‘Terrorism: Law & Policy’ published today

My terrorism book cover

My new book ‘Terrorism: Law & Policy’ is published today. It is a comparative socio-legal analysis on terrorism law and policy in Australia, Canada, European Union, the UK and the US. The main topics it covers are:

  1. Current terrorist threat that looks at various groups operating globally;
  2. The various legal definitions of terrorism;
  3. The various statutory preventative measures states have introduced related to terrorist activity;
  4. Intelligence gathering and exchange;
  5. Surveillance of electronic communications balancing the needs of national security with protecting personal rights to privacy and data protection;
  6. Financing of terrorism;
  7. Prevent strategies;
  8. Handling terrorist informants

The book can be obtained from Routledge’s website or other sties like Amazon

 

 

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

Oxford Circus

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.

Oxford Circus 1

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

donald trumpSaipov

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.

Trump Tweet

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.

GTMO

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?

new-york-terror-truck attackSaipov

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.

Möglicher Anschlag mit Lastwagen auf Weihnachtsmarkt

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.

UK-Security-expo-2017

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

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

westminster

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.

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.

IS in RaqqaIS flag

 

 

 

 

 

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.

severe threat level

 

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.

 

UK Terror Threat Critical

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Following the Parsons Green bomb attack, late last night (15th September 2017) the UK’s terror threat rose from severe to critical, which means a terrorist attack is imminent.

This means there is reasonable suspicion that another attack will occur, possibly similar to that seen in Parsons Green. The Metropolitan Police’s  Asst Commissioner Mark Rowley who is a senior counterterrorism officer has said that there is an intensive investigation into the attack. I agree with him that even where there is an attack by a so-called ‘lone wolf’ there is usually someone assisting them or even encouraging them to carry out the attack. Clearly the investigators will be going through the forensic evidence obtained at the scene, the CCTV footage, witness statements and the intelligence systems.  I mentioned this in my media interviews yesterday with the BBC news channel, BBC Radio, talkRadio and LBC (you can hear one of my interviews from yesterday with BBC Radio Merseyside that is 1 hour 1 minute 13 seconds in).

As I predicted in my last blog, Islamic State have claimed responsibility. In doing so this does not mean that whoever carried out the Parsons Green attack had direct orders from the group, it is as I explained someone who is inspired by the group’s Islamist narrative. This is pattern we have seen from Islamic State with most of the attacks that have been carried out in Europe over the last 18 months.

One question I was asked in most of my interviews yesterday was if this is the ‘new normal to expect’. It appears so and if anyone is suspicious about anything, no matter how minor, to support the UK police and security services call the anti-terrorism hotline 0800 789 321