The Terrorist Threats Discussed at the UK’s National Security Summit: How Safe Are We?

Neil Basu

At the UK’s Nation security Summit held in London on the 9th October 2018 the head of national counter-terrorism policing, Neil Basu, warned that one for the greatest terror threats in the UK is by its own citizens who have been radicalised by extremists, in particular Islamists, who are frustrated or aspire to travel abroad to fight with the Islamic State (IS).

London Bridge & Borough Market Attack

There is credence in Basu’s observations as seen in the recent attacks prevented attacks in the UK. For example the London Bridge/Borough Market attack in June 2017 to of the attackers, Khuram Butt and Youssef Zaghba were prevented by authorities from leaving Europe to join IS in Syria/Iraq. In addition to this, another threat is posed by individuals who did fight with IS in Syria/Iraq who have returned to their home state as they will be more experienced in the use of firearms and explosives, as well as potentially in chemical weapons that were used by IS in Syria/Iraq. This threat is not just applicable to the UK, but to states in Europe, North America and other states such as the Philippines where returning fighters are now fighting in the south of the country. This is a global problem.

In relation to terrorists’ use of chemical and biological weapons, Neil Basu correctly states the likes of chlorine and mustard gas was used in Syria/Iraq and terrorists do want to adapt these weapons for use in domestic terrorist attacks. Fortunately, what is problematic for terrorists wanting to use such weaponry is having the facilities for storage and maintaining the chemicals as they have to be stored under controlled conditions. When IS held land in their self-proclaimed caliphate this was possible, but in domestic circumstances where without laboratories it is more difficult. As such, the type of attacks being planned will be low-level attacks we have unfortunately witnessed in Europe with the use of vehicles and sharply bladed instruments such as knives, which we have witnessed still have a devastating effect.

parsons green bombbarcelona terrorist attack 2017

There is also the possibility of terrorists using firearms and improvised explosive devices (IED). In relation to the latter this was seen in the Parsons Green attack in September 2017 and in Barcelona, August 2017, where the former failed to detonate and in the latter the explosives were not handled correctly resulting in the terrorists blowing themselves up in their home. To handle explosives requires a degree of knowledge and experience, which clearly many domestic terrorists do not possess. One cannot be complacent over this as the threat of the use of IED’s is still real. This could come from returning IS fighters and in the case of the UK, current paramilitaries in the North of Ireland from the republican New IRA to loyalist’s groups such as the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster freedom Fighters have members who have experience in the use of IED’s from the 1968-1998 Irish Troubles.

National Action 2national action at Liverpool

One must not forget that the terrorist threat does not solely emanate from Islamist inspired terrorism, there is also the threat from far-right groups too, and in the UK from paramilitaries in the North of Ireland. The UK is still the only state to proscribe far-right groups as terrorist organisations and to date these groups have been inspired by the national socialist narrative (National Action, Scottish Dawn and NS 131). Other far-right groups are also being monitored by UK counter-terrorism police and the security services such as Resistance System Network. Again, the terrorist threat far-right groups pose is not unique to the UK, it is prevalent throughout Europe, North America and Australia.

IRA unfinished revolution derrynew IRA

In relation to the UK republican groups in the North of Ireland have been using the impasse regarding the Irish border in the Brexit negotiations to influence an increase in paramilitary activity, in particular the New IRA.

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Due to the diversity of terrorist threats, the number of groups and individuals being monitored and the increasing pressure counter-terrorism police and the security services have in keeping us safe is enormous. There are two areas that can help alleviate their workload so as to enable them to focus on the groups and individuals that pose a real threat to our security. First is to allocate more resources from the public and private sectors as well as communities to the Prevent strategy. A pre-criminal strategy, Prevent is aimed at helping individuals who are vulnerable to being drawn into terrorist activity. Secondly, we can all play our part by being more vigilant in reporting any activity we see as suspicious. Initiatives in the UK like Action Counters Terrorism (ACT) and the British transport Police’s ‘See it, Say it, Sort it’ are there to help us report anything we suspect is likely to be linked to terrorism and the police will deal with any reports sensitively.

