The British Government is yet again introducing a new round of terrorism laws. The proposals are timed with the Government raising the domestic terror threat level from substantial to severe. This comes eight months before the next general election. It coincides with the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil/Isis).
The aim is to make it easier for the Government to seize the passports, particularly at borders, of suspected mercenaries from Britain travelling to Iraq and Syria. The plan, announced by Prime Minister, David Cameron, is also to give police and intelligence agencies the power to impose greater restrictions on the movement of terrorist suspects within Britain.
Under changes to terrorism prevention and investigation measures, suspects could be excluded from entering certain buildings or areas, or moved to locations outside their communities. The changes were greeted with loud jeers in the House of Commons from the opposition Labour Party. It had already provided such powers under previous legislation, which were subsequently amended by the coalition Government in 2012.
Cameron claimed that “Isil is a greater threat to our security than we have seen before.” The intelligence and security services believe that at least 500 Britons have gone to fight in Syria and potentially Iraq. He stressed that there was still “gaps in our armoury” that the Government needed to fill.
As has become norm, because of the sensitivity, he remained in denial that the terrorist threat had political causes. It was “not created by the Iraq war 10 years ago. It existed even before the horrific attacks on 9/11,” he insisted. “This threat cannot be solved simply by dealing with perceived grievances over Western foreign policy. Nor can it be dealt with by addressing poverty, dictatorship or instability in the region – as important as these things are.”
While many have questioned the legitimacy of revoking passports and trying to remove citizenships, former counter-terrorism chief at MI5 and MI6 Richard Barrett has suggested that Cameron should be doing the reverse and that Britain should encourage mercenaries fighting in Syria and Iraq to return.” “It would seem sensible to encourage British and other foreign fighters who have joined the Islamic State or other extremist groups in Syria and Iraq, and now realise this was wrong, to come home. “These are the people who can expose the true nature of the Islamic State and its leadership,” Barrett said.
“Their stories of brutality and the motives behind it will be far more credible and persuasive than the rhetoric of men in suits. These repentant fighters need a way out, and although the law must take its course, they need to know there is a place for them back at home if they are committed to a non-violent future.” He added that the most successful people in undermining the terrorist narratives were themselves “ex-extremists” and that they can “explain why going abroad to fight is a very bad idea.”
Former MI6 chief, Sir Richard Dearlove, has also previously warned that the Isil threat had been exaggerated and said that the Government and the media should not offer “oxygen of publicity”. He suggested that it was more of a Middle Eastern issue and that people should instead turn their focus towards the growing threat of Russia and China. He pointed the finger at the Wahabbi Saudi leadership that was “deeply attracted” towards militancy and suggested it was a source, though not necessarily the regime, of bankrolling the rise of the Isil.