Author: Paul Burke
The historical context of the UK’s counter-terrorism legislation is derived in large part from the problems of Irish and Northern Irish terrorism. The problem can be traced back beyond “the Troubles” of 1969-1997, even beyond the Anglo-Irish war of 1919-21, the Home Rule Bills and the Government of Ireland Act (1920). The roots of the conflict can arguably be said to lie in the awarding of land to settlers from England and Scotland, in what was known as the Plantation of Ulster. The resulting tensions from this led to the Eleven Years War (1641-1653) and the Williamite War (1689-91), which included the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, still commemorated every year by unionists. A more pragmatic start point, however, is the expansion of the Troubles in the early 1970s allied with the associated bombing campaign that came with it.
The “Birmingham pub bombings” on 21 November 1974, resulted in 21 deaths and 182 people injured when two bombs were detonated in two public houses (Walker, 1992, pp. 31–32). Only four days after the bombings, the Home Secretary announced that the Irish Republican Army, the prime suspect for the attacks, was to be proscribed. Less than one week after the attacks, a new piece of legislation was announced, the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Bill. The severity of the loss of life in the pub bombings was the main driver for the Bill, which became law two days after the Bill was introduced.
One of the provisions of the Act allowed the Police to detain and question terrorist suspects for upto seven days. This legislation, like much of the legislation brought in to counter the specific problem of Northern Irish terrorism, was a temporary measure, designed as “emergency legislation”, which meant that it required annual renewal. The Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1973 was re-written on three subsequent occasions (1976, 1984 and 1989) and was annually renewed as “emergency powers” legislation until it was finally replaced by the Terrorism Act, 2000 (Parliament, 2000).
Other extraordinary measures were introduced in Northern Ireland, with varying degrees of success in combating the problem of terrorism. One associated problem with the rise in terrorism was the concern about the potential for intimidation of juries dealing with terrorism cases in Northern Ireland. A drastic solution was introduced to counter this problem – the so-called “Diplock Courts”(Arthur & Jeffrey, 1996). Instead of the traditional use of a jury plus a Judge, the Diplock courts instead employed the services of single Judge to hear the initial case. Any further hearings or appeals were subsequently heard by a panel of three Judges. The decision on whether to try a terrorist case before a jury, or in a Diplock court, rested with the Attorney General’s office, which had the final say (Rasnic, 1999, pp. 244–246). The Diplock courts were a very unusual, legal departure for the UK’s justice system as the necessity for the jury system to safeguard the legal process is an important one in English law. Baroness Harris of Richmond articulated this concern in 2009, saying that “…jury trials are inexorably linked to the common law system in legislation, so non-jury trials undermine this principle and weaken public confidence in the justice system…” (Jacobs, 2010, p. 655, citing Baroness Harris in 2009).
Another controversial legislative instrument employed in Northern Ireland was the introduction of internment without trial. Introduced in 1971 to combat the rise in terrorist violence, the measure was initially legislated for in the Special Powers Act (Northern Ireland House of Commons, 1922). The use of internment was now new to Northern Ireland, having been used on three previous occasions during the 20th Century, in 1921-1924, 1938-1945 and 1956-1961 (McGuffin, 1973, pp. 62–78) but the introduction of it in 1971 was highly controversial and it led to fresh outbreaks of internecine violence between the Catholic and Protestant communities.
Internment had been used as a military tactic by the British Army in the colonial wars following the end of the Second World War, such as the Malayan Emergency, the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya, and the EOKA campaign by Greek nationalists in Cyprus. The use of internment as a counter-terrorism tool was strongly favoured by Brigadier Frank Kitson, then Commander of 39 Airportable Brigade in Belfast, and a veteran of the three campaigns in Kenya, Malaya and Cyprus. His seminal book “Low Intensity Operations” was published in the middle of his tour as Brigade Commander (Kitson, 1971), and recommended the use of covert operations (1971, p. 100), special forces units, psychological operations (1971, p. 79) and “control of the population” (1971, p. 72) to defeat an insurgency in a low-intensity environment. Internment was less suited to the urban, first-world environment of Northern Ireland than to the jungles of Malaya and it was not widely supported by senior British military officers, who believed it would be counter-productive (Neumann, 2003, p. 98). The average length of detention under internment was around six weeks, in April 1973. Just over one year later, this had increased to an average of six months (Northern Ireland Office, 1975, para. 155), and resulted in the Republican movement receiving more sympathy from the local population, even from sections of the population who did not necessarily support their cause or their methods (Neumann, 2003, p. 98). The use of internment was not an overall success. The tactic generated considerable sympathy among Irish-Americans in particular, who generated a great deal of support (Arthur & Jeffrey, 1996). It also strengthened the belief in the cause, for those who were already committed to it when interned, and it helped to radicalise those who were wrongly interned (Cunningham, 2001).
In 1998, the government commissioned Lord Lloyd of Berwick to produce a paper on terrorism legislation, with the aim of replacing the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989 and the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1996 with permanent legislation that would provide full, UK-wide counter-terrorism provisions. The consultation came at a critical time, as the Good Friday Agreement had already been signed, which effectively ended the violence in Northern Ireland, yet at the same time the more ephemeral problem of international terrorism was a clear concern to the British government.
Based on Lord Lloyd’s report, the government published its consultation paper in December 1998, and it recognised the need to replace a portfolio of largely emergency legislation, primarily aimed at Northern Irish terrorism, with more permanent legislation which could deal with equally with all forms of terrorism, regardless of whence the threat came. The report noted that “although the current counter-terrorist legislation was designed initially to deal with the threat from Irish terrorism, much of it has been extended so that it now applies equally to international terrorism” (Lloyd, 1998, para. 1.2).
The consultation paper, and Lloyd’s assessments, drove the contemporary thinking on terrorism forward in a number of ways. It highlighted the fact that, in a post-Good Friday Agreement environment, terrorism needed to be considered as more than primarily a Northern Irish problem. It acknowledged that the contemporaneous definition of terrorism, as provided for in PTA, needed to be updated to embrace a wider threat which included “domestic (as well as Irish and international) terrorism” (Lloyd, 1998, Chapter 3).
