Posts Tagged ‘legislation’

A new outlet, CNN’s Security Clearance blog, on an old topic: Lone Wolves and how exactly to define them using a couple of cases from earlier in the month. Not exactly a very seasonal topic, but terrorism seems to never stop.

Lone attacker or lone wolf?

By Raffaello Pantucci, Special to CNN

EDITOR’S NOTE: Raffaello Pantucci is an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR), and the author of a recent report “A Typology of Lone Wolves: Preliminary Analysis of Lone Islamist Terrorists“.

Recently the world saw two horrendous attacks on the streets of Europe. In Italy, Gianluca Casseri opened fire with a large handgun amid crowded tourist markets in central Florence. Two days later, Nordine Amrani opened fire with machine guns and grenades in central Liege, Belgium as citizens enjoyed a Christmas market.

Coming in the wake of Anders Behring Breivik’s massacre in Oslo earlier this year and numerous arrests in the US of individuals alleged to be planning solo terrorist attacks, this seems to be the year of the Lone Attacker.

But are these individuals terrorists or are they twisted individuals who are taking their vengeance on society for their own demented reasons?

The answer is a bit of both. Clearly, it takes a damaged mind to decide to kill at random. But such actions also instil terror in the civilian population affected. However, these acts on their own do not create a terrorist – that is normally defined as the use of violence against civilians to advance a political cause. An individual who is driven by personal demons to carry out an act of mass murder is different to someone who carries out such an act under the guise of a political ideology.

And so we can distinguish between Gianluca Casseri and Nordine Amrani. Casseri was a long-standing right-wing Italian who went out and targeted Senegalese vendors as they peddled their wares in central Florence, while Amrani was a petty criminal who seems to have snapped after a summons to the local police station. Their actions may have been similar – killing people at random and then taking their own lives – but the motivations at this early stage in the investigations seem to have been different. One seems to have been inspired by a xenophobic ideology, the other by personal demons.

For police, a lone shooter who simply snaps is almost impossible to predict or prevent, but an individual who is inspired by a twisted ideology may leave traces that can be detected. Usually, he or she will have made contact at some point with other extremists; or if acting alone may display suspicious behavior the local community would likely pick up on. Obtaining weapons is not always easy (guns frequently require permits or interaction with the unreliable criminal underworld) and bomb-making chemicals tend to be on watch-lists – as Saudi student Khalid Aldawsari discovered when he tried to purchase some in Texas.

From a citizen’s perspective, the distinction is equally important – a lone killer going on the rampage in a city center is one thing, but a methodical murderer driven by a clear if contorted ideology or prejudice can expose social tensions. Norwegians united in the wake of Breivik’s massacre, but in Florence, Senegalese vendors refused to believe police claims that Casseri had shot himself until one of them was brought to see the body. Believing Italian society to be predominantly racist and against them, their instinct was to suspect a cover-up was taking place – exactly the sort of social frictions Casseri was likely seeking to instigate.

The trend towards such lone killers or terrorists appears to be on the increase. Terrorist ideologies of all descriptions recognize the strategic utility of single-actor plots – they reduce the potential for detection and potentially multiply the impact. As we have seen this past week, a single attacker is able to sow considerable terror and hold. Another concern is the growing ease with which individuals can assemble increasingly complex bombs and then plan attacks. Anders Behring Breivik is an example of this perfect storm coming together, and in the wake of his attack police forces and security services globally have revisited the potential threat from such lone wolf terrorists.

Radical and militant ideas continue to hold sway among a small minority; and deranged individuals are an age-old part of society.

Understanding the distinction between the two is important – both to help prevent attacks by individuals and to try to minimize the damage they can do to our societies.

A new piece for, exploring an issue I believe I have mentioned before, but not in any great detail. Since this was written, it now emerges that a chap who had been listed in the SIAC judgment as being under risk of torture if he was returned to Pakistan, has now in fact returned. All a real mess with no resolution on the horizon.

UK-US Face Problems in Terror Suspect Extradition

by Raffaello Pantucci

Monday, 19 July 2010

European court refuses to withhold suspects from going into US custody.

It is a strange quirk of fate that while on the one hand American and British security operators work hand in hand against a common threat, their governments seem unable to deport terrorist suspects between each other. As the UK marked the fifth anniversary since July 7, 2005 when an Al Qaeda trained suicide team attacked London, this reality came into focus as the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) blocked one extradition request and the United States launched another.

The first case is one which has been winding its way through the British courts system since May 2004 when British police first arrested Abu Hamza in furtherance of an extradition request by the United States. His extradition was sought for his role in assisting a terror plot in Yemen in December 1998 which ended with the deaths of four hostages and the conviction of a group of British Muslims (two of whom were directly related to him), his role in facilitating introductions to the Taliban, and finally his role in attempting to organize a terror training camp in Bly, Oregon. Co-conspirator Haroon Rashid Aswat (who was brought into British custody on August 2005) is also wanted in connection to the charges surrounding the Bly, Oregon training camp case, while the other two, Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan (respectively arrested in August 2004 and July 2006), are instead wanted in connection to a series of websites supporting terrorism that they are alleged to have run.

