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Editorial: When’s a terrorist attack not a terrorist attack?

25th Nov 2022
Editorial: When’s a terrorist attack not a terrorist attack?

Counter-terrorism police delayed classifying the October firebombing of the Western Jet Foil immigration processing centre in Dover as a terrorist incident despite being called in to lead the investigation.

“What appears clear is that this despicable offence was targeted and likely to be driven by some form of hate-filled grievance, though this may not necessarily meet the threshold of terrorism,” DCS Olly Wright, Head of CTPSE, said.

PM Rishi Sunak also declined to comment, as did the newly reinstated Home Secretary, Suella Braverman.

It was not until almost a week later that the senior national coordinator for counter-terrorism policing, declared that the evidence indicates the attack “was motivated by a terrorist ideology.” “I am satisfied that the suspect’s actions were primarily driven by an extremist ideology,” said Tim Jacques. “This meets the threshold for a terrorist incident.”

The terrorist attack targeting immigrants occurred at a time when Braverman had provocatively described illegal immigration as an out-of-control invasion. Braverman, already under pressure to resign for breaching the ministerial code, refused to answer MP’s questions on whether counter-terror police units participated in the investigation.

“It does not make sense for them not to be, so why are they not?” Shadow Home Secretary Yvonne Cooper inquired.
Yet, within minutes of the naming of Andrew Leak as the perpetrator, details of his overwhelmingly Islamophobic views had gone viral online.

His digital footprint also showed a long history of sharing content with far-right groups at home and abroad, including with the founder of the EDL, Tommy Robinson; despite this, he was unknown to counterterrorism police.

So, why did it take almost a week instead of hours for the bombing of an immigration processing building to be declared a terrorist attack?

Since April 2020, MI5 has taken on lead responsibility for managing the growing far-right terror threat. The decision to transfer from the police was made in the wake of reviews after the surge of terrorist attacks in 2017.

But according to the former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, Sir David Anderson, there is a ‘lingering attachment in parts of MI5 to the notion that XRW [Extreme Right-Wing] plotting does not engage their national security function in the same way as Islamist plotting does’.

During the Tory leadership hustings, Sunak complained the Prevent programme was far too focused on the far-right rather than “Islamist” extremists. Sunak pledged to reform Prevent so that “the profile of cases in the programme broadly reflects the terror threat posed to the UK.”

The glaring question in the Leak case is, how long would it have taken to label such a violent hate crime as a terrorist attack had it been committed by a Muslim? “Is it because our anti-Muslim prejudices are so deep-rooted that, on some level, we cannot conceive of a white man as a terrorist? Or ethnic minorities and displaced people as victims of hate?” asks Nadeine Asbali of the Metro.

Adding, “Would publications be pathologizing his violence, trying to find some excuse for it buried in the mental health problems or financial difficulties of his past?”

As the Prevent programme has shown, Muslims in Britain are under permanent cradle-to-grave surveillance.

The community further faces the scourge of Islamophobia, which the government continually exacerbates by targeting legislation against Muslims. With the Tories ever lurching to the right, it would be a highly dangerous game to ever turn a blind eye to the far right’s extremist ideology leading to terrorist attacks in any definition of the term.




Dover firebomb assault was a terrorist attack, police concede

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