Lloyd posited that the difference between domestic and international terrorism was insufficient to require separate definitions and legislative instruments to deal with them, as he considered that “the perpetrators use many of the same methods and inspire the same fear in those caught up in, or affected by, their activities” (Lloyd, 1998, sec. 3.5). He therefore considered that the Police should be able to use the same legislative powers to combat all forms of terrorism, regardless of whether it was domestic, Northern Irish or international by nature, and he pressed for a suitable definition which would encapsulate this sufficiently. The result of this consultation was the introduction of the Terrorism Act, 2000. The Act was a watershed piece of legislation in the UK’s approach to defining, and dealing with, terrorist offences.
At the strategic level, threats to the UK are identified in the government’s National Security Strategy. The National Security Strategy of 2015 (HM Government, 2015b, sec. 1.10-1.14) set out three primary objectives, prior to identifying and assessing any threats to the UK:
- “to protect our people – at home, in our Overseas Territories and abroad, and to protect our territory, economic security, infrastructure and way of life.
- to project our global influence – reducing the likelihood of threats materialising and affecting the UK, our interests, and those of our allies and partners.
- to promote our prosperity – seizing opportunities, working innovatively and supporting UK industry”.
It also identified four challenges (HM Government, 2015b, sec. 3.3) which were expected to drive the UK’s security priorities over the next decade:
- “The increasing threat posed by terrorism, extremism and instability.
- The resurgence of state-based threats; and intensifying wider state competition.
- The impact of technology, especially cyber threats; and wider technological developments.
- The erosion of the rules-based international order, making it harder to build consensus and tackle global threats”.
The NSS includes terrorism and extremism in the same threat category, including a number of component threats. Islamist terrorism is identified as the first threat, which includes the activities of ISIL/ISIS/so-call Islamic State. The associated threat of foreign fighters is also noted, with the assessment that by 2015, around 800 British nationals had travelled to Syria to participate in the fighting, half of whom had returned to UK, bringing with them an increased threat of terrorist actions carried out by returnees from the fighting.
The changing vector of terrorist attack methods was also noted, covering the spectrum from recent attacks using knives, through to the more complex terrorist operations using multiple attackers equipped with firearms and explosives. The assessment considers that the continued targeting of the aviation sector is not likely to diminish in the near future, and it reiterates that AQ, so-called Islamic state and others will continue their efforts to obtain CBRN materials (HM Government, 2015b, sec. 3.5-3.7).
The use of the internet and social media is highlighted as a key driver for the propagation of terrorist and extremist propaganda and for recruitment purposes. The NSS considers that future attacks may be more difficult to interdict, due to the use of encryption tools by terrorists making it more difficult to track, investigate and thwart a group’s attack planning. It also raises some of the difficulties involved when investigating terrorist plots emanating from foreign countries which may lack the necessary skills to investigate terrorist groups, or which may have lower standards of human rights compliance, when investigating terrorism cases (HM Government, 2015b, sec. 3.8). Northern Irish terrorism persists on the UK threat radar, primarily from dissident Irish Republican groups (HM Government, 2015b, sec. 3.10).
Using Syria and Iraq as examples, the NSS explains how wide-scale, regional instability can assist terrorist groups, which exploit the resulting security and governance vacuum for their own purposes. While not explicitly linking the problems caused by mass migration with the issue of terrorism, it is clear form recent attacks that increased vigilance is required in securing national borders at immigration control points, to assist in the fight against terrorism (HM Government, 2015b, sec. 3.11-3.15).
The linkages between terrorism on the one hand, and serious and organised crime on the other hand, cannot easily be bifurcated as organised crime groups often act as a supply chain (with varying degrees of awareness of this fact), providing services such as facilitating the illicit movement of people and goods across borders. Likewise, the threats derived from money-laundering intersect across both terrorism and criminality and cannot be tackled using an isolated policy focused on one or the other (HM Government, 2015b, sec. 3.14-3.15). The cyber-threat is not excluded as a terrorist threat, but the larger-scale, sophisticated hacking attacks seen previously have almost certainly been conducted by state-sponsored or state-controlled groups, so the cyber-threat is considered more extensively as a state-sponsored threat (HM Government, 2015, sec. 3.26).
A selection of previous terrorist attacks is provided below, but due to space considerations, this list is only a sample.
188.8.131.52 Irish Republican attacks
From the 1970s through to 2001, the majority of terrorist attacks committed in the UK were a result of Northern Irish terrorism. Several of these attacks were of the scale deemed “spectaculars” by the Intelligence community. A bomb attack in 1994 targeted the Conservative Party annual conference, with the aim of killing the sitting Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. Five people were killed, including a Member of Parliament. A bomb attack in Manchester city centre in 1996 caused $700 million in damage, but surprisingly, nobody was killed in the attack. The 1992 bombing of the Baltic Exchange in the City of London caused around $800 million damage to property and three people were killed in the blast.
Following the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, terrorist activity by the IRA rapidly dwindled and in July 2005, a formal announcement was made by the IRA, declaring the end to its military campaign. This was followed in June 2009 by an announcement from the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), confirming that it had fully decommissioned its military capability.
Northern Irish terrorist acts by dissident and breakaway groups still continued, but on a much smaller and less professional scale, such as the firing of an RPG rocket at the headquarters of SIS in 2000. This attack was carried out by the “Real IRA” (or RIRA), who disagreed with the peace process and the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. Previous attacks by RIRA, before the ceasefire, had caused large numbers of casualties, such as the Omagh bombing in 1998, which killed 29 people and injured 220 others.
184.108.40.206 London suicide bombings, 07 July 2005
The deadliest terrorist attack against the UK took place in London in July 2005, when four coordinated suicide attacks were conducted by Islamist terrorists who targeted the London Transport network. The coordinated attacks targeted three London Underground trains and one London bus, during the morning rush-hour. In addition to the four attackers, 52 people were killed in the attacks and a further 784 people were injured (Parliament, 2006a, pp. 1–6). A martyrdom video recorded by the leader of the group, Mohammed Siddique Khan (MSK), was released shortly after the attacks, confirming his (and the group’s) allegiance to the Al Qa’eda group, and to Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab Al Zarqawi and Ayman Al Zawahiri (Parliament, 2006a, p. 12).