Sputnik logo

I discuss this in more details in my radio interview with Sputnik Radio and many of these themes are covered in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ that was published in March 2018

My terrorism book cover

Brexit and the Irish Border: A Catalyst to a new Irish Troubles and the Rise of Saoradh

irish border

How the Irish border between the six counties of the North of Ireland and the twenty-six counties of the Irish republic will operate post-Brexit is not just a sticking point in the current Brexit negotiations, it is an issue, which if not resolved, could be the catalyst to a rise in sectarian violence between republicans and loyalists in the North resulting in new Irish Troubles.

saoradh

This observation is not one of being alarmist, there is already a rising undercurrent of discontent in the North. This is exemplified in the rise of a relatively new Irish republican party, Saoradh. Formed in September 2016and backed by New IRA (NIRA) prisoners held in Mughaberry and Portlaoise prisons Saoradh held its first ard fheis in Newry that month. Those who gathered at this first ard fheis (and who subsequently became Saoradh’s member’s and supporters) included those who were associated with the Republican Network for Unity, 32 County Sovereignty Movement (closely aligned with the former Real IRA) and the 1916 societies. Saoradh supporters include notorious members of the IRA in its various forms such as Colin and Paul Duffy. Messages of support were read out from the founder of the Provisional IRA, Billy McKee and Saoradh’s first chairman, David Jordan from Tyrone, was a republican dissident and former prisoner.

Saoradh claims to be solely a revolutionary republican party with no connection to republican paramilitary groups, stating its main aim is to introduce a socialist agenda to support the working class by creating an Irish Socialist Republic, not just in the North but in the whole of Ireland. The party’s main issues include:
1. The end of British imperialist rule in the North;
2. The end of power sharing at Stormont and an end to the Good Friday Agreement;
3. The end of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) that the party refers to as the Royal Ulster Constabulary/PSNI.

david jordan

In essence Saoradh supports armed conflict in the North and refers to republican paramilitary prisoners as prisoners of war. David Jordan was charged with the attempted murder of a PSNI officer in Castlederg, Tyrone in 2008, with those charges being dropped by the Public Prosecutors’ Office in October 2016.

While the language Saoradh uses is similar to that used by Sinn Fein during the Troubles, the party is highly critical of Sinn Fein, seeing them as having sold out the republican cause by participating in political institutions such as the Assembly at Stormont (albeit Sinn Fein still maintain an abstentionist stance with Westminster). Saoradh sees the Stormont Assembly as a ‘partitionist assembly’ and does not recognise it, even though the current impasse between Sinn Fein and the DUP has resulted in the Assembly being suspended since 2017!

bogside riotssaoradh march

 

While no doubt many will see Saoradh as a minor party of little significance, support for the party was seen in the Bogside riots in July 2018, activity in the Creggan, Derry in April 2018 that led to arrests and also in April 2018 Saoradh organised in Belfast an ‘unfinished revolution’ march where many were dressed in republican paramilitary dress.

Returning to Brexit and the Irish border, Saoradh’s leaders told researchers from Queen’s and Ulster University that Brexit was, ‘manna from heaven from our perspective’. Another of Saoradh’s leaders, Patrick Courty, told its supporters at an Easter Rising commemoration in 2018:

‘Brexit has the potential to break up the British state … with the inevitable infrastructure of a hard border imminent, this will drive home to the Irish people the partition of our country … and as history teaches us it wild inevitably stoke the fires of resistance against British rule in Ireland.’

DUPKaren Bradley

The warning signs are there and although the focus here has been on dissident republicanism, should Saoradh influence republican based violence, such violence will be swiftly reciprocated by Loyalist paramilitary violence. The UK government should be awake to this development as it is too important to marginalise as irrelevant or worse, ignore it. As seen in the UK government’s position regarding the Irish border issue in the Brexit negotiations the signs are not good. A consequence of not having an overall majority in the House of Commons is the UK government in being a minority government it is being held to ransom on this issue by the DUP MP’s in Westminster. The perspective the current UK government’s view has on the North of Ireland is not perceived by its population and some of Britain’s population as being positive and concerned with the issues affecting the Province. This is not helped with the appointment of Karen Bradley as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who on appointment admitted to only having limited knowledge of the North. This ministerial position should be reviewed by the current Prime Minister who should now look for someone who has a good knowledge of Irish history, Northern Irish politics and social issues. This is a country that is suffering the most in the UK especially in the western counties of Derry and Tyrone where there is widespread poverty, high unemployment, poorer standards of social housing and healthcare as well as a lack of investment in the area regarding both its infrastructure and in encouraging new business. A Northern Ireland minister who is aware of these issues could do more to assist in these areas as well as work on breaking the impasse between Sinn Fein and the DUP in the Assembly at Stormont so elected representatives can pass legislation and work towards improving the lives of all Northern Irish people. If this is not done then it simply plays into the hands of the paramilitaries on both sides and their political parties like Saoradh who will spark more widespread paramilitary violence once more.

