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
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.
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.
On the 12th November 2018 a number of individuals were convicted in the UK for terrorism offences linked to extreme far-right terrorism. Adam Thomas, Claudia Patatas and Daniel Bogunavic were convicted for being members of a proscribed organisation, namely National Acton, with Thomas also convicted for being in possession of articles useful to terrorists (Anarchist Cookbook). A British Army soldier, Lance Corporal Mikko Vehvilainen was also convicted for being a member of National Action. Thomas and Patatas named their baby boy Adolf after Adolf Hitler and Thomas was photographed wearing Ku Klux Klan clothing while cradling the child. Vehvilainen was an army trainer who tried to recruit soldiers to National Action. When the police searched his army accommodation they found swastika flags, Nazi memorabilia, CD’s of Third Reich music and stockpiles of guns, knives and other weapons. Apart from the stockpile of weapons, in themselves the other items do not pose a threat as they are not per se items that encourages a person fascinated by the extreme far-right national socialist ideology to commit violence. When added to other more incriminating evidence, it can help to prove a person’s mens rea when linked to extreme far-right terrorism.
On the 13th November 2018 I was interviewed by Shelagh Fogerty on the radio channel LBC on the threat the extreme far-right pose to national security. I posted on Twitter that I was looking forward to having the discussion with Shelagh and some of the replies were interesting. One said comparing:
‘…an idiot with a child called Adolph and who wears Klan clothes to Islamist terrorism and religious race hate child abuse is absurd’.
Another saw raising the threat of extreme far-right pose as a ‘false equivalence’ to Islamist terrorism that he saw as a permanent fixture in Britain and is, ‘…likely to get worse’. I think in both the comments posted to Shelagh during my discussion with her and those posted prior and after the discussion showed a lack of real knowledge of why these individuals were convicted and why extreme far-right Neo-Nazi’s are a threat.
Firstly the terrorist related offences they were convicted for were serious offences all carrying a maximum of 10 years imprisonment:
1. Offence of being a member or professing to be a member of a proscribed organisation (section 11 Terrorism Act 2000);
2. Offence of inviting support for proscribed organisations (section 12 terrorism Act 2000);
3. Offence of possessing a document of a kind likely to be useful to persons committing or preparing acts of terrorism (section 58 Terrorism Act 2000).
Being members of National Action all four were convicted for the section 11 offence. Vehvilainen was also convicted for the section 12 offence with Bogunavic convicted for the section 58 offence, which was the possession of the Anarchist Cookbook that informs readers how to make improvised explosive devices. The offences they were convicted of were not simply due to being dressed in Klan clothes or calling a child Adolf, although if worn outside the Klan clothing could potentially amount to an offence under section 13 Terrorism Act 2000 of wearing a uniform in public that gives suspicion they are a member of a proscribed organisation. This is an issue in the North of Ireland with the New IRA and loyalist groups like the UVF and the UFF during marches in the country.
As Shelagh asked on the LBC programme, why has the UK proscribed extreme far-right groups like National Action? In essence it is because they glorify or promote violence. The national socialist ideology of the Ne-Nazis does this. It is important to differentiate between the extreme far-right Neo-Nazi groups and the far-right such as Tommy Robinson and his followers and parties like the For Britain Party, formed and led by former UKIP leader Anne Marie Waters in 2017. Antifa would have you believe that all far-right parties and groups are Nazis. This is not the case. Many far-right groups and individuals like Tommy Robinson and the For Britain Party do not glorify or promote the use of violence. They have views that many find odious, heretical, offensive or generally unwelcome and at odds with a liberal democracy. For example the For Britain Party are anti-Islam, anti-immigration and promotes British values (to define that is a legal minefield!), but as they do not glorify or promote violence they want to bring about change though democratic and judicial processes.
Compare this with the extreme far-right Neo-Nazis like Vehvilainen. He posted online to ‘fight the Jew forever’, ‘The sooner [black people] are eliminated the better’ and ‘How anyone can somehow regards n*****s and w***s as human beings and worthy of life is beyond me. I could shoot their children and feel nothing.’ Add this to the evidence that Vehvilainan and his fellow Neo-Nazis were planning to turn depopulated rural villages into national socialist communities and that he posted ‘Every part of me wants war. There is no other way’, we see evidence of both the glorification and promotion of violence. The Nazi memorabilia and items found at Vihvilainen’s accommodation when added to the other evidence related to his mens rea shows his mind-set and factors influencing his thoughts. As seen with other Neo-Nazi groups, they promote and want a race war and an overthrow of any liberal democratic government that tolerates and promotes differences in society. The latter is an absolute anathema to Neo-Nazis, hence why they see the overthrow of governments as necessary in the race war they advocate.
I have a number of blog posts related to the far-right and freedom of expression that you can read on my website, but to put it succinctly, in law freedom of expression allows extreme views that are offensive unless it glorifies or promotes violence. Even though many may find them offensive and unwelcome, a total variance of views and beliefs and the ability to air those views is what makes a true liberal democracy.