Two weeks after these bomb attacks, another series of almost identical suicide attacks was attempted by another Islamist terrorist cell, again targeting the London transport network. The attacks failed, due to failures in the detonators and also due to the organic compound used in the manufacture of the explosive substance in the devices (Crown Prosecution Service, 2007a). Another massive Police operation was launched (Operation VIVACE) to identify and apprehend the bombers, who were arrested, successfully prosecuted and sentenced to long prison terms.
220.127.116.11 Attempted bombings in London and Glasgow, 2007
On 29 June 2007, two car bombs were planted in central London by Bilal Abdullah and Kafeel Ahmed. The improvised devices were configured to detonate a mixture of petrol, gas cylinders and nails, but they did not explode and both devices were recovered intact for forensic examination. Following the failed attempt in London, both men then drove to Scotland and configured another vehicle as a car bomb, before driving it to Glasgow airport to attempt a ramming attack on the passenger terminal. The vehicle impacted security bollards, which prevented it from continuing into the passenger terminal, although the cabin of the vehicle caught fire. Ahmed was arrested and treated for 90% burns but died of his injuries four weeks later. Abdullah was also arrested, and following the Police investigation into both attacks (Operation SEAGRAM) subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum of 32 years (Crown Prosecution Service, 2008).
18.104.22.168 Murder of Fusilier Rigby, 2013
On 22 May 2013, a British Army soldier, Fusilier Lee Rigby, was returning home from his work at an Army Recruiting Office in London when he was attacked by Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale. The pair drove their car at Rigby, hitting him at a speed between 30-40mph, before getting out of the car and continuing their attack against the injured soldier, using a meat cleaver and knives (Intelligence & Security Committee, 2014, p. 1). They then dragged his body into the road and told passers-by that the attack was in revenge for British involvement in military action in Afghanistan and elsewhere (Whitehead, 2013). Adebolajo had become known to the Security Service through a number of operations (Operations BEECH, CEDAR, DOGWOOD, ELM and ASH) before the attack. Adebowale was also the target of two separate Security Service investigations (Operation FIR and GUM) that focused on possible links between UK-based individuals believed to have an interest in media with an extremist content. Both attackers were convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment, Adebolajo receiving a “whole life order” with no possibility of parole, and Adebowale receiving a minimum term of 45 years.
22.214.171.124 Leytonstone Tube Station attack
In December 2015, Muhaydin Mire entered the Tube station at Leytonstone and attacked an innocent passenger, beating him unconscious before stabbing him and cutting his neck with a knife. During the attack, Mire shouted that he was carrying it out “for Syria”. After being subdued by Police officers with Tasers, Mire was arrested and charged with attempted murder, and was sentenced to life imprisonment in a secure hospital unit (Dodd & Addley, 2016). The attack was classed as a terrorist attack in the immediate aftermath, although Scotland Yard’s Head of Counter-Terrorism stated after the sentencing that he no longer classed it as a terrorist attack, as Mire was suffering from mental illness (Dodd & Addley, 2016). The incident highlighted the vulnerability of mentally ill individuals to recruitment by Islamist groups, and also showed the vulnerability of civil society to “lone wolf” attacks.
126.96.36.199 Westminster attack
On 22 March 2017, Khalid Masood drove his car onto the pavement of Westminster bridge at an assessed speed of 75mph in a deliberate and targeted attack upon pedestrians, which killed four innocent bystanders and injured more than fifty others (BBC, 2017). Masood’s car finally crashed into security railings outside the Houses of Parliament, and Masood exited the vehicle and ran into the entrance to Parliament, where he fatally stabbed PC Keith Palmer, a Police officer serving with the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command (Metropolitan Police, 2017). Masood was then shot by an armed Police officer and died at the scene of the stabbing.
A subsequent Police investigation (Operation CLASSIFIC) is ongoing at the time of writing. Masood is known to have used the WhatsApp messaging tool minutes before the attack started, but as the platform uses end-to-end encryption, the Police are currently unable to access the contents of his communications using the WhatsApp tool. The UK Home Secretary confirmed during an interview after the attacks, that the UK Government is now considering the introduction of new legislation which would force companies such as Google, Facebook and other online content providers to remove extremist or terrorist material from their websites (Rayner, 2017; Sparrow, 2017). The attack has re-ignited the debate in the UK, between the rights to individual digital privacy and the necessity for the Police and Security Service to have access to the encrypted communications of suspected terrorists, subject to the necessary warrants being in place.
188.8.131.52 Single-Issue Terrorism
While the threat of Islamist terrorism is currently the most serious for the UK, other forms of terrorism also present a threat. In 2007, a series of postal bombs were mailed, over a three-week period, to a wide range of individuals and bodies connected to the testing of DNA, or to road transportation. Three weeks later, a Police investigation (Operation HANSEL) led to the arrest of Miles Cooper, who later claimed at his trial that the bombs were sent to highlight what he considered to be the rise of the surveillance society (BBC, 2007). Cooper was convicted on 11 counts and received an indeterminate sentence.
184.108.40.206 Right-Wing Terrorism
There have been several high-profile terrorist attacks by extreme right-wing individuals in the UK, and the threat of extreme right-wing terrorism has not disappeared, with some politicians believing that it has been insufficiently considered as a realistic threat under the PREVENT strategy (House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, 2012). In 1999, David Copeland conducted a series of nail-bomb attacks in London, targeting the black, Bangladeshi and gay communities. His attacks killed three people and injured over 100 more, and were aimed at starting a race war to encourage people to vote for far-right political parties (Gable G & Jackson P, 2011, pp. 23–68). He was convicted of murder and sentenced to six life-terms.
Pavlo Lapshyn was a Ukrainian student on an exchange visit to the UK in 2013 when he murdered an 82-year old Muslim man who was walking home from his mosque in Birmingham. Several weeks later, he attempted bombing attacks against three mosques, with the aim of exploding the devices during the busiest period of Friday prayers. Due to his miscalculation of the prayer times, Lapshyn set the devices to go off at a time when there no prayers ongoing. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum of 40 years. In 2015, a serving Member of Parliament, Jo Cox, was shot and stabbed to death by a right-wing extremist, Thomas Mair. Known to hold extreme right-wing views, Mair was convicted of murder and other offences, and received a whole life sentence at his trial.
