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)

New York Terrorist Attack: What measures can be taken to prevent vehicle attacks?

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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.

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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.

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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

Should Persons Possessing Items Like the Anarchist’s Cookbook be Prosecuted in a Criminal Court?

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On his return to the UK after fighting with Kurdish forces against Islamic State, Joshua Walker was detained at Gatwick Airport and after being found to be in possession of the Anarchist’s Cookbook Walker was prosecuted for section 58 Terrorism Act 2000, even though a person can purchase the item form Amazon. On Thursday 26th October 2017 the jury at Birmingham Crown Court took three hours to deliberate on their verdict, where they found Walker to be not guilty of the offence. Section 58 has raised a degree of controversy.

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Section 58 Terrorism Act 2000 provides investigators with a wide power. It is wide because a person merely has to collect or make a record of information that is likely to be useful to a person involved in terrorist activity. What has to be ascertained is the type of article section 58 is referring to. The question is if it includes what would be considered innocuous items such as a train timetable or a map of a city centre with certain locations highlighted or items downloaded from the internet for personal interest. It is worth noting that under section 58 investigators do not require reasonable suspicion the article is for a purpose connected to terrorist activity. In effect, under section 58 the burden of proof is not placed on the prosecution but on potential defendants who have to prove they had a reasonable excuse for their possession of the article.
As a result there have been a number of legal challenges as to what amounts to an article for the purposes of section 58. In R v K (2008) the Court of Appeal held that section 58 was never intended to criminalise the possession of theological or propagandist material adding that:
‘A document or record will only fall within section 58 if it is of the kind that is likely to provide practical assistance to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism. A document that simply encourages the commission of acts of terrorism does not fall within section 58’.
In R v G, R v J (2009) the House of Lords examined section 58 and, building on the K judgement, the House held that for a conviction under section 58 it is a requirement that the defendant not only possessed the document that may be of use to a terrorist, but they must also be aware of the nature of the information contained therein. The House stressed that this did not mean the prosecution had to show that the defendant knew all the details contained in the document, only that the defendant knew of the nature of the material it contained. The Court held for a person to be convicted under section 58 the prosecution must prove the defendant:
1. Had control of the record which contained information that was likely to provide practical assistance to a terrorist;
2. Knew that he had the record; and
3. Knew the kind of information which it contained.

J challenged this decision and the case went to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) where the case was Jobe v UK (2011) J claimed that section 58 violated article 7 European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) where there can be no punishment without law. The premise of J’s claim was that section 58 was so vague it was not law and if the court agreed with this argument, his article 10 ECHR rights (freedom of expression) was also violated because section 58 would not be deemed to be an act prescribed by law. The ECtHR held there was no violation of article 7 and stated the House of Lords decision was fully and clearly reasoned. Key to the ECtHR reaching this decision was the guidance the House of Lords gave in their decision regarding the three points cited above that have to be proved for a conviction under section 58 to stand. Likewise the ECtHR found there to be no violation of article 10 saying it was justified under the legitimate aims of the interests of national security and that it did not criminalise in a blanket manner the collection or possession of material likely to be useful to a terrorist.

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I cover this and other statutory preventative measures in the UK, US, Australia and Canada in my forthcoming book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ that will be published by Routledge in March 2018. For a more in-depth analysis of Walker’s case you can listen to my interview with BBC Radio Scotland from Friday 27th October 2017 that is 55 minutes 28 seconds in.

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

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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.

National Action Member Charged with Encouraging Murder of UK MP

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A 31 year-old male, Christopher Lythgoe has been charged for being a member of a proscribed group, the extreme far right group National Action and for encouraging the murder of a UK Member of Parliament (MP), Rosie Cooper. Lythgoe is appearing in Westminster Magistrates Court (London) today. National Action were proscribed as a terrorist group in December 2016 by the UK government.

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I will be discussing the implications of this along with the threat extreme far right groups pose to state security with Shelagh Fogarty on LBC just after 3pm (BST) today (27th Oct)

Australian Extreme Far Right Group Antipodean Resistance: Should it be Proscribed Like National Action in the UK?

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The rise in prominence in nationalist politics has created an environment allowing extreme far right groups to feel more confident and able to express publically their views and beliefs. In Australia One Nation is a right wing nationalist political party that has a number of elected politicians in both state governments and in Australia’s federal government, including its founder and leader, Pauline Hanson. In essence One Nation is an anti-immigration and anti-Islam party, exemplified by Pauline Hanson’s recent theatrics in the Senate when she attended a session dressed in a burqa as part of a protest against Islamic women wearing the garment. Some of the most prominent Australian far right groups includes Aryan Nation, Combat 18, National Democratic Party for Australia, Soldiers of Odin and United Patriots Front. Formed in late 2016 and one of the more recent extreme far right groups to emerge in Australia is Antipodean Resistance. The group is clearly influenced by the national socialist ideology and appears to be inspired by the UK group National Action (who is now a proscribed group in the UK). Looking at their website, to date most of their activity appears rather innocuous as they have been involved in is placing stickers and posters at various locations such as universities, churches and other public buildings. While many groups are clearly anti-immigration or anti-Islam, Antipodean Resistance make it clear that are also anti-sematic, homophobic, racist, anti-multiculturalism and have no time for liberal democratic principles. The articles and news items on their website make this very clear, as seen in an article ‘Being White is Not Enough’ posted in July 2017 that says:

‘There are many, many poor quality or degenerate evil whites in the world. White people can be race traitors, selfish capitalists/communists, rapists, paedophiles and faggots … White men have dropped the ball. We’ve let Jews, non-whites, feminists and degenerates run our nations to the ground.’

