will address this and assess both the offence of making funding arrangements and the sentencing guidelines provided to the judicary for offences related to terrorism funding.
John Letts and Sally Lane are a typical decent middle class couple who have lived what many would perceive as a normal life. Both work, had a family and have been a law abiding couple having no previous convictions. Their son, Jack Letts, converted to Islam when he was 16 years old and when he was 17 years old he went to study in the Middle East, which his parents funded. Shortly after Jack’s arrival in the Middle East his parents did not hear from him and evidence emerged that he was associating with IS extremists, something that Jack Letts confirmed to his parents when he told them he had joined other IS recruits in Raqqa, the capital of IS’ self-proclaimed caliphate. In essence these events became newsworthy because Jack Letts came from a white middle class family, converted to Islam at a young age, albeit with his parents’ support, and decided to join IS, a group that is known to be an extremist Islamist group with a vile, warped and violent ideology, hence why some of the printed media dubbed Letts as ‘Jihadi Jack’.
IS have not solely killed Christians, citizens from western states and homosexuals, IS have killed more Muslims that any other terrorist group and had a pogrom against Yazidis (whose religion is a cross between Christianity and Islam) who IS saw as devil worshippers. In one interview I gave for the BBC, I was part of discussion with a close friend of Letts and Lane during which he claimed there was no evidence of Jack Letts fighting with IS and that due to Assad’s regime in Syria bombing Aleppo, he joined IS for humanitarian reasons. Knowing what we do about IS, I suggest there is a degree of naivety regarding this claim. As I said in my interviews on this point, if Jack Letts wanted to carry out humanitarian work he should have joined the official groups. This had its danger as we saw with Alan Henning from the UK who was with official aid agencies when he was captured by IS and later beheaded by IS’ Emwazi (also from the UK and nicknamed ‘Jihadi John’).
Regarding the facts in Letts and Lane’s trial a great deal of sympathy has been shown for the couple. I think this is reflected in the verdicts the jury delivered and the sentence passed by the judge at their trial. I know being a parent myself, regardless of their age, they are still your children and as parents you still support and help them.
The offence they were tried for is funding arrangements under section 17 Terrorism Act 2000 that states it is an offence to:
‘…enter into or become concerned in the arrangement as a result of which money or other property is made available to another or he knows or has reasonable cause to suspect that it will or may be used for the purposes of terrorism’.
The offence is a serious one carrying a maximum of 14 years imprisonment.
As stated, the jury found Letts and Lane not guilty of section 17 in relation to attempting to send £1,000 to Jack Letts in December 2015 and unable to return a verdict regarding the attempt by Lane to send £500 to him in January 2016. The couple were sending Jack Letts money under the belief that it may help him survive, even escape from Raqqa and IS. Jack Letts told his parents that any money they sent him would not go on ‘jihad’, advising them if they sent the money to come up with a cover story. In September 2015 the couple did send £223 to Jack Letts’ contact in London.
Although they received conflicting messages from Jack Letts, some regarding the West dying in IS rage for its actions, other messages pleaded for help as he stated he was doubting IS’ ideology and beliefs and that he wanted to return home to the UK. In informing the police of this, the police, two independent experts, an academic specialising in this area and a professional de-radicaliser advised Letts and Lane not to send any money to Jack Letts. This may due to IS not allowing its members to own personal property and any money received by its members, IS would not allow them to keep, seeing it as property of IS. Ignoring this advice they tried to do so. Although one junior liaison police officer did suggest they send Jack money if it would help his escape, this was ill advised advice and a mistake.
Taking all the facts together, it appears the jury did find sufficient evidence to show beyond reasonable doubt that Letts and Lane were guilty of the first count regarding the sending the £223, but not the other counts. In passing sentence, the trial judge did say of Letts and Lane that they were, ‘…two perfectly decent people … in custody because of the love of their child’. This leads to the sentencing guidelines for financing terrorism trial judges have to follow. In March 2018 new sentencing guidelines on terrorism offences were published by the Sentencing Council, where the Council Chairman said that terrorist offences are among the most serious that come before the courts, adding:
‘As well as the threat to people’s lives, terrorist activity threatens the way society operates.’
The guidelines have a number of steps a trial judge must consider before reaching their decision. These includes assessing the culpability and harm associated with the facts of the case. It appears in Letts and Lane’s case, under culpability they performed a limited function under direction and under harm, the couple’s actions would only make a minor contribution for furthering terrorism. Another step judges take is assessing the aggravating and mitigating factors. Examining the aggravating factors related to Letts and Lane the only factor pertinent is their failure to respond to warnings. In mitigation, clearly the couple’s previous good character and not having previous convictions allowed the trial judge to pass a suspended sentence.