Irsih Troubles figures

The lessons of the 1960’s must be learnt to stop the rise of extremist groups and paramilitary support in the North as ambivalence towards the North of Ireland in Westminster could result in the country suffering another period of violence.

My terrorism book cover

Some of these issues are covered in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ that was published in March 2018 by Routledge

Koley and Elsheikh, Islamic State’s Beatles duo: Should they receive the death penalty or life imprisonment?

Koley and Elsheikh

Alaxanda Koely and El Shafee Elsheikh, referred to as Islamic State’s ‘Beatles duo’ may be facing trial for murder in the US. Koley and Elsheikh worked alongside another UK citizen, Emwazi (aka Jihadi John who was killed in a drone strike in Syria in 2015) with Islamic State in Syria where they guarded, tortured and killed hostages the group held. This included the killing of US citizens James Foley and Stephen Sotloff and the UK aid worker, Alan Henning that received high profile media reporting due to the gruesome videos the cell recorded of their beheading by Emwazi.

Javid

Koley and Elsheikh were captured early 2018 in Syria by one of the freedom fighter groups and handed over to US authorities in the area. The question to determine is where they will be tried for the murders they were Invovled in. On the 23rd July 2018 the UK Home Secretary, Sajid Javid has written to his US counterpart suggesting prosecution of the two men in the US would be the best course of action, adding, controversially, the UK would not insist against the death penalty for these two men.

ECHR logo

Why it is controversial is because since 1965 the UK abolished the death penalty for murder and in 1998 when the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) was enshrined into UK law through the Human Rights Act 1998, the death penalty for treason, piracy and arson of the Queen’s dock yards (basically the Royal Navy’s dockyards) was also abolished. As such extradition of persons from the UK to the US will only be on the basis those extradited will not receive the death penalty. We saw this with the extradition of the Islamist preacher Abu Hamza, a decision supported by the European Court of Human Rights who held the extradition did not violate Hamza’s right to a fair trial (article 6 ECHR) and because he would not receive the death penalty so preserving his right to live (article 2 ECHR).

The difference with the extradition of Koley and Elsheikh is that under section 2 Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, they were stripped of their British citizenship under a temporary exclusion order from the UK. It is this legal issue that has led to Javid informing the US that there are ‘strong reasons for not requiring a death penalty in this specific case.’

The UK Labour Party’s shadow attorney general and former head of the group Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti to see this move as a ‘grave human rights abuse’. is this really the case? This is potentially a one-off extradition and as many have posted on social media sites there is little or no sympathy for Koley and Elsheikh as they had no regard for the human rights of those they tortured and killed. This is an understandable response. Rather than claiming a grave human rights abuse will occur, it is preferable to request that neither men receive the death penalty as it will take away the potential for Islamists to  claim that Koley and Elsheikh are martyrs, should they receive the death penalty. This will remove any potential propaganda Islamist groups will use as they distort the truth. If found guilty in a court of law it is better they receive life sentences being left to spend the rest of their lives in prison. Perhaps Javid could consider this as an option should Koley and Elsheikh be tried in the US.

My terrorism book cover

The law in this area can be found in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy‘ published by Routledge this year.

Tommy Robinson is Innocent? The Far-Right and Freedom of Expression

 

Pegida UK supporters stage silent march in Birmingham

Globally far-right groups are claiming their freedom of expression is being curtailed by the state and various social media companies when they perceive posts are violating their hate speech code. Since Tommy Robinson, the former leader of the English Defence League in the UK and now right wing activist was imprisoned in May 2018, the arrest and subsequent imprisonment has been cited in many video blogs from right-wing commentators globally to show how western states, in particular the UK, are adopting a ‘police state’ approach when it comes to dealing with the far-right. Along with various court cases, this blog looks at freedom of expression legislation in Australia, Canada, the UK and the US and assesses when far-right narratives cross the line from being simply offensive to race hate crime. This is an extract from a peer reviewed academic journal article I have written that is being published soon.

ECHR logous bill of rights

Freedom of Expression

In a liberal democracy freedom of expression is cherished right allowing for a myriad of views to be expressed without fear or sanction from the state and that includes views of the far-right. There has been a movement where people who are offended by comments not in line with their own and, due to their company policies, internet social media providers have become increasingly influential on what can and what cannot be said or, more importantly, what values and beliefs a person can hold in society. This development is dangerously impinging on the right to freedom of expression. In most European countries this right is governed by article 10 in the Council of Europe’s European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and article 11 of the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms (CFRF). Both of these rights contain similar wording in that the right includes holding opinions and the right to receive and impart information and ideas without interference from state authorities. Article 11 CFRF adds that freedom and pluralism of the media shall be respected. In the US this right is enshrined in the first amendment of the 1791 Bill of Rights stating that Congress shall not make laws abridging the freedom of speech or the freedom of the press. In Canada section 2 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression.

