David Anderson QC Report into Manchester Bombing and other Terrorist Incidents 2017: What have we learnt?

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On Tuesday 5th December the UK’s Home Secretary, Amber Rudd gave details from the report into the terrorist incidents the UK have suffered in 2017 conducted by the UK’s former independent reviewer for terrorism legislation, David Anderson QC. The report examined if the UK’s Security Service (MI5) and counter-terrorism police could have done more to prevent the attacks from happening and if any blame could laid at their door.
In essence David Anderson found no great culpability on the actions by either MI5 or the police. He did find the following:

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Khalid Masood (Westminster Bridge attack March 2017) – he was an MI5 subject of interest between Feb to Oct 2012and between 2012 – 2016 he was linked intermittently to Al Muhajiroun (a Salafist jihadist group linked to international terrorism that is proscribed in the UK). There was no intelligence indicating that he was planning an attack;

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Salmen Abedi (Manchester Arena bombing May 2017) – he had a criminal record limited to theft related offences. He became a subject of interest for one day in Oct 2015 due to contacts he had with an Islamic state figure in Libya. In May Abedi was identified a person who needed further consideration with a meeting to consider him planned for the 3st May, nine days after the bombing. When Abedi returned to the UK from a trip to Libya on the 18th May he had not been flagged so no port stop under Schedule 7 Terrorism Act 2000 was carried out on his return. This is led to David Anderson saying that with hindsight the intelligence MI5 had on Abedi could, ‘…have been highly relevant to the planned attack’ but at the time it was received the intelligence was not fully appreciated by MI5 with David Anderson adding that if the ‘cards had fallen differently’ the attack could have been avoided;

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Khuram Butt (London Bridge and Borough Market attack, June 2017) – he was known and was a principal subject in an MI5 investigation, Operation Hawthorn. He was known to be active in recruiting people to Islamic State (IS) and planning trips to IS’ self-proclaimed caliphate that existed in Syria. In mid-2015 intelligence was received that Butt aspired to carry out an attack in the UK but following risk assessments carried out, by Sept 2015 Butt was considered to have a strong intent but a weak capability to carry out the attack;

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Darren Osbourne (Finsbury Park attack July 2017) – there was no intelligence held by either MI5 or the police that he was going to commit the attack.

Could more have been done?

Certainly in relation Abedi, if there were a handful of investigations ongoing in the UK then maybe there could be a greater degree of culpability on the part of MI5 and the police but this is not the case, something that David Anderson recognised. Currently in the UK there are approximately 500 ongoing investigations into 3,000 individuals, with 20,000 individuals in the intelligence system graded of serious concern. This is not counting individuals who are on a system but who have been assessed as a low threat. These figures alone reveal the enormity of the task facing the UK’s security services and police in preventing terrorist attacks from happening. As there is only limited resources in both staffing levels and equipment priority has to be given to what the analysis of the vast intelligence/information received that reveals where the greatest risk lies.
Following the 2005 London attack the key lesson learned was that intelligence must be shared between the security services and the police and the UK has developed a model of intelligence analysis with the introduction of bodies like the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) where the intelligence is forwarded onto the relevant agency with the greatest capability for dealing with specific issues. It is model that has served the UK well in recent years as between 2005 and 2017 the only other main attack we witnessed was the killing of Fusilier Lee Rigby in 2013 and is model other states have wanted to emulate.
Of course some will say why has the UK sustained five major attacks (the attack in Parsons Green in September 2017 does not appear to have been part of the remit in David Anderson’s investigation)? The Manchester bombing was the most sophisticated attack that involved more individuals that just Abedi. One could arguably say the same for Parsons Green in relation to the bomb that fortunately failed to detonate fully on the Tube train, but lack of knowledge and inexperience existed in that attack. The other three were low level attacks carried out by driving vehicles into people and stabbing victims with knives. These are relatively easy to prepare and carry out, something we have tragically witnessed in other European states. Since March 2017 the UK’s security services and police have prevented nine attacks from taking place, twenty-two since the killing of Lee Rigby. At the time Amber Rudd was informing the UK Parliament on the findings in the Anderson report news also broke related to terrorism arrests. Two men, Rahman from London and Imran from Birmingham were appearing in court on the 6th Dec for allegedly plotting to kill the UK Prime Minister, both men were arrested on the 29th November 2017. Rashid from Lancashire (northwest England) who was arrested on the 22nd November 2017 was charged with offences of preparing acts of terrorism, will be appearing at Westminster Magistrates Court in London today.
Preventing terrorist attacks is a difficult task, but in the current climate it is virtually impossible to prevent all attacks from occurring. One should focus on what the UK security services and the police have achieved. Lessons will be learnt and it maybe that intelligence form other police sources could be shared such as neighbourhood officers who may have that vital piece of intelligence on individuals who may have been downgraded as a low priority that would make those countering terrorism look at them again.