Aside from Abu Hamza, none of the men have been charged with crimes in the United Kingdom – and at this point, Hamza has all but served the seven-year charge he was handed down for inciting hatred in the United Kingdom. They all remain in custody while their lawyers argue that the men cannot expect a fair trial if they are deported to the United States, that they might be subject to extraordinary rendition and that the terms under which they are likely to be detained in the United States (most likely in the Federal Supermax penitentiary ADX Florence in Colorado) would impinge on their human rights. Last week, the ECHR in Strasbourg dismissed many of the men’s complaints, but admitted “the applicants’ complaints concerning the length of their possible sentences,” and Aswat, Babar, and Ahsan’s concerns about being detained at ADX Florence, “cannot…be considered manifestly ill-founded.” Given Hamza’s infirmities and a letter from the prison warden, the court was prepared to believe that it was unlikely that he would be spending much time in the jail and would instead be moved to a medical facility.

The point of concern rests around the fact that it seems as though the court is unsure whether the men’s human rights are being breached if they are going to be detained at ADX Florence under stringent circumstances in which it can appear there is no possibility of parole or release. In essence the ECHR is determining whether the U.S. penal system is compatible with European human rights standards, something highlighted by one of the suspect’s lawyers in the Guardian newspaper. “It’s a very important test of whether the way the US treats its prisoners meets international standards.”

This something of a shift from previously, when the concerns were in part focused on the official upturning of international norms that the previous administration announced when President Bush declared that the “world had changed” after the September 11 attacks. The decision to carry out extraordinary renditions, abrogate the Geneva conventions for certain prisoners and the establishment of Guantanamo Bay all created a legal environment which might cast doubt on U.S. government reassurances. As the applicant’s case before the court put it, “It was not sufficient to rely on the history of extradition arrangements with the United States, as the [British] Government had done: the attitude of the United States Government had changed fundamentally as a result of the events of 11 September 2001.”

In a move which no doubt provided some reassurance to governments on both sides of the Atlantic, the court dismissed such concerns, stating, “Whatever the breadth of the executive discretion enjoyed by the President in the prosecution of the United States Government’s counter-terrorism efforts, the Court is unable to accept that he, or any of his successors, would commit such a serious breach of his Government’s assurances to an extradition partner such as the United Kingdom; the United States’ long-term interest in honouring its extradition commitments alone would provide sufficient dissuasion from doing so.”

This is in contrast to the case of Abid Naseer, who the British government has already tried to deport to more contentious ally in the fight against terrorism, Pakistan. Arrested on April 8, 2009 as part of a group of eleven individuals picked up as part of a counter-terrorism operation codenamed Pathway, Naseer has been repeatedly identified in the press and subsequent official reports into the plot as being connected to Al Qaeda. In a previous judgment which highlighted why he could not be deported to Pakistan, the judges concluded, “we are satisfied that Naseer was an Al Qaeda operative who posed and still poses a serious threat to the national security of the United Kingdom.” The same judgment concluded that due the high likelihood of mistreatment if Naseer was returned to Pakistan having been exposed as an Al Qaeda agent, the court “would not be willing to accept confidential assurances as a sufficient safeguard against prohibited ill-treatment in a state in which otherwise there was a real risk that it would occur.”

At the time of the decision, the government did not appear to react, failing to even put Naseer on a control order (something which would have been particularly awkward for the new government which had expressed a great concern with the tactic). It now appears that this might have been part of a knowing strategy to wait until the United States completed its superseding set of charges linked to the so-called Subway Plot allegedly led by Afghan-American Najibullah Zazi. It was already public knowledge that the initial lead to Zazi had come from the United Kingdom, but it now appears as though the United States has repaid the favor for the tip by using the connection as grounds to include Naseer in the indictment linked to Zazi’s plot. In a press release put out on July 7th, the Department of Justice alleged, “Naseer sent messages back and forth to the same email account that ‘Ahmad’ was using to communicate with the American-based al-Qaeda cell.”

Currently, all five men remain in British custody. While this may alleviate security services concerns, in the longer term it is not sustainable that individuals remain in jail without facing a jury. Officials in the UK believe that the men will be eventually deported, but as Babar Ahmad pointed out in an interview published the day after the decision by the ECHR, “whilst in prison I have outlived the the Blair/Brown Labour Government,” something which highlights how long he has been sitting in prison without having been convicted of any crime.

Raff Pantucci is an correspondent based in the UK

My latest for HSToday, looking at the British election fall-out from a counter-terrorism perspective (following my earlier post about the manifestos). This subject hopefully will get more interesting, rather than continue to fester as it is at the moment with no new ideas. Though I suppose I need to start to developing some good new ones too. Any thoughts or reactions appreciated as ever.