In conclusion, both Letts and Lane appear to have received sympathy for their plight by both the jury and the trial judge, as well as wider society. However, while some may see even the convictions as harsh, from the facts of the case Letts and Lane received advice from experts and practitioners not to send money to Jack Letts. Although the amount is small that led to the conviction, an acquittal would send a precedence for others not so ‘innocent’ to use in order to evade conviction for a serious offence. The circumstances Letts and Lane faced are difficult for any parent, but taking an objective view, as this case shows, sometimes tough love is needed.
In relation to IS and the UK offences under funding terrorism, you can find more detail in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’
My book ‘Terrorism and State Surveillance of Communications’ co-written with Simon Hale-Ross has been published this week and is available for purchase. It contains chapters from practitioners, academics with practitioner experience and academics who research and write in this area. Click on the link for more details.
In the evening of Thursday 18th April 2019 disorder broke out in the Creggan area of Derry. While the PSNI were carrying our searches for weapons and explosives trouble broke out with vehicles being set alight and petrol bombs thrown at PSNI vehicles and officers. During this disorder a New IRA gunman came around a corner and fired shots indiscriminately towards the PSNI, tragically killing the journalist Lyra McKee who was reporting in the incident.
This tragic event follows closely behind two separate pipe bomb attacks on the 17th April 2019. One was in in Armagh where two devices exploded, the second in the small village of Rasharkin, Antrim where a pipe bomb was thrown into the window of a home in the village with a second left on the home’s windowsill. Also on the 17th April a 49 year old male was arrested in Strabane, Tyrone by the PSNI for terrorism related offences linked to the INLA and suspicion of blackmail and being concerned in the supply of controlled drugs.
The killing of Lyra McKee is being reported as a top news story by the British media, but regarding the other incidents the British media were relatively silent. This raises the question if terrorist activity, in particular activity by dissident republicans in the six northern counties of Ireland that is part of the UK has become the forgotten UK terrorist activity in the island of Britain? Understandably the main terrorist threat facing the whole of the UK emanates from Islamist inspired activity, followed by activity by the extreme far-right (mainly in Britain). It is predominantly Islamist inspired activity that resulted in the UK terrorist threat level being at severe (an attack is highly likely) from the international terrorist threat. In the North of Ireland the terrorist threat level is also severe and that includes from ‘Northern Ireland related terrorism’, where for Britain this particular threat is moderate (an attack is possible but not likely). How long will it be before the threat to the whole of the UK the threat of North of Ireland terrorism is severe?
In March 2019 letter bombs were received in various London locations, where it is suspected a person linked to or on behalf of the New IRA were responsible. As I have stated in my previous blog posts covering the terrorist activity in the North of Ireland, dissident Irish republican groups be it the New IRA, the INLA or Continuity IRA are desirous of carrying out attacks in Britain. While these groups’ logistical capability to do so my be limited at the moment, especially in relation to sympathisers providing logistical support in Britain, there are members of dissident republican groups who from the 1968-1998 Troubles have vast experience in bomb making and firearms use, as well as operating in Britain. Since reporting in my blog posts on the rise of dissident Irish republican group activity over the last few years, I predicted there would be a rise in republican based terrorism and violence in the North and there is an increasing possibility these activities will cross the Irish Sea to Britain.
The reason behind the increase in dissident republican activity includes the exploitation of the inactivity in the Assembly in Stormont that is currently suspended due to the impasse between the DUP and Sinn Fein. Another reason is in relation to Brexit where republican groups and their political wings like the New IRA’s Saoradh are exploiting the potential problems a hard border between the North and the Irish Republic would pose. As I have stated in previous blog posts on this subject, Saoradh and the New IRA in particular are using this to fuel discontent among the Catholic, nationalist community with calls for the 32 counties to be reunited and come under the governance of the Dail in Dublin. In turn, there is no way would loyalist groups like the UDA, UVF and UFF and political parties like the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) and the DUP would ever contemplate that happening. One result would be an increase in loyalist violence.
At the time of writing it is Easter weekend and there will be a number of parades and commemorations regarding the 1916 Easter Rising. Already in certain locations in the North parades have been planned without the permission of the PSNI. This is a legal requirement and in virtually most cases those submitting their parade plans will be granted authority by the PSNI to do so. Groups like Saoradh have not carried out this legal requirement and I suspect this is to fuel further discontent and violence as the PSNI will attempt to prevent illegal parades taking place. Marching is a sensitive issue in the North of Ireland, which we have seen during the marching season in July.