I discuss this in more details in my interview with BBC Radio Wales (1 hour 10 minutes 33 seconds in) and on BBC North West Tonight (TV)

Panic at Oxford Circus Tube Station: What can we learn?

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On Friday 24th November 2017 there was a terrorist alert at London’s Oxford Circus Tube station just after 4.30pm. Oxford Circus is one of London Underground’s busiest stations as it is located at the junction of Oxford Street and Bond Street. the heart of London’s shopping area. Added to this Friday the 24th November was also what is known as ‘Black Friday’ where many retailers have sales with many items massively reduced in price and would attract even more shoppers than would be expected in the build up to Christmas.

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Oxford Circus Station on a normal day

At the initial stages it was reported there was gunshots heard in the Tube station and the police, rightly, treated it as a terrorist incident where Metropolitan Police armed officers attended the scene. Those in buildings were requested to remain while others in the street were requested to leave the scene immediately. As a result there was a mass panic and as people were leaving the station and the immediate area some were injured in the panic, with the injuries caused by some people pushing others down onto the floor.

As it tuned out, it was not a terrorist incident, it was two men having a fight in the tube station. There is no criticism of the police action, with the reports coming it was right they dealt with it as a terrorist incident as it is easier to scale an operation down rather having to scale on up. With the attacks that have occurred in London in 2017, it is understandable why we will see this type of police response to an incident.

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Two issues are worth considering in relation to this incident. One is the false rumours spread via social media. Social media is not always a reliable source of information, it is better to receive news from traditional news agencies.

The second issues is how to prevent injuries in an evacuation from an area especially where there is a high number of people to be evacuated. This has to be carried out with maximum safety. At the Parson Green Tube incident in September 2017 were a bomb failed to detonate on a train as people were running to leave the station there was another panic where people suffered crush injuries as a result of being pushed to the ground. The advice to  people in the vicinity of a terrorist incident is to ‘Run, Hide, Tell’. In relation ‘Run’ this is where you can do so safely without causing injury to others also evacuating a scene and in more open spaces this is possible. I have a concern where the incident is in confined spaces such as underground train stations, sports arenas, theatres etc. It is time to re-think and consider the advice to give people when caught up in an incident in confined areas. This will require staff at such venues to assist with the evacuation that must be in a calm and efficient manner that allows for the quickest evacuation possible without causing panic or, importantly, injury to others.

It is understandable when we have witnessed terrorist attacks, where amongst many others, like that seen in Nice July 2016, Berlin Christmas market, December 2016, Borough Market, London in June 2017 individuals do want to literally get away as quickly as possible to save their own life. These are literally terrifying events to be in. As well as the authorities and staff at certain venues having a responsibility to keep people safe, so do we all. I suggest measures re put in lace where there is a large volume of people in confined spaces to ensure an evacuation is carried out as quickly and efficiently as possible to minimise any injury.

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I discuss this in more detail in my interview with the BBC (24th November 2017 2hours 33 minutes 2 seconds in) and Sputnik News (27t November 2017).

 

President Trump’s Response to New York Terror Attack Reveals Naivety, Inaccuracy and Contradiction

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At a US Cabinet meeting press conference following the New York terror attack, answering journalists’ question, US President Donald Trump gave answers that, if not resulting in further disbelief, to those getting used to Trump’s style of responses will at least raise an eyebrow.