UK Challenge: Depoliticizing Security

by Raffaello Pantucci

Monday, 17 May 2010

New coalition government must work to forge consensus on terror.

While much of the UK has been focused on what the implications will be of the first coalition government since the Second World War, the question of what this means for counter-terrorism policy has largely slipped under the radar. Last time there was a political handover like this in Britain; terrorists attempted an attack, immediately setting the headlines for the new government.

Fortunately, so far, Britain has been spared a repeat of the attempted car bombings in London and Glasgow in late June 2007. However, the new coalition Conservative-Liberal government wasted no time in taking the pulse of the current threat level during the maiden meeting of the newly formed National Security Council. According to the official Downing Street report, during the session the Prime Minister “received briefings on the political and military situation in Afghanistan, including from his new National Security Adviser, Sir Peter Ricketts and from the Chief of the Defence Staff. The Prime Minister was then updated on the wider UK security situation.”

Unlike the United States, the UK has only now created a special cabinet group which will become the decision-making focus of British security strategy and interests. The appointment of a senior civil servant, Sir Peter Ricketts, to the post of National Security Adviser was seen as a slight surprise, given the belief that this remit might be handed to Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, who served as security adviser in the shadow Conservative cabinet. Ricketts, a long-time apolitical civil servant, has previously served as UK Ambassador to NATO, Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) and most recently as Permanent Under Secretary at the Foreign Office. Dame Neville-Jones, another former Chairman of the JIC, instead assumed the role of Minister for Security.

The split appointment likely reflects the desire to impose some semblance of de-politicization to the area of security, which has otherwise largely been taken over by the Conservative side of the coalition. Cameron stalwarts William Hague at the Foreign Office and Liam Fox at Defence retain the roles they had shadowed. Other key security appointments include Theresa May to become Home Secretary; Conservative heavy-weight Ken Clarke to the role of Justice Minister and Eric Pickles to the role of running the Department for Communities and Local Government. A few Liberals received lower ranking appointments in relevant ministries, though no Liberals have been sent to the Home Office at all. Conservative Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the daughter of Pakistani migrants, was appointed to be Minister without Portfolio and Chairman of the Conservative Party, making her the first female Muslim to serve in Britain’s cabinet.

At the same time this almost complete Conservative domination of security policy (and counter-terrorism policy in particular) does not particularly cast a light on what changes might be on the way under the new administration. In an election that was largely dominated by domestic economic issues and the novelty of televised leadership debates, there was almost no mention of counter-terrorism policy. In their href=” “>manifestoes none of the three main parties identified any great changes in strategy though the Conservatives did say that they would ban Hizb-ut-Tahrir – following through on a threat first made by Prime Minister Blair in the wake of the July 2005 London bombings.

This does not necessarily presage some sort of grand agreement. As James Brandon of the Quilliam Foundation counter-radicalization think tank put it, “Over the past few years it has been clear that there are significant policy differences between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats when it comes to the detail of counter-extremism strategy. Under a coalition government compromises will no doubt have to be made on both sides – although at the moment it is anyone’s guess as to what exactly these will be.”

Some of these guesses were answered in the grand agreement document that the coalition government published which highlighted a list of “civil liberties” which they felt had been suppressed under Labour. Key amongst these was the announcement of a “Freedom or Great Repeal Bill” which would scrap the ID cards scheme, re-establish the “protection of historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury,” ensure anti-terrorism legislation was not misused, and improve regulation of internet, email and CCTV storage. While both parties raised the question of what to do about controversial control orders in their manifesto’s, there is no mention of it here suggesting the possibility of future clashes over the topic. Overall there is an interesting confluence in opinion between the two parties appears to have been found around the issue of infringements in civil liberties that many perceive were allowed under the previous government in the pursuit of security in the UK.

Looking back further, the Conservative party had in the past proposed to  “conduct a review of the Government’s Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) Strategy, which is supposed to stop vulnerable people from becoming terrorists but which has been accused of spying on innocent Muslims.” The PVE strategy is intended to be the cornerstone of the long-term British answer to countering terrorism, but it has of late lagged.. It remains unclear how the new coalition government will take this forwards, though discussions with officials in the UK in the year before the election highlighted a general sense that a change of government was imminent and that some accounting of how counter-terrorism money was being spent was highly likely.

For the US the major concern is no doubt the perceived anti-Americanism of the Liberal Democrat party. This has in fact been overplayed, and in counter-terrorism terms, the biggest concern was likely to be the threatened Liberal Democrat “full judicial inquiry into allegations of British complicity in torture and state kidnapping.” The complete lack of any mention of it thus far is not necessarily indicative of the fact that it is going to go away, but it is clear that the Liberal Democrats are simply not going to have the upper hand when it comes to governing counter-terrorism policy and its pursuit.

