Airline bomber convictions lead to pride and praise for British security
Monday's conviction of three young British Muslims has boosted the service after recent setbacks. But concerns remain about the ongoing radicalization of young Muslims.
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Causes for concernSkip to next paragraph
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But while headlines today were generally congratulatory, some experts were quietly striking notes of caution.
Describing the case as a "mixed bag," Andrew Silke, director of terrorism studies at the University of East London, pointed out that four other men were found not guilty of involvement in the suicide-bomb plot.
"The general sense at the moment is that this was the last of the really big terrorist cases, at least for some time. There was a peak in the level of the threat around 2005 and 2006 but that has now declined," says Professor Silke, who cited the British drawdown from Iraq as a crucial factor in cooling passions among some young British Muslims who might otherwise have been attracted to militancy.
Separately, he points out that the intelligence-led operation was coincidentally being celebrated at a time when it appeared that the end may be dawning for a system of controversial "control orders" used against a small number of terror suspects who are electronically tagged and subjected to an almost partial house arrest rather than being charged and imprisoned.
A man regarded as one of Britain's most dangerous terror suspects was released last week from his control order so that the authorities could avoid disclosing secret evidence against him during a court appeal by his legal team.
"The evidence of the past, such as when internment without trial was used in Northern Ireland, is that this type of approach is counterproductive. For really dangerous people, you have to mount surveillance operations and gather the evidence you need for a prosecution," says Silke.
Margaret Gilmore, an analyst at the Royal United Services Institute think tank, said that there's no evidence that the convictions are having any impact on the radicalization of British Muslims.
"I'm not sure these latest convictions will have huge impact on reengaging disaffected young radical Muslims," she says. "Counterterrorist officers keep telling us this is a generational problem and will take a generations [several decades] to solve, and I think that's true. I don't see any sign that the number of young people being radicalized has fallen dramatically in the past couple of years.
"The UK security agencies were slow in establishing the extent to which people on the Afghan/Pakistan borders were pulling the strings in terrorist plots against the UK," she adds, "and have now shifted their focus more in that direction, which should mean they will be more aware of those being radicalized abroad when they come back into the UK. "