The problem of radicalisation has become more widespread since the 11 September attacks against the USA, and it has been significantly facilitated by the pervasive and instantaneous nature of the internet. There are, of course, other drivers for radicalisation which do not depend on the internet and in an always-on society, this can easily be overlooked. Prisons are a recognised source of radicalisation whether by Islamists, extreme right-wingers or otherwise. The closed nature of the sub-culture of prisons reinforces the pressures created by incarceration, and magnifies conflicts such as those based on race, religion, colour, sexual orientation and other similar factors. In 2009, a report published by the Quilliam Foundation highlighted the risks of radicalisation in British prisons. The report focused on identified four individuals who were considered to have been radicalised during their incarceration in prison, and who were subsequently convicted and imprisoned for offences of terrorism (Brandon, 2009, p. 14).
Muktar Sa’id Ibrahim was the leader of the cell that undertook the abortive 21 July 2005 attacks in London, two weeks after the 07 July attacks. As a teenager, Ibrahim became known to the Police when he was convicted of indecent assault while only 15. At the age of 17, he had two more robberies behind him and he was eventually convicted and served five years of a sentence at Feltham Young Offenders Institution & Remand Centre, for his part in a gang-related assault. Following a similar path to Reid, Ibrahim started visiting the Finsbury Park Mosque, where he attended sermons given by the radical Islamist preacher Abu Hamza Al Masri, who would later be convicted of terrorism offences in the UK and the USA. There is speculation in the Intelligence community that Ibrahim met the leader of the 07 July suicide bombings, Mohammed Siddique Khan, while Ibrahim was visiting Pakistan in 2004. Ibrahim was convicted of conspiracy to murder for his part in the attempted 21 July bombings and was jailed for life with a minimum tariff of 40 years (CPS, 2007). It is assessed that he was radicalised in prison, in a similar way to Richard Reid, the so-called “shoe bomber (BBC, 2005).
The number of agencies, departments and bodies with an involvement in UK counter-terrorism is considerable, as shown in the list below:
- Attorney General’s office
- The National Security Secretariat
- Joint Intelligence Organisation
- National Security Council
- Joint Intelligence Committee
- Border Force
- Cabinet Office
- Centre for the Protection of Critical Infrastructure (CPNI)
- Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ)
- Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO)
- HM Treasury
- Home Office
- Office for Security & Counter-Terrorism (OSCT)
- Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation
- Ministry of Defence (MOD)
- Ministry of Justice (MOJ)
- National Counter-Terrorism Security Office (NCTSO)
- Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service (HMPPS), previously the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), which was replaced by HMPPS in 01 April 2017)
- Northern Ireland Office (NIO)
- Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation
- Office of Surveillance Commissioners (OSC)
- Investigatory Powers Commissioner (IPC) (newly established on 03 March 2017)
- Office for Standards in Education, Childrens’ Services and Skills (Ofsted)
- Prime Minister’s Office
- Technical Advisory Board
- Security Service (MI5)
- Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, also known as MI6)
- Intelligence & Security Committee (ISC)
- Counter-Terrorism Units (CTUs)
- Counter-Terrorism Advisers (CTAs)
- Counter-Terrorism Command (SO15 or CTC)
- Joint Unit for International Counter-Terrorism Strategy (FCO/Home Office)
- HM Armed Forces
- Police (including British Transport Police, Civil Nuclear Constabulary, MOD Police and others)
- Defence Intelligence (DI)
A small number of these bodies set policy, while others collect and produce Intelligence as a core function, and a large number of them are more generally involved in the wider CT landscape, such as in emergency planning, infrastructure protection, counter-radicalisation, etc. In the event of a major terrorist attack, other agencies and stakeholders can be co-opted into the post-attack recovery phase. At first glance, the above list appears to be a long and disparate one, and it is not a definitive one, but all of these stakeholder bodies are integral components of a national strategy called CONTEST.
Since its inception in 2003, CONTEST (COuNter-TErrorism STrategy) has been the UK’s national-level counter-terrorism strategy. The updated strategy launched in 2006 was a direct response to the suicide bombing attacks against the London transport network in July 2005. CONTEST was “refreshed” in March 2009, and again in July 2011. The aim of the current version (2011) is to “…reduce the risk to the UK and its interests overseas from terrorism, so that people can go about their lives freely and with confidence” (Home Office, 2011, para. 1.02).
The UK has traditionally divided the threat of terrorism (as well as other threats such as espionage, subversion, etc.) on a “domestic versus overseas” approach, with the Security Service and the Police having primacy for domestic threats and SIS having primacy for overseas issues. As the nature of global or international terrorism has morphed, the distinction between these two spheres is not as clear as it once was. The complexity of a trans-national threat is now more common. A group of foreign nationals may be based in another country such as Somalia, and may be actively engaged in plotting an attack in the UK, facilitated by supporters of the group who are living in the UK. Similarly, a UK national may still be located in the UK but planning to travel abroad to undertake terrorist training, followed by an attack overseas. The previous responsibilities for tackling domestic and overseas terrorist threats has resulted in a much closer degree of collaboration between SIS, GCHQ, the Security Service and the Police.
In operational terms, the bulk of UK counter-terrorism work still falls to the three primary Intelligence agencies (SIS, Security Service and GCHQ) and to specialist Police elements such as Counter-Terrorism Command (CTC, also known as SO15) of the Metropolitan Police Service, and the regional Counter-Terrorism Units (CTUs). The Security Service leads on countering the terrorist threat to the UK, and it’s mission statement describes its responsibilities as including “…protecting the UK against threats to national security from espionage, terrorism and sabotage…” (Security Service, 2011). It is legislated by the Security Service Act 1989 (Parliament, 1989). In UK counter-terrorism, officers from the Security Service work very closely with the Police. Security Service officers have no powers of arrest and no executive powers, but they traditionally work very closely with the UK Police.