Australia does not have a statutory or constitutional charter or Bill of rights as rights and freedoms are protected under common law. As such the courts have the power to provide significant protection of human rights principles. In carrying out this function in Coco v The Queen the Australian High Court restated the principle that Parliament is presumed not to have intended to limit fundamental rights saying:

‘The courts should not impute to the legislature an intention to interfere with fundamental rights. Such an intention must be clearly manifested by unmistakable and unambiguous language.’

In Electrolux Home Products v Australian Workers’ Union Chief Justice Gleeson said:

‘The presumption is not merely a common sense guide to what a parliament in a liberal democracy is likely to have intended; it is a working hypothesis, the existence of which is known both to parliament and the courts, upon which statutory language will be interpreted. The hypothesis is an aspect of the rule of law.’

This presumption includes the principle that fundamental rights are recognised by the common law. Compared to rights protected in statutory form, common law rights are negative rights and can be eroded via statute. This could explain why Australia incorporated the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 (ICCPR) in the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986. Article 19 ICCPR states everyone has the right to freedom of expression, adding the right includes freedom to speak, receive and impart information of all kinds. It appears that the Australian right to freedom of expression, as does the US Bill of Rights, has no constraints on what and what cannot be said.

In many jurisdciaitons freedom of expression is not an absolute right to say whatever you want. For example, article 10 ECHR is a qualified right where the state can interfere with that right provided it is prescribed in law and necessary in a democratic society when it is:
1. in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety;
2. for the prevention of disorder or crime;
3. for the protection of health or morals;
4. for the protection of the reputation or rights of others;
5. for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence; or,
6. for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

In the CFRF article 52 allows limitations to this right, but only where it is provided for in law and the limitation is both proportionate and necessary to meet the objects of general interest of the EU or the need to protect the rights and freedoms of others. To put some context into what is acceptable in relation to freedom of expression in law, in the UK case Redmond-Bate v Director of Public Prosecutions Sedley LJ said:

‘Freedom of speech includes not only the inoffensive but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative, provided it does not tend to provoke violence. Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having.’

When interpreting article 10 ECHR the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has adopted a similar view. In Handyside v UK the ECtHR held that freedom of expression is an essential foundation of a democratic society and the right is not only applicable to information or ideas that are favourably received or regarded as indifference or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the state or any section of the population. The ECtHR has tempered freedom of expression in Erbaken v Turkey saying that tolerance and respect for the equal dignity of all human beings constitute the foundation of a democratic, pluralistic society. The court added:

‘That being so, as a matter of principle it may be considered necessary in certain democratic societies to sanction or even prevent all forms of expression which spread, incite, promote or justify hatred based on intolerance …’

In essence, while some will be offended by extremists’ comments, provided those comments do not glorify or provoke violence, or, promote hatred, they have to be accepted as being part of the rich tapestry of views and beliefs that creates a liberal democracy. The issue is assessing when those views, expressions and opinions cross the line of what is acceptable to when it becomes criminal behaviour and falls outside the parameters of what is acceptable under this right.

Differentiating When Far-Right Views Move From Being Simply Offensive, Irritating, Contentious, Eccentric, Heretical, Unwelcome and Provocative to Criminal?

National Action 2Britain-First-badgeAtomwaffen

As social media accounts displaying hate content are suspended or deleted, prima facie there does appear to be credence to the far-right’s claim that freedom of expression is under attack and being curtailed in liberal democracies. This can be seen in the responses and outcry to various comments posted on far-right social media sites or by individuals who are associated or inspired by the far-right narrative where accounts are suspended or individuals are requested, even directed to delete posts deemed to be offensive. When applying the far-right narrative to Sedley LJ’s judgement in Redmond Bate, for many it will be irritating, contentious, eccentric, heretical, unwelcome and provocative. Apart from some neo-Nazi national socialist groups that glorify or advocate violence and expressions that amount to race hate crime, the far-right narrative, as odious as it is, should be allowed in a liberal democracy as should any other extremist narrative that does not advocate violence or hate crime. By doing so the majority will see through the narrative and reject, even ridicule it.