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In their latest news bulletin on their website, Antipodean Resistance have attacked the latest journalists’ reporting of their activities and politicians who have equated Antipodean resistance to Islamist based terrorism saying:

‘All reasonable people reading through their nonsense should be able to see the ham fisted attempt at equating any form of legitimate nationalism as terrorism … The problems we as a society face won’t go away with MORE liberalism, MORE state oppression or MORE non-whites. Our society will only start to become healthy with a strong dose of FACISM and nothing else.’

Antipodean Resistance are very open as to the conditions one must meet to join the group. An applicant must be white and living in Australia with ‘blacks, Asians, Jews or mixed abominations’ prohibited along with white people who are in a relationship with a non-white as ‘racial treason cannot be tolerated’. As they brand themselves as the 21st century Hitler Youth, an Antipodean Resistance applicant must be in their teens or twenties, free from serious physical or mental disabilities and must not be a homosexual.

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There are calls for Antipodean Resistance to be proscribed as a terrorist organisation. While to date the group have only posted stickers and posters, Antipodean Resistance claim to radicalise their followers at radicalisation camps where they also deliver combat and survival training to its followers. Federal Labour MP, Anne Aly, who worked in counter-terrorism and radicalisation prior to her election, would like to see Antipodean Resistance and similar groups be proscribed as terrorist and violent groups. She says by Australia focusing on the jihadist threat it is missing a very real threat as Antipodean Resistance is about violence and hatred, not about expressing opinions in a civil debate. As the group’s ideology is about killing people, it only takes one person for a terrorist attack to succeed.

The Link between the UK’s National Action and Australia’s Antipodean Resistance

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Formed in 2013, National Action see themselves as political radicals not extremists. They promoted themselves as a non-violent organisation, yet actions by their members and those influenced by their narrative suggests otherwise. National Action openly admit to being national socialists, following a contemporary version of the Nazi ideology and actively encourage young people to join them. In their statement of what they represent, regarding the use of violence National Action state they:

‘…only advocate legal violence, i.e. through the Law. Our ultimate aim of a white Britain can only ever be achieved through state power and the complicity of state institutions; Police force, Army, Intelligence Services, etc.’

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However actions by the group’s members contradicts this position and is one of the key reasons why in December 2016 the UK government proscribed them as a terrorist organisation. Prior to their proscription National Action’s early activity was similar to that seen with Antipodean Resistance that included posting stickers and posters at various locations, including universities in an attempt to recruit members from the student population. What appears as an innocent activity belied the vitriolic intolerance of others and the violence contained in their ideology. This was seen in National Action’s website (that has been taken down since their proscription) that contained phrases such as ‘gas all traitors’ and ‘fight for your country’, which some of its members took literally. Evidence of the latter can be seen in the professionally produced National Action videos that were posted on their website and on YouTube where one consistently hears comments by National Action spokesmen inciting and glorifying violence. An example is the video National Action produced in January 2016 filmed in Newcastle and posted on YouTube where the National Action speaker says, ‘A war is brewing. … And we fight’ and a couple of members then attack a black man who was playing a saxophone.

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How this self-professed non-violent group’s ideology is influencing its members to commit violence is exemplified with the conviction of one of its members, Zack Davies who in June 2015 was convicted of the attempted murder of a Sikh, Dr Bhambra. This was an unprovoked attack on Dr Bhambra who was shopping at a supermarket when Davies attempted to decapitate him. During the attack Davies shouted racist remarks and had with him a National Action flag. When asked by the police why he carried out the attack, Davies said it was because Dr Bhambra was an Asian. In January 2017 a 17 year-old teenager from Bradford who was a member of National Action was arrested prior to National Action being proscribed and convicted of making a pipe bomb, but not of the offence of preparing an act of terrorism. During his trial it was revealed that he idolised Hitler and saw Thomas Mair, who killed UK Member of Parliament, Jo Cox, as a hero, posting on Facebook, ‘There is one less race traitor in Britain thanks to this man.’
Impact of Proscription on Extremist Groups

Impact of Proscription on Extremist Groups

Since National Action became proscribed as a terrorist organisation the impact this has had on investigations into the group’s activities has already had some impact as there have been a number of arrests made in the UK under the Terrorism Act 2000. In two separate investigations, one led to four members of the British Army being arrested on the 5th September 2017 under section 11 Terrorism Act 2000, being a member of a proscribed organisations, the second led to eleven people being arrested under section 11, five of whom are suspected of funding terrorism and six suspected of preparing acts of terrorism against individuals.

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Recognising that proscription of far right groups can result in them going underground as they become increasingly covert in how they carry out their activities. It is also recognised that proscription will not stop a group from carrying out attacks as seen currently with Islamist groups and nationalist groups such as the New IRA in the UK. That said, proscription allows the security services and the police to investigate them under the wider powers provided by terrorism legislation. With groups like the far right, their organisers can try to avoid coming under terrorism legislation by breaking up and morphing into new groups as National Action have done with the names Scottish Dawn and NS131 (National Socialism Anti-Capitalist Action). Once found they too can be proscribed which, having laid an Order in September 2017, the UK government is currently in the process of doing.

Returning to Australia, while its far fight group activity has been relatively minor from holding protests to posting stickers and posters at public buildings, especially where a group espouses the national socialist narrative like Antipodean Resistance, the Australian government should seriously consider taking a hard legislative line. They only have to look at the UK where in its formative years National Action carried out similar action. As they have based themselves on National Action, Antipodean Resistance’s rise in activities can be nipped in the bud by proscribing the group.

 

 

 

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.