There are nine regional CTUs in the UK and these combine Security Service officers with specialist Police staff such as detectives, financial investigators, community contact teams, intelligence analysts, forensic specialists and high-tech investigators (West Yorkshire Police, 2017). The CTUs deliver added value through this regional partnership of Police and Security Service officers, allowing them to deliver a more coordinated response to terrorist threats, while also being able to supply more specialist advice and in counter-terrorism to the police forces in their region.
Overseas, the majority of counter-terrorism work still falls to SIS, which works in cooperation with other UK and foreign agencies to collect sensitive Intelligence (primarily HUMINT and SIGINT) on a range of targets including international terrorism. SIS is also responsible for mounting covert operations overseas in support of counter-terrorism and national security. The agency also has a very highly developed capability for technical Intelligence collection. The primary instrument legislating SIS is the Intelligence Services Act (ISA) 1994 (Parliament, 1994). Its responsibilities include “… acting secretly overseas… by obtaining secret intelligence…operating overseas to disrupt terrorism and proliferation and helping to prevent and resolve conflict…” (SIS, 2011).
The third primary agency is GCHQ, which supports counter-terrorism primarily through Signals Intelligence (SIGINT). One of the agency’s two primary roles is to conduct SIGINT operations in support of UK national security and the economic well-being of the UK, as well as supporting the operational capacity of the UK Armed Forces and the UK Law Enforcement community. Like SIS, GCHQ is also regulated by the Intelligence Services Act.
Although not a collection body, the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) is a key partner of the three primary agencies. The newest component of the UK’s intelligence machinery, it was created in 2003, and its role is to analyse and assess “all intelligence relating to international terrorism, at home and overseas” (Security Service, 2015). JTAC sets threat levels for the UK, and issues threat warnings on terrorism, and it produces in-depth reports on trends, networks and capabilities of terrorist groups. The formation of JTAC brought a unique and unprecedented ability for inter-agency collaboration in UK counter-terrorism, as it allowed all of the key Intelligence and law enforcement agencies, together with the relevant departments and ministries, to be co-located in a single workspace. More importantly, each agency brings its own IT systems that allow for Intelligence sharing, all-source fusion and multi-agency assessments all to be conducted in real-time.
Another of JTAC’s unique attributes is the ability to rapidly add “bolt-on” sections to the core body of 16 agencies and departments, in the event of a crisis. The terrorist attacks against the London transport network in 2005 were one example of when this additional capability was very quickly deployed, with staff from agencies not traditionally involved in counter-terrorism being brought into the post-attack phase, in order to assist with critical areas such as traffic management, coordination of medical support and communications management.
Different countries adopt different approaches to counter-terrorism legislation. The UK intends its various legislative instruments to criminalise terrorism offences (whether these are “prior acts” such as preparation or glorification, non-disclosure (failure to notify the Police, despite knowing about the terrorist intentions or offences of others) or actual attempts to commit terrorist acts) sufficiently that such offences can be tried, whenever possible, as standard criminal offences. The following is a selection of the most important legislative instruments that the UK employs in the fight against terrorism.
Pre-dating the 11 September attacks by a year, the enactment of the Terrorism Act (2000) was designed to cover a wide range of terrorist offences, both domestic and international (Parliament, 2000). Designed with much of Lord Lloyd’s comments in mind from his review of terrorism legislation, the Act was designed to cover a much wider sphere of terrorism than its predecessor, the Prevention of Terrorism Act. One of the Act’s primary powers was the comprehensive proscription of named groups or organisations (Parliament, 2000, sec. 3). The Act also provided for the power of arrest on suspicion of terrorism, without an actual warrant and to detain a suspect for a maximum pre-charge period of 7 days (Parliament, 2000, sch. 8). Clearly, these provisions were throwbacks to the terrorism encountered during the Troubles, but the Act also introduced new offences, such as seeking or providing terrorism training, in the UK or overseas (Parliament, 2000, sec. 54); the provision of training and/or instruction in weapons, covering the whole range from handguns through to nuclear weapons (Parliament, 2000, sec. 55); inciting terrorism (Parliament, 2000, secs. 59-61).
After Al Qa’eda’s 11 September attacks against the USA, Parliament passed the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act of 2001 (ACTSA 2001) (Parliament 2001). One of the Act’s provisions was for the (potentially) indefinite detention of suspected foreign terrorists without charge, in the instance that it was not possible to deport such suspects for legal reasons, despite them having been identified as constituting a clear terrorist threat to the UK, or in the event that they could not be tried due to the limitations on the use of secret Intelligence in the trial. The main reason that would prevent such a deportation was a situation wherein the UK government reasonably believed that any such suspect could face torture or the death penalty if deported to their home country.
In 2004, the Law Lords ruled that a group of detainees being held in Her Majesty’s Prison (HMP) Belmarsh was unlawful. The Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) 2005 introduced a measure called a “control order”, defined by the Act as “an order against an individual that imposes obligations on him for purposes connected with protecting members of the public” (Parliament, 2005, sec. 2.1). There was criticism that the imposition of control orders constituted a derogation from Human Rights legislation (Casciani, 2017) and part of the Act was found to be incompatible with the right to a fair trial, resulting in the Act being repealed in 2011 and replaced with the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act of 2011 (Parliament, 2011).
The Bill generated controversy in the UK for the duration of its passage between the House of Commons and the House of Lords, in part because of the plan to provide for a pre-charge detention period of 90 days for terrorist suspects. This was a significant increase over and above the pre-charge detention period authorized by the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (Parliament, 2003), which only provided for a maximum period of 14 days’ pre-charge detention. The Bill was rejected a total of five times by the House of Lords before it was finally passed in amended form (BBC, 2006).
After the 2005 suicide bombing attacks the London transport network, the government was faced with a number of high-profile and widely-reported public displays of support for the bombers. The introduction of the Terrorism Act 2006 was mostly aimed at disrupting the ability for terrorist groups to recruit, train (and deploy) supporters for terrorist purposes. The Act brought in new offences, such as the “glorification” offence (covering “any form of praise or celebration” of “the commission or preparation of (terrorist) acts” and carrying a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment (Parliament, 2006, sub-secs. 20-21). Also criminalised were the dissemination of terrorist publications (covering the distribution, sale, load, transmission or possession of terrorist publications (Parliament, 2006b, sec. 2)), and the providing or receiving of training in terrorist techniques (Parliament, 2006b, sec. 6,8).