Nick griffinon question time

An example of this was in October 2009 in the UK when the British National Party’s (BNP) former leader Nick Griffin, appeared on the BBC’s Question Time programme. There was outrage that the BBC was allowing Griffin and the BNP a platform to air their views on a high profile programme with a wide audience. Having two elected Members of the European Parliament and large number of elected local councillors at the time, the BNP was seen as a political party that should have a platform to discuss their views. Prior to the programme Griffin boasted his appearance would propel the BNP ‘into the big time’. During the programme Griffin got tied up in knots as he tried to answer questions on various topics, resulting in him being ridiculed and even laughed as people saw through his far right rhetoric, which with each answer Griffin became increasingly incomprehensible. It could be argued this was the start of the demise of the BNP. There are times to let people have their say and in doing so it allows people to see right through their argument, which is what happened on this occasion.

facebook logoTwitter logo 2

There are positives in how social media companies are adopting a hard line in what materials posted by groups and individuals they consider to be hateful against others. Twitter actively targets any group or persons who contravene their policy on hateful conduct and a number of US far-right groups have had their accounts suspended. For example, after posting a number of tweets in relation their far-right views, the Traditional Workers’ Party and the American Nazi Party final tweet said, ‘inevitable that we will be banned at the weekend.’ In relation to Britain First, Facebook finally deleted its account in March 2018 because Britain First continually violated Facebook’s Community Standards. Facebook were initially reluctant to delete Britain First’s page as they were cautious about removing political speech with Britain First being a political party. YouTube have also blocked video’s posted by far-right groups and in 2018 YouTube banned the US neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division’s YouTube channel for violating YouTube’s hate speech policies, a move that may have been triggered by the fact Atomwaffen have been linked to five murders and an alleged bomb plot in the US.
When dealing with groups and individuals who post comments in line with national socialist ideology and any other forms of extremist ideology such as Islamist views, social media companies should be applauded for taking this action. The problem comes when what is deemed as contravening the companies’ hateful conduct policy because they deem it offensive, contentious or provocative, but is legal under the freedom of expression. An example of how freedom of expression in the UK is potentially being fettered is how social media companies, mainstream media and UK state agencies have dealt with Tommy Robinson. In April 2016 Twitter permanently suspended Robinson’s account after he tweeted ‘Islam promotes killing people’. In the tweet Robinson was referring to a hundred verses in the Qur’an that incites Muslims to violence against non-Muslims. Due to the content of these tweets, Twitter said they violated its policies on hateful conduct. This raises the question if Robinson’s suspension is an example of social media companies, outside a court of law, restrict freedom of expression and decide what can and cannot be expressed. This is a serious step as these companies are in effect taking the law into their own hands. The suspension of Robinson’s account can be differentiated with Twitter’s suspension of Britain First’s Twitter account and that of its leaders.

Jayda Fransen court case

In relation to Britain First, Paul Golding and Jeyda Fransen, the content of their tweets were written with intent to spread, incite, promote or justify hatred against Muslims based on an intolerance of their religion, which would fall under the parameters of race hate crime. No one would question the decision of social media companies to delete or suspend groups who express views glorifying or influencing individuals to carry out acts of violence. This seems to be the situation with Atomwaffen as the influence far-right social media accounts can have on vulnerable individuals cannot be overestimated. In relation to Britain First, it was a phrase Thomas Mair shouted as he shot the MP Jo Cox. Also, the behaviour and criminal actions of Britain First’s leaders could have been a factor in Twitter and Facebook suspending the accounts of the group and its leaders. Darren Osbourne was convicted of terrorist related murder and attempt murder after driving a van in Muslim worshippers outside Finsbury Park in June 2017. During his trial in February 2018 evidence was given revealing in the weeks before the attack that among others far-right sites, Osborne was following Britain First and Tommy Robinson on social media claiming it influenced him to carry out the attack. When being interviewed by the mainstream media, in his writings and on his social media sites, Tommy Robinson has always been careful never to accuse all Muslims or Islam per se as responsible for terrorist acts or criminal activity. As Sedley LJ said in Redmond Bate, ‘Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having’.

EDL-tommy-robinson

Especially in relation to Tommy Robinson the debate on whether the UK authorities are restricting the right to freedom of expression is ongoing. In May 2018 Robinson was recording live on his Facebook account outside Leeds Crown Court coverage of a trial involving Muslim defendant’s accused of grooming, raping and sexually abusing young girls. He was arrested for causing a Breach of the Peace and later imprisoned for contempt of court where it was claimed he made comments that risked the trial to collapse. At the time of his sentencing Robinson was serving a suspended sentence for contempt of court during an earlier rape trial at Canterbury Crown Court. Perceived as the UK restricting freedom of expression, Robinson’s imprisonment resulted in protests in June 2018 in Whitehall, London, a change.org petition for his release that received nearly 500,000 signatures and given support from Donald Trump junior who said, ‘Don’t let America follow in these footsteps’, as well as Geert Wilders posting a video on his Twitter account calling Robinson’s imprisonment ‘an absolute disgrace’. Robinson’s imprisonment has also internationally galvanised other right wing activists such as Lauren Southern in Canada and Black Pigeon in the US. Both have YouTube channels that attract many views. On the topic of Robinson’s imprisonment Black Pigeon’s video blog attracted 174,600 views and Lauren Southern’s attracted over 800,000 views with comments mostly supporting Robinson. In Tommy Robinson’s case he has not glorified or encouraged violence and as obnoxious as they are, he has literally posted his observations on how he sees various situations.