Beyond counter-terrorism, Europe remains one of the major sticking points in the coalition, with a deeply Euro-skeptic wing of the Conservative party unlikely to sit well with the pro-European Liberal Democrat party. For an America that is eager to see Europe stand strong together, this may prove an irritant, but the strategic centrality of the Anglo-American “special relationship” (especially to the Conservative Party) means that there is unlikely to be any major shift in transatlantic relations between the US and UK.

Raff Pantucci is a UK corrspondent for and frequent contributor to Homeland Security Today magazine.

My latest more journalistic contribution for HSToday, providing them with an update on the situation in the UK. The timings are a little mangled, but provides some summary of recent HMG documents on terrorism. Thanks to Tim Stevens at Ubiwar for providing some very helpful insights in interview.

by Raffaello Pantucci
Tuesday, 20 April 2010

The risk … is that a heavy-handed reaction will focus on the symptom, rather than the cause Britain is under a “severe” threat of a terrorist attack, according to its security services.

Assessments provided by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Center (JTAC) stated that “an attack is highly likely.”

But maintaining public engagement and support continues to be a problem for the British government, especially as it attempts to tackle the new menace of online radicalization.

While the threat was raised to its current level in January for unspecified reasons, Lord Carlisle, the government’s independent auditor of terrorism legislation, told the BBC “the message from the current change of assessment is not that we should be more afraid, but that we should be a little bit more vigilant than we have been.”

But critics speculated that the decision to raise the threat level had a lot more to do with the upcoming election cycle to stoke public fears for political advantage.

Whatever the reason, terrorism remains the “preeminent security threat to the UK,” according to the first annual report of the Home Office’s Office for Security and Counterterrorism’s broadened counterterrorism strategy, known as CONTEST.

According to the report, CBRN threats are increasing due to a “significant increase in the illicit trafficking of radiological materials, the availability of CBRN related technologies on the internet and the increasing use of CBRN material for legitimate purposes.”

And the upcoming 2012 Olympic and Para-Olympic games present “one of the most significant challenges we will face over the next two years,” the report stressed, noting that the principal terrorist threat to the UK continues to be Al Qaeda in Pakistan.

Al Qaeda and instability in Yemen, Somalia and the Sahel also present a threat, the report stated.

But while government sees a growing Al Qaeda threat, the public remains increasingly skeptical – apathy seems to be is the most noticeable feature of the public debate. There also is a high level of distrust.

In a report in the Guardian about a Parliamentary oversight committee reporton the Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) program that Whitehall sees as fundamental to Britain’s long-term counterterrorism strategy, Committee Chair, MP Phyllis Starkey, said “the close association between [PVE] and the government’s wider counterterrorism strategy has bred profound distrust on a community level.”

This is a deeply problematic disconnect when considering that the government’s strategy is meant to strengthen these communities so that they are better able to tackle negative ideologies themselves.

As the report highlights, Muslims increasingly see the government engaging them only through the prism of countering terrorism, and see the specter of intelligence gathering behind any program that’s aimed at strengthening or engaging communities. Meanwhile, there’s a growing backlash among some communities angry at the money and attention that is being lavished on Muslims.

Cognizant of these trends, there has been an effort to publish more information on Britain’s terrorist threats in an attempt to garner greater public support and understanding.

Leading the way is the Home Office’s Research, Information and Communications Unit (RICU), which in addition to issuing a weekly report to its counterterrorism consumers that highlights the official line on relevant stories each week, also issues reports for internal use only.

This strategy is fraught with problems for a variety of reasons. One recently issued report, “Estimating Network Size and Tracking Dissemination Information Amongst Islamic Blogs” (which was written in April 2008), by David Stevens of the University of Nottingham, “[studied] the link patterns and discussions of Islamic bloggers with particular reference to the UK.” The report listed the top twenty most popular “Islamic” blogs, how they are interlinked, and highlighted the fact that there are more “anti-Islamic” blogs than “pro-Isamic blogs.”

The report didn’t receive a very warm reception. Guardian newspaper columnist Brian Whitaker asked: “Why did they bother” to publish a report that threw up “some blindingly obvious insights.” That sentiment was echoed by Jillian York at Al Jazeera, who attacked the report’s “flawed” methodology while quoting a number of the bloggers “outed” as pro-Islamic.

Similar perspectives were repeated in an interview with Tim Stevens, a researcher of online radicalization at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College.

“Personally, I think the report’s assumptions, methodology, execution and analysis are weaker than they might be, mainly as they don’t seem to achieve the stated aims of the research,” Stevens said. “It adds very little to our understanding of the topic and does not provide an insightful picture of the specific media it set out to study.”

According to Stevens, “the publication of the report may be counterproductive, in that it makes them and their Home Office sponsors look out of touch and potentially antagonistic to Muslims.”

In much the same way that Muslim communities perceives that the government sees them solely through the prism of terrorism, their online counterparts appear to be angry that moderate voices are being scrutinzed by researchers who are paid out of a counter-terrorism budget.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Edip Yuksel of the American Islamic reform movement said of the first blog on the list, Ali Eteraz, “listing Ali’s name in research to track terrorists is a travesty of truth.”

