Death of Sally-Ann Jones (White Widow)

I’ll be on BBC Radio Scotland just after 12 noon (BST) today discussing the reported death of Sally-Ann Jones (the white widow) in a US drone attack in Syria and issues around radicalisation

Commentary on the reported death of Sally-Ann Jones

The reported death of Sally-Ann Jones, who had been nicknamed the ‘white widow’, following a US drone attack in June 2017 in Syria is significant. Raised in Kent, UK as a Roman Catholic, she converted to Islam and married her husband Junaid Hussain where they travelled to Syria in 2013 to join Islamic State (IS). There Hussain was a jihadi fighter with IS who also had a major IS role as he was also employed  as a computer hacker. Jones was used by IS to recruit people to join the group, mainly western women. She also posted on social media threatening messages to Christians in the UK.

During my BBC radio interviews that I gave on the 12th October I was asked if Jones’ death was significant, if it was a surprise that a white middle class woman could be radicalised to IS and questions on the effectiveness of the UK’s Prevent policy. (BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat 5 minutes 32 seconds in, BBC Radio Scotland 15 minutes 38 seconds in and BBC Radio Kent, 1 hour 4 minutes 50 seconds in).

I do see it as significant as it has placed a dent in IS’ propaganda machine, especially in having a blonde haired white woman from the UK who converted to Islam and who was a committed IS follower. Having such an asset not only helped IS in recruiting other western women, IS used her to enhance the acceptance of a global Islamic community, especially using the fact that Jones spurned her western life as she embraced the IS narrative and life in the group’s self-proclaimed caliphate. While not being significant in a military sense, Jones did encourage UK citizens in carrying out IS inspired attacks in Britain and being as influential as she was IS have lost this asset in Jones too.

Corbyn’s Reluctance to Support Drone Attacks on Terrorists

The leader of HM Opposition in the UK’s Parliamentary Houser of Commons, the Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn agrees that if correct Jones’ death is significant. In a veiled condemnation of the fact she was killed in a drone attack, he added that it would have been preferable if she had been arrested and put on trial. I agree that in an ideal world all terrorists should face a criminal trial, but when you are dealing with groups like IS, this is a difficult task. When a targeted IS member is in IS held territory in the current conditions in Syria with its on-going civil war, where communication is difficult to establish and to have assets on the ground, this is virtually impossible. In relation as to whether Corbyn would order a drone attack, in essence he stated he would not do so adding one would have carefully look at the effects such a strike would have on a civilian population. He is right of course, this is an important factor and it is one the RAF and other western air forces do consider. prior to carrying out a bombing sortie. In giving this response Corbyn tried to avoid the issue and in my mind showed his reluctance and naivety on this issue. The former US President, Barak Obama certainly had many liberal credentials and he acknowledged that targeted strikes were not a ‘cure all’, where he was haunted by the civilians who were unintentionally killed. While committed to capturing terrorist suspects, in difficult circumstances where this was not possible Obama saw drone attacks as saving lives. It is a not an acceptable state of affairs, but in areas like Syria where individuals who influence others to carry out attacks on a wider civilian population, drone attacks are a necessity.

Australia’s ‘Step Together’ hotline failure

the New South Wales (Australia) initiative to help those vulnerable to being radicalised towards terrorist narrative or action ‘Step Together’ hotline, launched in June 2017 at a cost of AUS$ 3.9 million has been ineffective and seen as a failure. Attracting only 5 calls since its inception questions are being asked as its effectiveness. I will be discussing this on RT (formerly Russia Today) at 7pm BST this evening

UK Children and Teenagers to Receive Safety Education in Relation to Terrorist Incidents

Today, the 28th September 2017, the UK’s National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO) launched their first campaign and programme aimed at children and teenagers with a video ‘Run, Hide, Tell’. Part of the UK’s National Police Chiefs Council, NaCTSO works alongside the Home office with responsibility to provide help, advice and guidance to government and industry from terrorist threats that covers threats to:

  1. crowded places;
  2. hazardous sites and dangerous substances;
  3. the critical infrastructure;
  4. personal safety.

The video is linked to personal safety and is designed to teach 11-16 year olds how to react should they be caught in a gun or knife attack. The video reinforces the successful ‘Run, Hide, Tell’ message that has been promoted over the last few years.

Emanating in 2004 in Operation Griffin that included the ‘Run, Hide, Tell’ initiave was introduced by the City of London Police and the Metropolitan Police to help London’s financial sector better protect itself against terrorist threats. Since then the Griffin programme has spread across the UK and in other states including Australia, Canada, Singapore, South Africa and the US.

In the UK Griffin has been complemented by Project Argus, where Argus explores ways in which business can prevent, handle and recover from a terrorist attack by teaching  through simulated attacks how businesses can explore options available to them and identify their main priorities should such an attack occur.

Contemporary society use their mobile phones for more than just making calls as they are also used to access the websites, emails, photographing and filming events. Rather than flee the site at Parsons Green London Underground station when a bomb was detonated on a train on the 15th September 2017, many filmed the incident on their mobile phones. Not wanting to sound too generational, but it is mainly younger people who constantly use their phone to record events. This is why NaCTSO have released this video to reinforce the importance of running away as far as one can from the scene of a terrorist incident and not to film it until they are safely away from the danger.

This video is the first part of a three phase communications and education plan where a second video will be launched in October 2017 to explain in more detail the ‘Run, Hide, Tell’ message and teach children how to spot and report suspicious behaviour or suspicious items. It is intended that the programme will make up part of the Personal Social Health Economic curriculum of formal education at schools and colleges.

This is not about encouraging children and teenagers to spy on their fellow citizens, the aim of the ‘Run, Hide, Tell’ is to raise awareness of both personal safety and to be more vigilant. It is important that we all play our part in keeping everyone safe and not to leave it solely to the police and the security services. It is important that children and young people receive and understand the message of ‘Run, Hide, Tell’. In launching this programme the Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Lucy D’Orsi said that talking to young people about terrorism can be scary and, citing the 2017 terrorist attacks in Manchester and London resulted in some of the youngest victims the UK has seen, added, ‘…if we are able to potentially teach children to act in a way which could potentially save their lives, it is our responsibility to do so.’

Saving lives in terrorist incidents is of paramount importance and citizenAID, which is part of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham Charity, has developed ‘Run, Hide, Tell’ to ‘Run, Hide, Tell, Treat’. Developed by Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham with the British Army’ Medical Corps, inspired by the first aid actions taken by soldiers to deal with gunshot and bomb blast victims, citizenAID has developed an App to help those caught up in a terrorist incident to apply life saving first aid. More details on citizenAID and ‘Run, Hide, Tell, Treat’ can be found in my article in The Conversation If children and young people are to have NaCTSO’s programme added to formal education it could be worth adding how they can help save lives with basic first aid as if an attack takes place in the likes of a shopping mall it could be up to 90 minutes to two hours before it is safe for paramedics to attend. In cases like this that delay could cost lives that can be saved by simple, basic first aid to deal with gunshots, knife or blast victims who may be bleeding to death.

I am currently involved in formulating a pilot project focusing on the UK’s Protect and Prepare strand of the government’s counter-terrorism policy CONTEST and initiatives like this should be encouraged.