The powers of the Police to detain terrorist suspects without charge were extended from 14 days to 28 days (Parliament, 2006b, sec. 23), mainly due to concerns about the ability of the Police to process massive volumes of evidence before being able to charge a suspect. The Police investigation (Operation THESEUS) into the London suicide bombings on 07 July 2005 was conducted on a massive scale. By the time the Government’s report on the official account of the bombings was released, ten months later, the Police had collected 12,500 statements from the public, amassed more than 26,000 exhibits, seized 142 computers and collated more than 6,000 hours of CCTV footage for detailed examination.
The draft Bill preceding the Act had planned for a maximum pre-charge detention period of 90 days, but concerns among Members of Parliament resulted in this being defeated in a House of Commons vote. The glorification offence also attracted criticism, as it was seen by some civil rights figures as an attack against freedom of speech (Tempest, 2006) but the proposals were roundly supported by the public. A YouGov poll showed that 72% of respondents supported a 90-day pre-charge detention period, while only 16% supported the 28-day period (Wintour, 2005).
In January 2007, a large-scale Police operation took place to arrest nine people suspected of planning a terrorist action in the UK. The arrests were the result of a 6-month investigation and surveillance operation (Operation GAMBLE) against the group who planned to kidnap, torture and behead a Muslim member of the UK’s Armed Forces. Five of the group were subsequently convicted and sentenced to imprisonment (Crown Prosecution Service, 2016). The following year, the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 was passed, which created a new offence of eliciting, or attempting to elicit, information about members of the Armed Forces, a member of any of the intelligence services, or a constable, which would be of use to someone preparing to commit acts of terrorism (Parliament, 2008, sec. 76).
The original Bill of this Act was a second attempt to extend the pre-charge detention period, this time to 42 days, but the provision was eventually dropped from the Bill. The same concerns were voiced about the 42-days proposal as for the 90-days proposal for pre-charge detention. The Government Independent Reviewer of Terrorism supported the proposal, emphasising that he did want to be forced to amend existing terrorist legislation in the aftermath of any terrorist attack, adding that he believed the 42-day detention period would only affect “maybe five or six people in the next four or five years” (Hansard & Page, 2008, col. 506).
This legislation was designed to allow for the government to impose restrictions on individuals who “pose a real terrorist threat, but whom we cannot prosecute or, in the case of foreign nationals, deport” (Home Office, 2016). Some foreign nationals cannot be deported under UK law, due to concerns about the treatment they may receive if deported to their home countries. The TPIM Act repealed the previous tool of Control Orders, which attracted criticism for their restrictions on freedoms, and instead introduced a more targeted system with a higher threshold for the imposition of a TPIM. The TPIM also has a finite limit of 2 years, which can only be extended if the individual has re-engaged in terrorist activities during the period in which they are subject to the conditions of a TPIM.
Measures available in the imposition of a TPIM can include electronic tagging, financial restrictions and complying with requirements to regularly report one’s location to the Police. Unlike the previous Control Orders, which could deny someone the ability to use the internet, a TPIM permits the use of a mobile phone, a landline phone and the internet. By June 2015 (the latest date for which data is available), a total of ten people were subject to TPIMs.
While TPIMs were introduced partly to attempt to redress the balance between deprivation of freedoms and the need to ensure public safety, there is also criticism of the TPIMs regime being too lenient and being nothing more than a “Control Order lite” (Travis, 2012). Two absconders, Ibrahim Magag and Mohammed Ahmed Mohammed, brought fresh criticism of TPIMs being too lenient. One of the absconders, Mohammed, entered a mosque in West London, illegally removed his tracking tag, donned a burqa, and escaped (BBC, 2013).
In large part, the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (CTSA 2015) was introduced to counter the problem of citizens from the UK travelling to Syria and Iraq to fight for, or support, the so-called Islamic state. Travel restrictions introduced in the legislation permitted the authorities to prevent the travel of anyone suspected of involvement in terrorism, by seizing their passport (Parliament, 2015, sec. 1). The Act also provided for the power to temporarily bar the ability of someone to enter the UK, through the use of an exclusion order (Parliament, 2015, secs. 2-4).
Internet Service Providers were also mandated to retain more data than previously, especially that pertaining to the ability to match an IP address with a specific computer (Parliament, 2015, sec. 21). More controversial among some of the academic community was the imposition of a statutory duty on schools, universities, councils and prisons to prevent individuals being drawn into terrorism (Adams, 2016; MacDonald, 2015). The Act also empowered the Home Office to issue a court order which would legally oblige one of the aforementioned bodies to comply with a directive regarding this threat, such as the order to prevent someone preaching extremist views (Parliament, 2015, secs. 26-35).
At the start of 2017, a new law came into force with the aim of providing a legislative framework governing both the use and the oversight of a wide range of investigatory powers used by the Police and the Intelligence agencies (UK Government, 2016). The Investigatory Powers Act 2015 (IPA) made three significant advances in the UK’s counter-terrorism legislation. First, it gathered together the existing powers available to the Police and Intelligence agencies, for the collection of communications data and metadata. Second, a new tool was introduced for the approval and oversight of interception warrants: the so-called “double-lock”. This new safeguard requires any application for a warrant for the most intrusive techniques needs approval from both the Executive (Secretary of State) and subsequently from the Judiciary (in this case, a Judge sitting on the Investigatory Powers Commission, which was also a new addition of this Act). Finally, the Act was designed to provide as much “future proofing” as possible, to ensure that the legislation remains valid, despite advances in, communications methods and technology. This included the requirement for internet connection records to be kept, to log which communications services a particular device has connected to.