Two examples of how comments come outside the parameters for freedom expression can be seen in two ECtHR cases. In Norwood v UK Norwood was a Regional Organiser for the BNP and between November 2001 and January 2002 he displayed a large poster in the window of his flat with a photograph of New York’s World Trade Centre in flames with the words ‘Islam out of Britain – Protect British People’. Following a complaint the police removed the poster. Failing in the UK courts that his freedom of expression had been curtailed, Norwood appealed to the ECtHR. The Court found no violation of article 10 ECHR saying the poster was a vehement attack on a religious group, intimating the group as a whole were involved in an act of terrorism. In Berkacam v Belgium Berkacam was the leader and spokesperson of the organisation ‘Sharia4Belgium’ where he made remarks on YouTube videos that incited others to hatred, violence and discrimination towards non-Muslims. The ECtHR held the comments were incompatible with the ECHR’s values of tolerance, social peace and non-discrimination. In both of these cases the comments were aimed at a whole group, not individuals within a group, holding the whole group as responsible for various acts. This is why Britain First’s social media content would be outside the bounds of freedom of expression and rightly contravene the social media companies’ policies on hateful content as they portray Islam and all Muslims as an evil in society. In relation to Tommy Robinson this is not the case. He never says all Muslims or Islam as a whole is to blame for problems in the UK only particular Muslims who commit either terrorist or criminal offences. His main argument is little mainstream media coverage is given to certain trials involving Muslim suspects, especially in sexual offence trials. Admittedly he has strident views on Islam that could be seen as heretical, but they would fall within the legal parameters of freedom of expression. Using the imprisoning and harassing of Robinson only fuels the flames of complaint by the far-right their freedom of expression is being curtailed by the state. To take back control of the far-right’s position on this argument it might be preferable, when not glorifying or encouraging violence, or inciting race hate, to allow far-right activists like Robinson to continue to use their social media sites. Returning to the example of Nick Griffin on the BBC’s Question Time programme, one should not be fearful of providing them with a platform to air their views as most people will see through the arguments they make. However, if they cross the line into hate crime that is a different matter.

My terrorism book cover

Issues related to this can be found in my book published in March 2018 ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ by Routledge

Post Brexit will it be the UK or the EU’s security that will be the weaker?

barnier

In June 2018 Brexit negotiations were seeming to make slow progress and at an address to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier threw a cat among the pigeons  by stating post Brexit the UK will be locked out of the EU’s policing and security databases, lose access to the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) and no longer have a role in managing agencies such as Europol and Eurojust. Barnier added that security cooperation is based on trust, a trust that is founded on an ecosystem and that cooperation between the UK and EU on crime and security would be conditional on the UK remaining subject to the European Court of Human Rights. In relation to the latter, Barnier should have no concerns as there are no moves in the short term for the UK to leave the Council of Europe and thereby withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, a document that in 1953 was written primarily by British lawyers!

If Barnier’s threat come to fruition what the UK will lose includes:

  1. Access to the Prum Treaty on the exchange of DNA profiles;
  2. Access to the second generation of the Schengen Information System (SIS II);
  3. Europol’s other databases related to terrorist and criminal activity;
  4. Use of the EAW.

At the EU Summit in Brussels on the 29th June 2018 the UK’s Prime Minister, Theresa May warned the EU that should the UK be frozen out of cooperation on security and criminal activity related to serious crime this would put not just the UK but citizens in the other 27 EU Member States at risk. This raises the question if the UK is denied access to important databases will it compromise UK security? In essence I do not think it will, but it could slow down progress in investigations into terrorism and serious crime.