Nevertheless, understanding the Internet and its role in radicalization is a key focus of the British government. A recent high-profile BBC series, “Generation Jihad,” focused on the growing importance of the Internet in terrorist plots in the United Kingdom and its apparent influence in radicalizing ever younger individuals.

The risk, however, is that a heavy-handed reaction will focus on the symptom, rather than the cause.

As Stevens put it: “The internet is important, but there are other important factors in radicalization, too. Even if it were possible or desirable to shut down the internet, it wouldn’t stop the existence or influence of violent or radical ideas.”

These ideas, though, will continue to be the principal long-term battleground for the British, and global, counterterrorism struggle.

My latest for FreeRad!cals, looking at a largely unexplored case up north against a group calling themselves the Blackburn Resistance. Most of the chaps have already been released, and there is a bigger unexplored story here in how they were all picked up in the first place. Am working on something larger about this. Any pointers or thoughts welcome as ever!

The Blackburn Resistance

Filed under: Radicalisation, Terrorism, UK

Up North at Manchester Crown Court, brothers Abbas and Ilyas Iqbal have been found guilty this weekof charges relating to their the dissemination of material useful to terrorists and preparation of acts of terrorism. A third man, a white Muslim convert, was cleared of charges against him.

The men became dubbed the “Blackburn Resistance” after a video was uncovered on a mobile SIM card in Abbas Iqbal’s luggage as he tried to board a plane at Manchester airport. The clip showed the men running around a park in Blackburn in camouflage and seemingly imitating command training with As Sahab-type music in the background. At the beginning of the video the words the “Blackburn Resistance” featured prominently, and a voice intoned “They are fighting against oppression, they are The Blackburn Resistance.”

Alongside this footage and a wide array of other photos of the men brandishing or trying weapons out, a variety of knives, BB guns, an air rifle and pistol, crossbows and live ammunition were found with the men. Two documents entitled “attack planning” and “urban combat” were also found bearing the brothers fingerprints.

But while some of the pictures of the group are quite dramatic looking, the reality is that it is very hard to imagine this group as a cell of hardened terrorists. Cognizant of this, the prosecution was very careful to not paint the men in too heavy a light, recognizing that “some aspects of the material may at first blush seem almost comical in [their] amateurishness.” Nonetheless, they saw the group as “intoxicated by the evil of terrorism,” and actively preparing to disseminate recruiting material abroad.

The men ultimately received relatively light sentences, Abbas Iqbal, 24, was sentenced to two years in prison for the dissemination of terrorist publications, while his younger brother Ilyas, 23, was incarcerated for 18 months for possessing a document likely to be useful to a terrorist. Given he has spent almost that amount of time already on remand, Ilyas was released, while his older brother will still serve another three to four months. Their co-defendant was cleared on all charges having spent 387 days in custody. A fourth man picked up with them at the airport is still on trial in a separate case.

But it is hard to judge exactly how much of a victory this really is for counter-terrorists. This is not a cell of global travelers with contacts to Al Qaeda core, but rather a group of young men who through the internet and home computers were able to create an imitation set of videos and pictures of themselves dressing up as terrorists. That they may have later gone on to do something is of course perfectly possible, but as the prosecutor pointed out: “at the stage when they were stopped by police, they had not got very far.”

It is easy to see how this could play badly in the court of public opinion, where what even the prosecution described as “larking around in a park in Blackburn,” was painted as potential terrorist training. The fact they seem not to have been receiving much coverage in the press is a good thing, and probably the product of the fact that very few editors would have taken the group very seriously.

A final point I would add about these chaps, however, is how lucky they are to have been caught doing these acts in the UK – had they been nabbed for similar things in the U.S., they would probably be looking at very long stints inside.

New piece for Jamestown covering the proscription of the Shabaab in the UK and Canada. I am working on a much larger piece about this topic, but it is likely to be a while before that lands. Any tips in the meantime of course appreciated.

Al-Shabaab Proscribed in Canada and the United Kingdom

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 11

By: Raffaello Pantucci

In the first week of March, the British and Canadian governments both added the Somali al-Shabaab group to their respective list of proscribed terror groups. [1] The decisions mean that it will now be illegal to fundraise or support al-Shabaab in both nations, while Canadian Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews specified, “The Government is taking this step to help protect Canadian families from the activities of this organization. The Government received reports from the Somali community that al-Shabaab has attempted to radicalize and recruit young Canadians. The listing of al-Shabaab will help the Government of Canada to better support the Somali community of Canada.” [2]

The respective decisions follow previous proscriptions in Australia, Norway, Sweden and the United States. They reflect a growing trepidation amongst Western governments regarding the growing threat from the Somali group – in particular their ability to attract young men with local passports to their cause and the movement’s growing regional assertiveness. Furthermore, reports indicate that the group appears to be increasingly attracting fighters from the Somali diaspora and other sources in the West (Independent on Sunday, September 13, 2009; see Terrorism Monitor, January 14).

