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)

UK’s MI5 Director Warns UK is Facing Intense Terror Threat

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MI5’s Director, Andrew Parker has warned the UK’s security services are facing an intense challenge from terrorism. He said the tempo of counter-terrorism operations was the highest he has seen in his service with MI5, currently running at 500 live operations involving 3,000 individuals. Even though seven major attacks have been prevented in the last seven months in 2017, the UK has suffered five attacks, four in London, one in Manchester with four inspired the Islamist narrative, one allegedly by the far right narrative.

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The threat comes from individuals who have returned to the UK after having fought with Islamic State (IS) in Syria/Iraq and IS’ use of electronic communications and propaganda to recruit/inspire individuals to carry out attacks (mainly low level using vehicles and sharply bladed instruments). Following the loss of control of Raqqa this week, although IS no longer controls major/important geographical locations, their narrative is still alive and influencing individuals. Due to the overwhelming forces fighting them, it is likely IS could see they would lose the territory they controlled and have made preparations to carry out their fight by use of guerrilla warfare in Syria/Iraq, placed sleeper cells in western states containing individuals who have fought and been trained in Syria/Iraq and continue to use their effective communications system to recruit/influence new followers. This in itself will pose a threat to many states’ national security in the next few years.

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Regarding the UK, Andrew parker did not mention the terrorist threat the UK faces from the extreme far right. Since the group National Action were proscribed as a terrorist group in December 2016 there have been a number of arrests linked to the group. This includes the arrests on the 27th September 2017 where eleven suspected members of National Action were arrested with six of them suspected of preparing acts of terrorism.

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This explains why the UK’s threat level is still at severe (an attack is highly likely). Questions will continue to be asked as to how attacks still occur, but as Andrew Parker said, seven serious attacks were prevented in 2017 alone. The UK’s counter-terrorism model of security where the security services work alongside the police supported by units like the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) is still effective. Those assessed as a risk will be investigated, but those who are not on any intelligence system or who is perceived as a peripheral figure still pose a threat. It is impossible to mount 24 hour, seven days a week surveillance on all those in the intelligence systems. It is logical that resources are focused on the greatest risk and as such I see the UK’s threat level remaining at sever for the near future.

 

I discussed this on BBC Radio Scotland at 6.50am this morning and will be again for BBC Radio WM between 9.05-9.20am (BST) today.