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One issue was President Trump’s tweet on the 2nd November 2017 that the terrorist Saipov should get the death penalty. Firstly the issue is still sub judice and due process still has to take its course as it is currently alleged that Saipov has committed these offences, he has not pleaded or been found guiltily of murdering the eight victims. Also it will be difficult for Saipov to receive the death penalty as New York state no longer have the death penalty. This is an important extradition issue especially with European countries as it allows for easier extradition as seen with the example of Abu Hamza from the UK.

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Apart from showing his lack of knowledge of NY state law, President Trump also showed his lack of legal knowledge and understanding of why prisoners have been detained at Guantanamo Bay (GTMO). When asked, President Trump replied that he would consider sending Saipov to GTMO. Legally this may be difficult as GTMO detetnion centre was created to detain suspected Islamists linked to Al Qaeda who were arrested in Afghanistan. In essence, GTMO was created as a military detention centre so prisoners could be detained under US military law. If GTMO detainees were transported to the US then US criminal law would apply, something President GW Bush wanted to avoid when establishing the camp. Amnesty International has considered GTMO as a major breach of human rights. President Obama promised to close GTMO. Although he did not achieve this during his presidency, GTMO detainees were reduced from 245 to 41. The issue President Trump has overlooked regarding Saipov is he killed and injured the victims on US soil and as such he will face trial for murder and attempt murder under US criminal law where no doubt terrorism will be a sentencing factor. As such, if Saipov pleads or is found guilty it is likely he will receive a long prison sentence.

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President Trump also said the Diversity Immigrant Visa Programme that was introduced via a Bill passed in 1990 with the Immigration Act (also referred to as the diversity lottery programme) as ineffective. The programme is run by the US State Department where individuals who are determined to have a low enough level of immigration requirements to the US can apply. Under the Act countries that have more than 50,000 of their citizens immigrate to the US in the previous five years are ineligible. This could explain why Saipov was allowed to enter the US in 2010 from Uzbekistan. To be successful, individual applicants must have at least a high school education or equivalent and two years of experience working a job that requires at least two years of training or experience within five years of the application. The programme has not been without its political detractors. President Trump wants to end this programme and replace it with a merit based immigration programme as he wants to keep the US safe, something he does not see the current programme doing, He made it clear, ‘…we do not want lotteries’. Adding to this he was clear that also does not want chain immigration where someone entering the US on the current programme can bring in members of their family. On a final question President Trump said members of Saipov’s family could also be a threat to US security.

There s no doubting that to date President Trump’s tenure in the post has been different to his predecessors. He is quick to offer his opinion, especially via the 140 character limiting Twitter. While many may see his as a refreshing change, he does speak first without considering the consequences his comments have both in the US and aboard.

I am no apologist for any group and I understand and agree with the issues he raised regarding the Diversity Immigration Visa Programme. As with other states like Canada and Australia for example, a merit based immigration system is more effective in relation to vetting procedures and is preferable to a lottery based system as that in the Diversity Programme. It is understandable why states would want potential immigrants to be educated to a high standard with skills and knowledge that would enhance their state alongside an ability to speak the main language of that state.

This particular press conference once more provided groups like Islamic Sate with further ammunition to feed its propaganda machine that is influencing individuals as well as having the potential to alienate certain communities that make up the US population, along with states outside the US. For me President Trump could clothe his open, forthright opinions in more acceptable political/diplomatic style of rhetoric. Regarding the possible sentencing, he could have said that he has faith in the due process of the US criminal justice system to deal appropriately with Saipov. In relation to the Diversity Immigration Visa Programme, he could have said that it will be reviewed, adding it is important that a merit system be encouraged. Regarding Saipov’s family being a threat, the answer should have been that presently there is nothing to suggest that. One cannot and should not judge a whole family based on the actions of one of its members.