In addition to confirming existing powers, the IPA also added new offences, including that of unlawfully intercepting communications (Parliament, 2016, sec. 3), and that of unlawfully obtaining communications data (Parliament, 2016, sec. 11). The Act also added new powers, including the requirement for Communications Service Providers (CSPs) to retain records on individuals for a period of one year (Parliament, 2016, sec. 87). A new oversight body, the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office (IPCO) was created by the IPA and it became operational on 03 March 2017. This new body will perform the “watchdog” function for investigatory powers and will work in close cooperation with other relevant oversight bodies, such as the Intelligence and Security Committee.
The UK government has an array of tools and tactics at its disposal, to deal with terrorism across a broad front. The CONTEST strategy encompasses a very wide spectrum of policy options, from the softer end, such as intervention efforts like the CHANNEL prgramme (aimed at helping individuals to break the hold of an extremist or terrorist ideology), through to the more kinetic options, such as dynamic assault techniques, which are used as a last resort to protect public safety.
This strategy comprises four pillars: PREVENT, PURSUE, PROTECT and PREPARE. The PROTECT and PREPARE pillars focus on reducing the UK’s vulnerability to terrorist attacks, while the PURSUE and PREVENT pillars concentrate on reducing the actual terrorist threat. Designed to work in union with each other, the four pillars reduce the threats and the vulnerabilities, resulting in an overall risk reduction in a terrorist attack being successfully carried out against the UK. The following graphic shows the relationship of these four pillars in reducing the overall risk of terrorism as a threat to the UK:
Figure 1: The four pillars of the CONTEST strategy (Burke, 2013, p. 112)
The aim of PURSUE is “to stop terrorist attacks in this country and against our interests overseas. This means detecting and investigating threats at the earliest possible stage, disrupting terrorist activity before it can endanger the public and, wherever possible, prosecuting those responsible” (Home Office, 2011, para. 4.1). Clearly focused on Intelligence-led interdiction, disruption and criminal prosecution, PURSUE covers: the UK’s counter-terrorism legislation; the ability to prosecute and deport those involved in terrorism-related offences; the capabilities to detect, investigate and disrupt terrorist threats; the ability of the Courts to more effectively use classified Intelligence; the international cooperation necessary for dealing with terrorist threats to the UK and overseas.
The aim of the PREVENT pillar is to tackle the root causes of radicalisation, and to reduce the potential for individuals to progress to violent extremism or terrorism. A counter-terrorism focused department of the Home Office has defined radicalisation as “the process by which people come to support terrorism and violent extremism and, in some cases, then join terrorist groups” (BSU, 2008). PREVENT has employed a variety of outreach programs in its attempts to aim to counter the narratives of extremist and terrorist dogmas that play such an important role in recruiting followers to these causes (Home Office, 2011, pp. 58–77).
The PREVENT pillar does not imply that disrupting terrorist groups is the only tactic relied on to neutralise the possibility of an attack occurring, rather it is accepted that close collaboration is required amongst a wider partnership of bodies spanning law enforcement, government (both central and local) and the community itself. In 2011 a detailed review of PREVENT was conducted by the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation (Carlile, 2011), after which the objectives of PREVENT were codified within three objectives: the ideological challenge; supporting vulnerable people; working with key sectors.
The PROTECT pillar works towards strengthening the “…protection against a terrorist attack in the UK or against our interests overseas and so reduce our vulnerability” (Home Office, 2011, para. 7.1) and it directs particular focus on Critical National Infrastructure (CNI), the transport network, crowded places and the UK border. PROTECT is a more defensive pillar which aims to reduce the vulnerabilities, rather than tackling the causes and manifestations of terrorism, and is largely conducted by the Security Service working in close cooperation with the private sector.
Following the 2005 attacks in London, there has been a drive to increase the physical protection of key facilities from explosive damage. The addition of very-heavy-duty, anti-ram barriers to the Houses of Parliament is a prime example. The barriers have created an increased stand-off distance, thus reducing the vulnerability to the lethal effects of the over-pressure from a shock wave generated by an explosion. The increased knowledge of IED manufacturing techniques and their explosive effects is shared at the appropriate level with architectural and construction professionals, as a deeper understanding of explosive effects help to enhance the mitigation measures at the design stage. Government-employed Counter-Terrorism Security Advisers (CTSA), working with the Police, are the most public face of this bilateral counter-terrorism discussion between the government and the public sector (Metropolitan Police Service, 2014). The other focus areas for PROTECT are the UK’s transport sector and crowded places, both of which have been previously targeted by terrorist groups with the intention of carrying out mass-casualty attacks. Both of these attacks were defeated through Intelligence led operations (operation CREVICE and operation RHYME) which resulted in the effective disruption of the group and the arrest and conviction of the key individuals (Clarke, 2007; Crown Prosecution Service, 2005, 2007b)
Unlike the other pillars, PREPARE concentrates on dealing with the effects and immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack. This phase is known as “post-attack recovery” and it relies on sound planning, communications, well-rehearsed drills, inter-agency cooperation and effective decision-making delegated down to the lowest possible level. The key aims of PREPARE are to mitigate the effects of an attack, be resilient in the immediate post-attack period and to effect a return to normal operations as quickly as possible.
In addition to the threat of now-traditional attack vectors such as the use of suicide bombers and of vehicles used as weapon platforms, PREPARE also has to contend with the lower-probability but high-impact threat of attack from a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) device. Although classified as low-probability, this type of attack was still classified among the four highest-priority threats in the UK’s National Security Strategy of 2010 (Cameron, 2010, pp. 11, 27–28). The attacks with nerve gas in Japan in 1994 and 1995 (Seto, 2001, pp. 1–4), the radiological scare in Moscow in 1995 (Bale, 2004) and the ricin attacks against the USA in 2001 (Heinrich, 2003, pp. 1–3) have all proved the capability and the intent for biological, chemical and radiological elements to be weaponised. These events, combined with the stated aim of Al Qa’eda to obtain nuclear components (CIA, 2003, pp. 1–2), and the proliferation of nuclear materials by the A.Q. Khan network (Butler, 2004, pp. 17–21, 26–27), have forced the CBRN issue to be taken seriously for post-attack planning purposes.