For Canada and the United Kingdom in particular, the decision to proscribe follows a series of stories indicating that steady streams of young men are going abroad to fight in East Africa. In autumn 2009, a group of six young Somalis disappeared from their local community in Toronto, with reports suggesting they had ended up fighting in Somalia (National Post, December 12, 2009). A report from earlier in the year in the U.K. indicated that most recently “almost a dozen” British Muslims had left the U.K. to join the Shabaab in Somalia, including some students from the prestigious London School of Economics and King’s College London (Sunday Times, January 24).

Furthermore, plots have emerged from the Somali diaspora community in both nations; at least two of the attempted bombers and a substantial number of the support network involved in the July 21, 2005 plot to attack London’s public transport system were of Somali extraction. In Canada, two Somalis were among the 18 suspects arrested for planning a series of bombings and assassinations in Toronto and Ottawa (National Post [Toronto], June 5, 2006; September 21, 2009; see also Terrorism Focus, June 6, 2006). [3] However, in neither case was the al-Shabaab group implicated in any way, nor was Somalia a feature on the broad canvas offered by each plot. Rather, individuals from the diaspora were drawn into plots fostered by local networks to prepare for large-scale domestic attacks.

More recently, however, there has been a greater law-enforcement focus on Shabaab. Aside from the Toronto cells, the RCMP and FBI ramped up their efforts after an informant told overseas U.S. embassy staff that a group of Somalis had crossed the border from Canada with the intention of launching an attack on President Obama’s inauguration ceremony. The information proved to be a hoax, but it highlighted the reality of security concerns (CanWest News Service, February 4). [4] In the U.K., on the other hand, the government attempted to shut down what it believed was an al-Shabaab fundraising and support network last year, though the case against the two Somali-Britons did not stand up in court (Press Association, July 28, 2009).

Beyond this, there is a clear sense of growing trepidation surrounding Somalia’s al-Shabaab; its decision to formalize the connection to the Ras Kamboni group, the declaration of allegiance to al-Qaeda and its connection to al-Qaeda operative Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan (killed by a U.S. Special Forces raid in September 2009 while helping train Shabaab fighters), all point to a strengthening network (for Ras Kamboni, see Shabelle Media Network, February 1; Garowe Online, February 2; Terrorism Monitor, February 10). Its influence can increasingly be seen abroad; examples include an alleged plot to target Secretary of State Hilary Clinton when she was visiting neighboring Kenya in August 2009, the recruitment of Somali youths in Minneapolis, the attempted assassination of Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard and an alleged plot to attack a military base in Melbourne (see Terrorism Monitor, January 14; Terrorism Monitor, September 10, 2009).

Reaction from Somalia to the terrorist designations was swift; al-Shabaab spokesman Ahmad Dayib Mursal held a press conference in Mogadishu to announce the group was “saddened” by the British decision (Holy Koran Radio [Mogadishu], March 2). Senior al-Shabaab spokesman Shaykh Ali Mahmud Raage (a.k.a. Shaykh Ali Dheere) condemned the Canadian and British designations, claiming some Western nations were trying to find ways of looting the properties of Somali Muslims living in their countries (Radio Simba [Mogadishu], March 8). More favorable reaction came from the deputy prime minister of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, Professor Abdirahman Haji Adan Ibi, who welcomed the British decision (Shabelle Media Network, March 4).

As of yet, no major plots appear to have been hatched in the West drawing specifically on this network and direction from Somalia. However, given previous experiences of threats emerging from radicals with Western passports associated with groups fighting abroad, as well as the rather abrupt shift from the near enemy to the far enemy by the previously regionally-focused al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al-Shabaab is clearly a threat that needs to be watched with some care. The respective proscriptions give British and Canadian authorities further legislative tools to deal with this threat.


1. For the complete British order effective from March 4, 2010, please; and the Canadian announcement, effective March

2. “The Government of Canada lists Al-Shabaab as a terrorist organization,” Ministry of Public Safety Press Release, March 7, 2010,

3. Of the “Toronto 18,” seven suspects have pled guilty or been convicted, seven have had their charges stayed and three remain to be tried.

4. The alleged plot was first described in Martha Joynt Kumar, “The 2008-2009 presidential transitions through the voices of its participants,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 39(4), December 1, 2009

Another journal article, this time based on an old presentation I had the pleasure of doing up at Leeds University as part of a series organized by John Schwartzmantel and Hendrik Kraetzschmar. The paper is a bit dated now to those who follow these topics closely, but I hope it lays out some thinking that is useful.