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One problem the US appears to have in dealing with individuals influenced by extremist narrative who end up carrying out terrorist attacks is the inability of the federal government to introduce a Prevent strategy that is uniform across the 50 states like that in the UK or the federal state of Australia. One of the difficulties in achieving this is the historical and political issues where the 50 states resent increasing  interference from a Washington DC based federal government. These issues have been present for many years in the US where one could argue it was one of the issues behind the 1860’s civil war. Another example was a century later in the 1960’s with southern states and the civil rights movement exemplified by Alabama governor George Wallace’s stance by trying to prohibit a black student from enrolling at Alabama State University in 1963 resulting in the Kennedy administration to take action against Governor Wallace. If the US could reach an agreement to develop and introduce a Prevent strategy it would help those who are vulnerable to being drawn towards terrorism, especially through the influence of extremists’ narrative. I accept that the UK’s Prevent strategy has some flaws, but overall it is a successful policy that has helped many individuals at a pre-criminal stage. Perhaps the US should consider introducing such a strategy as it is far more effective than simply having nothing concrete in place. Rather than making wide sweeping statements regarding certain faiths, communities and complaining of narratives that influence people to commit acts of terror, in addition to investigating terrorism action having a Prevent strategy in place would assist some individuals before hey become too imbued with an ideology that leads the to carry out terrorist acts.

 

 

New York Terrorist Attack: What measures can be taken to prevent vehicle attacks?

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In the late afternoon on Tuesday 31st October 2017, Sayfullo Saipov, an Uzbek citizen who arrived in the US in2010 and became a legal US resident, drove a truck down a cycleway in lower Manhattan, New York, killing 8 people and injuring 11 more. After crashing the truck, Saipov emerged from the vehicle wielding a pellet gun and paintball gun. NYPD officers shot Saipov who received serious but non-fatal injuries and was arrested. The cosmopolitan make-up of New York was seen in the victims where five of those killed were Argentinian and another victim who died was Belgian. Within an hour of the attack New York authorities declared this was a terrorist incident. Saipov left a note in the truck claiming he committed the attack on behalf of the group Islamic state (IS), adding ‘ISIS lives forever’. At the time of writing IS have yet to claim responsibility for the attack, but as I have said in previous blogs, IS do claim responsibility for many attacks where they do not give direct orders or have any direct contact with the attacker.

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Once more we have witnessed an attack where a vehicle has been driven into people. We have seen a number of attacks of this nature in the last 18 months from Nice, July 2016, the Berlin Christmas Market, December 2016, three attacks in the UK in 2017, Stockholm, April 2017, Barcelona, August 2017 and now New York. In total these attacks have killed 136 people with many more injured.

This raises a number of questions, including if we should expect more of these type of attacks and, importantly, what can be done to prevent these attacks? To the first question it appears the answer is yes, we should expect more of these attacks to occur in the near future. It is an easy form of low-level attack to carry out that can have the maximum, impact in terms of casualties. In IS’ online magazine, Rumiyah, issue 3 contained an article detailing the best methods to use in preparing and carrying out a vehicle attack. Other issues have published articles on how to carry out the most effective knife attacks and in kidnapping western hostages. Even though IS has lost control of a lot of geographical territory, its propaganda media is still effective, especially in influencing individuals to follow IS’ narrative and carry out attacks in the group’s name. So, unfortunately it is highly likely that we will see more attacks of this nature.
In relation to whether anything can be done to prevent these types of attack we are approaching seasonal time of year in western states with events ranging from Thanksgiving celebrations in Canada and the US, Christmas Markets and other open air public events through to New Year’s Eve celebrations. It is of paramount importance that we all play our part in preventing attacks, not in leaving it solely to the security services and the policing agencies. Local governments and business should regularly review there contingency plans and where events are planned to ensure sufficient resilience has been built in to prevent terrorist attacks. This can range from ensuring sufficient and effective physical barriers as in place to having effective evacuation facilities.

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In the UK this comes under the Protect strand of the CONTEST counter-terrorism policy. With colleagues, I will be advocating this at the UK Security Expo 2017 exhibition that is being held at London’s Olympia exhibition centre 29th and 30th November 2017.

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I discuss the New York attacks and issues above in more details in my interview with BBC Radio Sheffield. The interview is 1 hour 9 minutes 10 seconds in

Should Persons Possessing Items Like the Anarchist’s Cookbook be Prosecuted in a Criminal Court?

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On his return to the UK after fighting with Kurdish forces against Islamic State, Joshua Walker was detained at Gatwick Airport and after being found to be in possession of the Anarchist’s Cookbook Walker was prosecuted for section 58 Terrorism Act 2000, even though a person can purchase the item form Amazon. On Thursday 26th October 2017 the jury at Birmingham Crown Court took three hours to deliberate on their verdict, where they found Walker to be not guilty of the offence. Section 58 has raised a degree of controversy.

