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)

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.