Finally, do extreme far-right Neo-Nazi’s pose a threat to national security? Considering recent activity carried out Neo-Nazi groups or those influenced by Neo-Nazi ideology in the UK, the answer is ‘YES’. In 2015 a National Action member Zak Davies was convicted of attempted murder of a UK citizen of Asian ethnic origin, June 2016 Thomas Mair who was influenced by the extreme far-right assassinated a UK politician, Jo Cox and in June 2018 Jack Renshaw who was linked to National Action was convicted of plotting to kill another UK politician, Rosie Cooper and the police officer investigating him. In addition to the rise in race hate inspired violence, some members or those influenced by Neo-Nazi groups have been found to be in possession of improvised explosive devices where these individuals intended them to be used at mosques and synagogues. While membership of extreme far-right groups is small in number, it only takes a few, even just one individual to cause widespread violence as seen in Norway with Breivik. Do not underestimate the potential of extreme far-right Neo-Nazi groups to carry out attacks. Even when proscribed they morph into new groups as seen with System Resistance Network formed by Alex Davies, who was also one of those who formed National Action, where hopefully this will be the next extreme far-right group to be proscribed.
Raising the fact that extreme far-right terrorism exists in the UK (and other western states) does not mask the very real and potent threat Islamist groups pose to national security as suggested in some of the responses to my tweet, hence why the UK’s terror threat remains at severe. By proscribing extreme far-right Neo-Nazi groups as terrorist organisation and its members as terrorists, the UK government and mainstream media that cover this threat should be applauded not castigated and seen as political correctness to appease the Islamists. By recognising the various extremists who glorify or promote the use of violence as terrorists from the Islamists, extreme far-right and certain Irish republican and loyalist groups, the rationale in doing so is to keep us all safe.
You can read issues raised here in more depth in my book ‘Terrorism: law and Policy’ published by Routledge in 2018
At the UK’s Nation security Summit held in London on the 9th October 2018 the head of national counter-terrorism policing, Neil Basu, warned that one for the greatest terror threats in the UK is by its own citizens who have been radicalised by extremists, in particular Islamists, who are frustrated or aspire to travel abroad to fight with the Islamic State (IS).
There is credence in Basu’s observations as seen in the recent attacks prevented attacks in the UK. For example the London Bridge/Borough Market attack in June 2017 to of the attackers, Khuram Butt and Youssef Zaghba were prevented by authorities from leaving Europe to join IS in Syria/Iraq. In addition to this, another threat is posed by individuals who did fight with IS in Syria/Iraq who have returned to their home state as they will be more experienced in the use of firearms and explosives, as well as potentially in chemical weapons that were used by IS in Syria/Iraq. This threat is not just applicable to the UK, but to states in Europe, North America and other states such as the Philippines where returning fighters are now fighting in the south of the country. This is a global problem.
In relation to terrorists’ use of chemical and biological weapons, Neil Basu correctly states the likes of chlorine and mustard gas was used in Syria/Iraq and terrorists do want to adapt these weapons for use in domestic terrorist attacks. Fortunately, what is problematic for terrorists wanting to use such weaponry is having the facilities for storage and maintaining the chemicals as they have to be stored under controlled conditions. When IS held land in their self-proclaimed caliphate this was possible, but in domestic circumstances where without laboratories it is more difficult. As such, the type of attacks being planned will be low-level attacks we have unfortunately witnessed in Europe with the use of vehicles and sharply bladed instruments such as knives, which we have witnessed still have a devastating effect.
There is also the possibility of terrorists using firearms and improvised explosive devices (IED). In relation to the latter this was seen in the Parsons Green attack in September 2017 and in Barcelona, August 2017, where the former failed to detonate and in the latter the explosives were not handled correctly resulting in the terrorists blowing themselves up in their home. To handle explosives requires a degree of knowledge and experience, which clearly many domestic terrorists do not possess. One cannot be complacent over this as the threat of the use of IED’s is still real. This could come from returning IS fighters and in the case of the UK, current paramilitaries in the North of Ireland from the republican New IRA to loyalist’s groups such as the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster freedom Fighters have members who have experience in the use of IED’s from the 1968-1998 Irish Troubles.
One must not forget that the terrorist threat does not solely emanate from Islamist inspired terrorism, there is also the threat from far-right groups too, and in the UK from paramilitaries in the North of Ireland. The UK is still the only state to proscribe far-right groups as terrorist organisations and to date these groups have been inspired by the national socialist narrative (National Action, Scottish Dawn and NS 131). Other far-right groups are also being monitored by UK counter-terrorism police and the security services such as Resistance System Network. Again, the terrorist threat far-right groups pose is not unique to the UK, it is prevalent throughout Europe, North America and Australia.
In relation to the UK republican groups in the North of Ireland have been using the impasse regarding the Irish border in the Brexit negotiations to influence an increase in paramilitary activity, in particular the New IRA.
Due to the diversity of terrorist threats, the number of groups and individuals being monitored and the increasing pressure counter-terrorism police and the security services have in keeping us safe is enormous. There are two areas that can help alleviate their workload so as to enable them to focus on the groups and individuals that pose a real threat to our security. First is to allocate more resources from the public and private sectors as well as communities to the Prevent strategy. A pre-criminal strategy, Prevent is aimed at helping individuals who are vulnerable to being drawn into terrorist activity. Secondly, we can all play our part by being more vigilant in reporting any activity we see as suspicious. Initiatives in the UK like Action Counters Terrorism (ACT) and the British transport Police’s ‘See it, Say it, Sort it’ are there to help us report anything we suspect is likely to be linked to terrorism and the police will deal with any reports sensitively.
Just after 12 noon (BST) tomorrow (22nd August 2018) I will be on City Talk with Mick Coyle discussing my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ and issues that come out of the book as well as a little on my career to date. I have added a link if you want to listen. I am sure Everton will also get a mention!
(Me and Mick reviewing the newspapers on City Talk)