It is featured in the latest edition of Democratization, and is unfortunately behind a firewall again (so cannot simply be posted here), but if you drop me a note I can probably help. Here, in the meantime, is the abstract to whet your appetite:

Britain’s ‘Contest’ counter-terrorism strategy with its ‘4 Ps’ codification is often held up as a paradigm of an effective liberal democratic counter-terror strategy. However, while the strategy has had some success and been widely emulated internationally, questions remain about the ‘generational’ aspect frequently referred to by government and what kind of an impact such a wide-ranging approach might be having in the long-term upon the United Kingdom. This article seeks to explore the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of the British counter-terrorism strategy while probing some of the areas which may offer themselves as problematic in the longer term. In particular the author explores the ‘Prevent’ part of the strategy which seeks to prevent radicalization leading to terrorism from ever taking place, asking questions about how defined the strategy appears to be and how much the UK might in fact be setting itself up to counter a war without end.

The whole paper can be found here:

I have a book review in the latest issue of the Terrorism and Political Violence journal covering Stephen Grey’s fascinating and detailed book Ghost Plane. It is behind a firewall so I cannot simply post it, but as usual if you get in touch I can help out getting a copy probably..

The book is worth a read, and has stood the test of time thus far. It will be interesting to see if someone does an update of this story confirming whether it has been discontinued or is still going on. Any pointers for stories out there greatly appreciated!

The review can be found here:

My latest for the Jamestown Terrorism Monitor, looking at a different aspect of the legal problems that the British government is having with some of the cases they are pursuing in the courts. This looks in particular at the case against Mohammed Atif Siddique who was recently released in Scotland, and went on to do a series of awkward interviews.

U.K. Prosecutors Lose a Legal Option in Preventing Terrorism

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 8

February 26, 2010 10:22 AM Age: 14 hrs

On January 29, 2010 an appellate court in Scotland declared it was quashing a terrorism charge against 24-year old Mohammed Atif Siddique, the first person to be convicted on charges related to Islamist terrorism in Scotland. [1] Initially convicted on charges of disorderly conduct, setting up websites to disseminate extremist material, disseminating extremist material, and possessing items related to terrorism, the appeals court concluded that the conviction on the last of these charges was unsound, resulting in a “miscarriage of justice.” Siddique has at this point already served four years which the Crown Prosecution Service considered sufficient to cover the other charges and he was released on February 9 (BBC, February 10).

Reporting on the case naturally centered around the “miscarriage of justice,” though reports also pointed out that the convictions still stood on the other two terrorism-related charges and the disorderly conduct charge (Times, January 29; BBC, February 10; UK Press Association, February 9). In a series of interviews after his release, Siddique was unable to provide much explanation for the actions which led to his initial convictions, beyond that he was a “numpty” (a Scottish pejorative for a foolish person), and that he was bored and trying to find out “the other side of the story” (BBC Radio 5 Live, February 10; Scotsman, February 11). His justification for providing links to extremist material was that it was all “freely available” on the internet (he claimed to have obtained some of his material from the Israeli-based website run by Reuven Paz, former head of the Mossad research department) and that anyway, it was all in Arabic, a language he didn’t understand (BBC, February 10). He further dismissed statements he had made that he was planning to become a suicide bomber, by pointing out that he had also claimed to have met with Osama bin Laden – painting himself as a naïf eager to impress others (BBC, February 10). Siddique suggested he was a victim of racism and bad timing. “Had a white person downloaded this stuff, there would have been no prosecution… My trial came at a time when there was a lot of hostility – the Glasgow Airport attacks had just happened, my trial finished on the anniversary of 9/11″ (The Scotsman, February 11).

The reason for the decision to quash the conviction was based around a failure by the trial judge to instruct the jury that it had to be sure that the items Siddique possessed were intended for use in a terrorist act, according to section 57 of the Terrorism Act 2000:

“A person commits an offence if he possesses an article in circumstances which give rise to a reasonable suspicion that his possession is for a purpose connected with the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism. [2]”

According to section 57, the jury must be sure that the intended possession of terrorism-related material is under “circumstances which give rise to a reasonable suspicion” that they were part of a terrorist plot.  By failing to indicate this crucial point, the judge “misdirected” the jury, rendering their conclusion unsound. [3]

The case is not, however, without precedent. Siddique was part of an online sub-culture of individuals involved in At-Tibyan publications and their related websites. Individuals involved in this network, including Aabid Khan and Younis Tsouli are currently incarcerated on terrorism charges, while a separate group, mostly from Bradford, was released under circumstances similar to Siddique’s in February 2008. [4] In that case, the appeals judge concluded that the jury had been equally misdirected about the specific nature of the charges connected to Section 57 and that it was unclear whether the materials the suspects possessed were linked to planned terrorist acts. [5] The men were allegedly planning to join the mujahideen in fighting NATO forces in Afghanistan; Siddique was initially stopped after he attempted to board a flight going to Pakistan, claiming he was going to visit an uncle’s farm.