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Section 58 Terrorism Act 2000 provides investigators with a wide power. It is wide because a person merely has to collect or make a record of information that is likely to be useful to a person involved in terrorist activity. What has to be ascertained is the type of article section 58 is referring to. The question is if it includes what would be considered innocuous items such as a train timetable or a map of a city centre with certain locations highlighted or items downloaded from the internet for personal interest. It is worth noting that under section 58 investigators do not require reasonable suspicion the article is for a purpose connected to terrorist activity. In effect, under section 58 the burden of proof is not placed on the prosecution but on potential defendants who have to prove they had a reasonable excuse for their possession of the article.
As a result there have been a number of legal challenges as to what amounts to an article for the purposes of section 58. In R v K (2008) the Court of Appeal held that section 58 was never intended to criminalise the possession of theological or propagandist material adding that:
‘A document or record will only fall within section 58 if it is of the kind that is likely to provide practical assistance to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism. A document that simply encourages the commission of acts of terrorism does not fall within section 58’.
In R v G, R v J (2009) the House of Lords examined section 58 and, building on the K judgement, the House held that for a conviction under section 58 it is a requirement that the defendant not only possessed the document that may be of use to a terrorist, but they must also be aware of the nature of the information contained therein. The House stressed that this did not mean the prosecution had to show that the defendant knew all the details contained in the document, only that the defendant knew of the nature of the material it contained. The Court held for a person to be convicted under section 58 the prosecution must prove the defendant:
1. Had control of the record which contained information that was likely to provide practical assistance to a terrorist;
2. Knew that he had the record; and
3. Knew the kind of information which it contained.

J challenged this decision and the case went to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) where the case was Jobe v UK (2011) J claimed that section 58 violated article 7 European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) where there can be no punishment without law. The premise of J’s claim was that section 58 was so vague it was not law and if the court agreed with this argument, his article 10 ECHR rights (freedom of expression) was also violated because section 58 would not be deemed to be an act prescribed by law. The ECtHR held there was no violation of article 7 and stated the House of Lords decision was fully and clearly reasoned. Key to the ECtHR reaching this decision was the guidance the House of Lords gave in their decision regarding the three points cited above that have to be proved for a conviction under section 58 to stand. Likewise the ECtHR found there to be no violation of article 10 saying it was justified under the legitimate aims of the interests of national security and that it did not criminalise in a blanket manner the collection or possession of material likely to be useful to a terrorist.

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I cover this and other statutory preventative measures in the UK, US, Australia and Canada in my forthcoming book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ that will be published by Routledge in March 2018. For a more in-depth analysis of Walker’s case you can listen to my interview with BBC Radio Scotland from Friday 27th October 2017 that is 55 minutes 28 seconds in.

The £4 Billion Refurbishment of the Palace of Westminster: An Opportunity to Incorporate Sate of the Art Security

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The Palace of Westminster is to undergo a major refurbishment at a cost estimated to be between £4 billion – £7 billion that is due to start 2019-2020. It is not the first time that MP’s and Lords will have to move to temporary accommodation as following the 1834 fire that destroyed virtually all of the old Palace building MP’s were temporarily relocated to Buckingham Palace. Built during the 1840’s, the Palace does not have modern security provisions built into it. The major refurbishment is an excellent opportunity to ensure that this iconic old Parliament building will combine old world charm with contemporary security.

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You can read my discussion on this issue with Chris Summers from Sputnik News on the link.

National Action Member Charged with Encouraging Murder of UK MP

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A 31 year-old male, Christopher Lythgoe has been charged for being a member of a proscribed group, the extreme far right group National Action and for encouraging the murder of a UK Member of Parliament (MP), Rosie Cooper. Lythgoe is appearing in Westminster Magistrates Court (London) today. National Action were proscribed as a terrorist group in December 2016 by the UK government.

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I will be discussing the implications of this along with the threat extreme far right groups pose to state security with Shelagh Fogarty on LBC just after 3pm (BST) today (27th Oct)