map of europe

Firstly I think it is totally wrong of Barnier and his team to even to contemplate having the issue of cooperation related to terrorism and security on Brexit negotiations’ agenda. The key issues in those negotiations should focus on freedom of movement of trade and persons, trade and customs tariffs and so on, not security. Of course by leaving the EU both the UK and the EU should have separate negotiations on issues related to cooperation on terrorism and serious crime, but one where negotiations are carried out with a great desire  to reach an agreement without any politicking that benefits citizens in the whole of Europe, not just those in the EU. There appears to be an arrogance with the EU in thinking of itself as Europe, but there are many European nations that are not in the EU and have no intention of doing so. Of course post Brexit the UK will be come a third country (that is one not in the EU), but please note that also post Brexit the UK will still be a European state! As such intelligence sharing and cooperation between the UK and EU Member States will still be important. Terrorists and criminals to not take into account national state borders when carrying out their activity. Both terrorist acts and serious crime like the trafficking of persons, drugs and firearms have a devastating affect on its victims. In short this is simply about nothing more than keep all European citizens safe be they in or out of the EU.

In saying this the non-EU states of Iceland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Switzerland have limited access to EU terrorism and criminal databases through the Schengen Aquis, so why can’t the UK have the same access? It might be the EU is taking  a hard line stance against the UK because the UK does not want the Court of Justice of the European Union to have any form of governance over UK law. It could also be because post-Lisbon Treaty 2009 no EU Member State has wanted to leave the EU with its many unelected bureaucratic bodies (hence the democratic deficit that has been seen with the EU). As such it can be argued that the likes of Barnier is using Brexit and its hard line stance with the UK as a lesson to other EU Member States should they wish to leave the EU in the future. At the time of writing my recent travels has revealed how widespread is the desire of many citizens in EU Member States for their home state to leave the EU. In part this could be down to how the EU has developed from the European Economic Community based solely on trade to a quasi-federalist state post Treaty of Union and Treaty of Lisbon.

If asked I see the hard line Barnier is adopting would more detrimental to the EU and the citizens in its remaining Member States than the UK. The UK has what is termed a ‘gold standard’ in relation to intelligence gathering and sharing among its security services and the police and it is a model that is constantly developing and improving. GCHQ’s Director, Jeremy Fielding recently came out saying that in 2017 GCHQ and the UK played a critical role in foiling a least four attacks on mainland Europe. Fielding’s statement came out following Barnier’s threats and it is very rare for a security service director or senior police officers to feel the need to come out and get involved in a political issue. The UK’s intelligence model is one that other EU Member States want to emulate. Also the UK is part of the Five Eyes, which is an intelligence sharing agreement between the UK, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and as such currently vital intelligence can be rapidly fed in to the EU systems by the UK, something the EU would lose if Barnier’s threats are realised. The EU should be grateful to the UK as Europol’s former director, Sir Rob Wainwright, who left the post earlier this year, shook up Europol by introducing and improving its intelligence and cooperation structures, all based on the UK’s model. He is currently assisting the UK’s Parliamentary Home Affairs Committee on the status of Brexit negotiations on security and the options available for future policing and security cooperation between the UK and the EU.  In relation to EAW’s, there is a possibility that the UK and the EU can negotiate a similar extradition procedure that is as rapid as the EAW because the use of EAW’s has been a two-way process as just as many EAW’s have been carried out by UK policing agencies on behalf of Member States as the UK has made requests. I am confident that as such the UK and the EU can agree on a form of swift extradition. This is important as many EU Member States’ constitutions prohibit extradition of its citizens to third countries, for example Germany.

While in my opinion it is wrong for the EU to use security and serious crime as a political football I am confident pressure will be put on the EU by the Member States and its security services and policing agencies to maintain close cooperation with the UK. As I said the UK is not leaving Europe, it is leaving the EU and the EU is not Europe. Should the EU maintain a hard line on these issues I think the biggest loser with be the citizens of the remaining 27 member States.

Sputnik logo

I discuss these issues in greater detail in my interview with Radio Sputnik

 

Does the UK need to introduce more anti-terrorism powers to its police and security services?

CONTEST 1

 

On the 22nd April a 120 page draft report of the UK Government’s new terror strategy was passed onto journalists at the Sunday Times that in essence contains proposed amendments to the UK’s anti-terrorism policy CONTEST and a proposed counter-terrorism Bill.

 

In relation to the Bill, the proposals revealed include:

 

1.       People convicted of terrorism offences receive longer sentences;

2.       Police and security services to be given the power to warn government departments, Scottish and Welsh politicians and local authorities of individuals they consider suspicious, even before they have been placed on the MI5 watch list.

 

Other proposals include:

 

1.       Increased security at sporting events and concerts;

2.       Focus on detecting ‘British jihadi’ trying to get work at airports;

3.       Improve the detections of terrorist activity involving chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive material.