While quite rightly Northern Irish politicians have condemned the killing of Lyra McKee and the violence in Derry last night, I would like to see the DUP and Sinn Fein do more that pass commentary and take positive action. This includes putting aside their differences and rather than be self-serving, they work with the other political parties for the benefit of all in the North. Reading the DUP and Sinn Fein response to the murder of Lyra McKee, I feel it is easy to give platitudes, but I would rather like to see positive action coming from the two largest parties in the North to work together with the other parties to diffuse the tensions and discontent that exists in certain areas.
On the 2nd May local elections are being held in the North and now is the time of the North of Ireland electorate to send a positive message to the DUP and Sinn Fein and shun their traditional political allegiances and cast their vote for the SDLP, Alliance and UUP parties. It will not stop the violence overnight, but it would be a start by the people to tell the DUP and Sinn Fein that they are fed up with inactivity and want political action. Another action the people can take is holding demonstrations like they did in Omagh when the PSNI officer Ronan Kerr was murdered and have a ‘Not in My Name’ protest.
You can read issues related to this post in my book ‘Terrorism: Law & Policy’ published by Routledge
Update: Just as I published this post Saoradh issued a statement justifying the actions of the New IRA gunman where the statement contains the rhetoric of PIRA/Sinn Fein during the Troubles. There can be no justification for this senseless murder.
Update 20th April 2019 – there will be ‘not in our name’ demosntratiosn in Strabane and Derry today around 12 noon. Let’s hope politicians take note of the strength of feeling over the murder of Lyra McKee and the disorder in the Creggan and start working together.
All forms of violence are tragic and awful. The threat of extreme far-right and far-right influenced terrorism revealed the devastation it causes was witnessed in Christchurch, New Zealand on Friday 15th March 2019 where, to date 49 people have been killed in an attack by a gunman influenced by the extreme far-right. The man’s target was Muslims worshipping at two Christchurch mosques where he indiscriminately shot and killed men, women and children.
While all terrorist attacks come as a shock when they happen, this is not the first time we have witnessed the use of small arms or the targeting of those attending a place of worship. Bissonnette, who was influenced by far-right ideology, was convicted in early 2019 for the murder of six Muslims he shot while attending a mosque in Quebec, Canada in 2017. Darren Osbourne was convicted of murder and attempt murder after killing a Muslim and seriously injuring other Muslims attending Finsbury Park Mosque, London after driving a van into worshippers leaving the mosque in June 2017. White supremacist, Dylann Roof, was convicted of murdering nine black worshippers at a church in Carolina, US, when he entered the church and shot them.
I have posted numerous blogs on my website regarding the rise of extreme far-right and far-right inspired violence over the last 18 months. I see two distinct groups here with the extreme far-right, who espouse the national socialist ideology and are neo-Nazis, and the far-right who are generally anti-Islam, anti-immigration and anti-EU (European groups). The violence has ranged from hate crime to, as seen in the UK in June 2016, the killing of a politician, the MP Jo Cox by Thomas Mair who was inspired by neo-Nazi ideology. My work in this area has shown how the rise in populist right wing politics has resulted in the extreme far-right and far-right feeling more comfortable in espousing their message and cause. Also, while one tends to think of the right being nationalist, a degree of internationalisation has occurred where, mainly through current forms of electronic communication, from social media to website support for and encouragement of extreme far-right and far-right activity between similar thinking citizens in various states.. As I have said on many occasions, do not underestimate the threat of the extreme far-right and the far-right.
My studies revealed a high degree of variance in hate crime and terrorist activity related to the right. The UK is currently the only western state to proscribe extreme far-right groups as terrorist organisations (National Action in December 2016, Scottish Dawn and NS131 in September 2017) and has a statutory definition of hate crime related to race, religion, nationality and sexuality. Canada has a similar statutory provision as the UK regarding hate crime, but the Australian legislation is weak and US is virtually non-existent, with the definition of hate crime being non-statutory and provided by the FBI. One reason for this is politicians do not want to be seen to impinge on freedom of expression. This may also explain with no other state has followed the UK in proscribing certain groups as terrorist organisations. As a result, extreme far-right and far-right groups are open in publicising their cause via various media. For example in the US neo-Nazi groups, although monitored by the likes of the FBI, are actively open. One US group, Atomwaffen, their social media and website contains videos of their members burning the US flag and constitution, training with automatic assault rifles and calling for a race war. Due their glorification and promotion of violence to their cause if they were based in the UK they would be proscribed as a terrorist group.
Maybe, just maybe, this tragic and truly awful attack in Christchurch will have states tightening or introducing hate crime legislation and following the UK by proscribing extreme far-right groups as terrorist organisation to deal with the internationalisation of the right, just as they have rightly done so with Islamist groups.
Your can read more on this area in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’, published by Routledge in 201