Later in 2008, Samina Malik, the self-described “Lyrical Terrorist” was cleared of a conviction under section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000 (which states that “a person commits an offense if: they “collect” or “possess” “information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism”). The conviction was overturned after the appeals judge concluded that it was too intertwined with the Section 57 charge of which she had already been cleared. [6]

The key prosecution charge in all of the aforementioned cases came under Section 57; the individuals involved possessed substantial volumes of radical material they had obtained online and were using in furtherance of terrorist plots. While all (aside from Samina Malik) were initially convicted on this charge, the government’s case was undermined on appeal by nature of the wording used in court around the charge, something which highlights the difficulty in bringing a conviction based on possession of extremist material as the main charge. The point is that the individuals were not caught in possession of weaponry or other clearly bellicose accoutrements, but rather online tracts and handbooks which, when taken in conjunction with other evidence, amounted  to, in the prosecution’s view, tangible evidence that a terrorist conspiracy was afoot. The defense instead painted these materials as merely evidence of youthful curiosity.

In all of the cases, other factors would appear to support the accusation that something suspicious was occurring: Mohammed Atif Siddique was initially interdicted as he attempted to board a plane to Pakistan, something he may have been inspired to do after online conversations with Aabid Khan (BBC, August 18, 2008). The Bradford group gathered with the alleged intention of going abroad to fight, and Samina Malik was passing information on Heathrow security to Sohail Qureishi, a dental technician who was arrested before ever reaching Afghanistan, where he had intended to fight. But in all three cases, the wording of the legislation resulted in a successful appeal mounted by the defense against the initial conviction.

Mohammed Atif Siddique is now likely to return to life as a young man in Scotland; but the implications of his release are hard to gauge. The government has faced criticism in the past over the heavy burden placed upon defendants to prove they are innocent under section 57 and has tried to soften this with later amendments to legislation. But more specifically, the problem of proving whether extremist material that is often widely available is going to be used in pursuit of a terrorist action is something that presents an ongoing problem for British authorities. In one recent case, an individual was picked up after gathering materials during the course of post-graduate research, and was later released with no charges against him. This was a public relations disaster, with the student’s professor declaring that he was no longer going to teach terrorism courses for fear that his students may be detained (Guardian, February 5). In another case, two individuals pled guilty to charges of possessing and disseminating terrorist material, though it was unclear whether they were involved in any direct plotting of attacks (Halifax Courier [UK], December 18, 2007).

With the threat of terrorism and radicalization in the U.K. remaining very real, the government continues to seek ways to intercept individuals before they move too far down the road to action. It increasingly appears that conviction on the basis of possession of extremist material is no longer an available measure.


1. The complete court judgment can be found at:
2. The complete Act can be found at:
4. For more on the Khan/Tsouli network, please see Raffaello Pantucci “Operation Praline: The Realization of Al Suri’s Nizam, la tanzim?,” Perspectives on Terrorism, vol.2, no.12, November , 2008; and Evan Kohlmann, “Anatomy of a Modern Homegrown Terror Cell: Aabid Khan et al. (Operation Praline),” September 2008,  – others from this network have also been incarcerated elsewhere around the globe.
5. Regina vs. Zafar & Ors, before Supreme Court of Judicature, Court of Appeal, handed down February 13, 2008.
6. Regina vs. Samina Hussain Malik, before Court of Appeal, handed down June 17, 2008.

Another piece on the Al Muhajiroun ban, this time for Jamestown looking in some detail at the rationale behind the ban and a bit of history about the group. Title a little long, though I have a feeling this will be a piece that I can reuse in a few years when we go through this process again…[tt_news]=35936

Ban on U.K. Radical Islamist Group al-Muhajiroun Raises Free Speech Questions

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 3
January 21, 2010 02:53 PM Age: 3 hrs
Category: Terrorism Monitor, Global Terrorism Analysis, Home Page, Terrorism, Europe, Featured
Members of Islam4UK at a press conference in London after it was announced that the group would be banned.

The British Home Office finally proscribed the radical Islamist organization al-Muhajiroun (The Emigrants) and a number of its successor organizations on January 14. The ban included the best-known offshoot of al-Muhajiroun, Islam4UK. Described by the Home Office as a sort of “cleaning up” following the proscription in July 2006 of two predecessor organizations, al-Ghurabaa (The Strangers) and the Saved Sect, the order awakened a heated debate in the United Kingdom about whether the government was taking responsible security measures or criminalizing dissent and persecuting Muslims. U.K. Home Secretary Alan Johnston cited al-Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect in his defense of the proscription of al-Muhajiroun in a letter to the Guardian, which had been critical of the move:

“Prior to its proscription in 2006, those two organizations called for readers of its websites to “kill those who insult the prophet,” praised the terrorist actions of Osama bin Laden, and advised that it was forbidden to visit Palestine “unless you engage in the main duty of that place, i.e. jihad.” These are not views that are merely provocative – they are designed to encourage violence and legitimize violent acts in the name of religion. They are vehemently opposed by the vast majority of Muslims.”