The tool of pre-charge detention carries an inherent dilemma in its use. The Police and the Security Service require the ability to detain a terrorist suspect for sufficient time to allow key investigations to be carried out, and to ascertain whether there is sufficient evidence to charge the suspect. At the same time, a suspect should not be detained without charge for any longer than is absolutely necessary, to ensure that basic human rights are not compromised. In the UK, both legislation and the agreement of the judiciary are used in combination, to decide the maximum period for which an individual can be detained without charge.
Habeus Corpus is an important legal principle in English law. The legal maxim of habeas corpus is usually translated as “you may have the body”, but in its full form, the Latin maxim states “habeas corpus (ad subjiciendum)”, meaning “you may have the body (subject to examination)”, i.e. a person should only be held in detention so long as their detention is proved to be lawful. The Habeus Corpus Act was passed by Parliament in 1679 (Parliament, 1679), although the legal principle enshrined in it is believed to have existed in English common law even before the publication of the Magna Carta, which was published in 1215.
Pre-charge detention limits in the UK have fluctuated between 7 and 28 days, and a number of attempts have been made by different governments to increase this limit. The Terrorism Act 2000 initially provided for a maximum pre-charge detention period of seven days. This was increased to 14 days, through the Criminal Justice Act 2003. An attempt in 2006 to increase the limit to 90 days was defeated in Parliament, and the Terrorism Act 2006 raised the maximum period to 28 days, although this detention period was subject to an annual review. Another attempt was made by the government in 2008 to legislate for a maximum period of 42 days, but this was again defeated. After a review of counter-terrorism and security powers carried out by Lord Macdonald, on behalf of the government of the day, a strong case was made to reduce the maximum period form 28 days to 14 days (Macdonald, 2011, p. 3). In 2011, the 28-day period was allowed to naturally expire without renewal, resulting in the maximum period reverting to 14 days. Notwithstanding emergency legislation, 14 days is the current maximum allowed for pre-charge detention in the UK. A summary of pre-charge detention periods is below:
- 7 days – until January 2004
- 14 days – until July 2006
- 28 days – until January 2011
- 14 days – current maximum at the time of writing (March 2017)
The CHANNEL programme was launched as a pilot initiative in 2007, as a direct response to the London bombings of 07 July 2005. Designed as a multi-agency “early intervention” programme, CHANNEL is funded by the OSCT and works with people of all ages, including children, who are assessed to be at serious risk of exploitation, not just from terrorist dialogue but also from extremist dialogue (Peters, 2012, p. 3). Individuals are referred to the scheme on a voluntary basis, and engagement with the CHANNEL process is not enforceable. The CHANNEL process is shown in the following diagram:
Figure 2 The CHANNEL Process (HM Government, 2015a, para. 20)
The first stage of the CHANNEL process is the identification of a person/s deemed vulnerable to radicalisation. This assessment will usually be derived from concerns that a person is demonstrating behavioural traits which indicate that the individual is either considered as susceptible to radicalisation, or that they closely identify with a belief system or dialogue which supports extremist, terrorist or radical beliefs. The next stage is the conducting of a multi-agency risk assessment of the individual’s case, aiming to identify any issues of concern that may need to be dealt with. The final stage is the provision of dedicated support and, if necessary, subsequent referral to specialists. A targeted package of support measures is then designed and delivered, supported by a continuous review mechanism, to provide the required assistance to blunt the radical or extremist influences which the vulnerable individual may be subjected to.
The CHANNEL programme is able to deliver a variety of assistance mechanisms to vulnerable individuals, such as the provision of a support network, basic counselling, specific-to-faith guidance such as the involvement of moderate religious leaders, and more typical mainstream services, such as housing advice and support, health guidance, social services assistance, education support, and employment counselling and support. CHANNEL employs an ambitious spread of partners that collaborate using the strength of their individual specialist areas.
A number of these partners are statutory partners whose involvement is mandatory, while other partners become involved as and when they are required. Statutory partners can include stakeholders such as the social services, youth services, prison and probation services, the wider education sector, children’s services and other agencies with a statutory duty to assist. The array of non-statutory partners is even wider, originating from a wider societal/governmental ecosphere that includes potential actors such as the Police service, the UK Border Agency and dedicated assets such as the relevant local authority’s “PREVENT Lead”.
Other stakeholders such as non-governmental organisations (NGOs), charities and welfare groups, also become involved in the CHANNEL process. A key actor often overlooked in the model is the community policing team from the local Police force, who bring the depth of local knowledge often lacking from other partners. Another key factor, sometimes a contentious one, is the willing provision of valuable information from elements of the local community, and this can often provide the first indications that an individual is being exposed to radical or extremist influences. At the far end of the community policing spectrum, such information can provide the Police and security services with the initial indicators that a terrorist attack may be in the planning stage.
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 Reference for Baroness Harris’ comment in the Parliamentary debate is at: (712 PARL. DEB., H.L. (5th ser.) (2009) GC 221).
 Hansard record: (H.C.Deb., 1’01. 855, col. 51-52 (April 16, 1973)).
 Four of the would-be bombers (Muktar Ibrahim, Yassin Omar, Ramzi Mohammed and Hussain Osman) were convicted of conspiracy to murder and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum sentence of 40 years, and a fifth (Manfo Asiedu) was convicted of conspiracy to cause explosions and sentenced to 33 years.
Abu Hamza was found guilty of inciting violence in 2006 and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment . Following a long-running legal battle spanning almost a decade, he was successfully extradited to the USA on terrorism charges in 2012. He was found guilty of an array of terrorism charges by a US Court and sentenced to life imprisonment with no possibility of parole.
 The second role is conducting Information Assurance (IA), which aims to secure and protect the sensitive information of the UK government and its associated entities.
 The Home Affairs Select Committee, for example, notes that the individuals charged with the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby were not tried for terrorist offences but were charged instead with murder.
 In the UK, the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) designates nine sectors as critical infrastructure: emergency services, communications, finance, the food supply chain, energy, the health sector, government, the national transportation network and the water infrastructure (CPNI, 2014).
 Article 39 of the Magna Carta stated that “No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land” (British Library, n.d., sec. 39).
 This information is current at the time of writing, in March 2017.