 

In relation to the Prevent strand of CONTEST, which is the pre-criminal strategy to help those who are vulnerable to being drawn towards terrorism, the proposals call for more focus on communities where the threat form terrorism and radicalisation is the highest. The report says the existing Prevent strategy has been divisive, with the UK’s Muslim community saying they have been unfairly singled out.

MI5 logo

 

The potential problems the UK government face in successfully introducing these proposals includes giving the police and security services the power to warn other government departments of individuals they consider suspicious. In May 2017 it was reported that over 3,500 potential terrorists are being monitored. It will be interesting when the details are published how the UK Government is going to support the police and the security services in carrying out this task. It is proposed to increase the number of staff in the security services by 1,900 by 2020. When this was first proposed, this was to help the services deal with their current workload. Since 2010 the austerity cuts on the police has seen the number of officers in England and Wales reduced by 21,000. The policing role that has suffered the most from these cuts is neighbourhood policing (community policing), which is a key role in acting as a conduit between the public and the police, and that includes receiving information and intelligence from the community. While there has been no reduction in counter-terrorism policing, there has not been an increase in its resources either as their workload increases. Although 13 major terrorist attacks were prevented in the UK since March 2017, as seen in the 2017 attacks that were successful, it is difficult to monitor all the intelligence systems, so to meet these proposals there will have to be an increase in police staffing and funding.

prevent logo

 

The second issue worth considering is the focusing on communities where the threat of terrorism and radicalisation is highest. Although the report acknowledges the existing Prevent strategy has been divisive, something I have pointed out in the past, this is because when it was introduced, it focused solely on the violent Islamist narrative. Since 2011, the strategy considers all forms of extremism, a message that has not successfully been communicated by the Home Office. Here is the issue regarding this proposal, who are these communities? If the language used over the last few months by the current Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, is taken into consideration it appears the communities she is referring to are the Muslim communities. Figures released by the Home Office in March 2018 reveal that out of the 6,093 referred to prevent over a third of those referrals were as a result of far right concerns. Let us not forget that the UK has witnessed a number of attacks carried out under the influence of the far right narrative that have resulted in murder, including the assassination of a British MP in June 2016 by Thomas Mair (something the Islamists have not carried out). Which communities will be monitored in relation to far right terrorism?

 

UK police and security services already have some of the widest powers under terrorism related legislation among the Western states, so it is questionable if further powers are needed. In relation to Prevent, it does need re-marketing. While not perfect, the strategy does have many successes and is a vital strand of CONTEST that requires as much support as possible both in resources and marketing. I know that the Home Office is looking to introduce a separate Prevent website that is more user friendly and interactive. With all the recent good work done in Prevent, it is important that these proposals do not return to focusing solely on the UK’s Muslim communities thereby making them suspect communities. All forms of extremism are potentially dangerous and the community that should work together is the whole of UK society, not just one or two minority communities.

Sputnik logo

 

I discussed this in more details on my interview with Sputnik Radio, which you can listen to on the link

 

Terrorist Incident in Trebes France

Trebes

In relation to Islamist inspired terrorist attacks it has been relatively quiet in Europe over the past few months but once more France has suffered another tragic attack where it is reported that three people have been killed.

The gunman, who has not been named but is believed to be a Moroccan, has been shot and killed by the French police. The incident started in Carcassone where the gunman hijacked a car killing the passenger and injuring the driver. En route to the supermarket in Trebes he shot a wounded a police officer who was jogging. Reported to be heavily armed, the gunman entered the supermarket in Trebes taking staff and shoppers hostage.

salah abdeslam

It is reported that the gunman had pledged allegiance to Islamic State and demanded the release of Salah Abdeslam who was involved in the November 2015 Paris attacks and who was recently convicted of terrorist offences linked to those attacks. Although more information has yet to be released, it does appear that once more we have witnessed another tragic act of terrorism committed by a person who has been inspired by the Islamist narrative of the group Islamic State rather than acting under direct orders of the group. While Islamic State have lost control of key territory in Syria/Iraq and Libya, this incident reveals how potent the narrative of Islamic State still is in influencing the vulnerable and inspiring people to carry out acts of violence in the group’s name. Their media activities via electronic communications has not decreased and this attack should put us all on notice of the potential threat Islamist groups still pose to Western states’ security.

ACT Campaign

We can all play our part by passing information of activity we think is suspicious to the police and in the UK this is part of the current ACT  Campaign Action Counters Terrorism) where if you are suspicious where you can either call 0800 789 321 or compete an online form.

radio scotland logo

I will be discussing this incident in more detail on BBC Radio Scotland just after 6pm (GMT) today.