The new chief of Britain's intelligence service MI5 painted a troubling picture of growing terrorist threat in Britain, saying the number of suspects in the country has more than doubled in the past year – and that many of the new recruits are teenagers. The remarks came just a day before the unveiling of new antiterror laws, which have raised concerns about civil liberties.
The new security bill that was announced Tuesday, along with other new laws in a traditional speech by the Queen to Parliament, avoided the controversial issue of how long suspects could be held without charges, reports The Guardian. Instead, the government will "seek a consensus" on anti-terror laws.
The government will "seek a consensus on changes to the law on terrorism so the police and other agencies have the powers they need to protect the public while protecting essential liberties," the monarch told the assembled MPs and peers.
… The security bill, which the government hopes to publish by Christmas, aims to set up a sex offender-style register for terrorists released from prison, while other measures will prevent those convicted of terror offences from travelling abroad.
The Queen's speech also confirmed that the new bill will allow police to question "suspects about evidence that emerges after they have been charged, something not currently permitted." The law also seeks to "close a loophole in anti-terrorism laws, revealed earlier this year, in which police are not allowed to share fingerprints or DNA samples from terrorism suspects held under control orders," The Guardian reports.
On Monday, in his first public speech since taking over as director-general of MI5 in April, Jonathan Evans "painted an alarming picture of youngsters being turned into extremists," reports the The Times of London.
Teenagers as young as 15 are being recruited by terrorist groups in Britain, swelling the number of people suspected of being involved in terrorism to 4,000, the head of MI5 said yesterday.
… "They are radicalising, indoctrinating and grooming young, vulnerable people to carry out acts of terrorism."
In a speech in October last year, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, his predecessor, said there were 1,600 people on MI5's books who needed watching.
However, Mr Evans said the figure of known suspects had jumped to "at least 2,000", but he admitted: "We suspect that there are as many again that we don't yet know of." Police sources said yesterday that they were watching 500 people who were involved in at least 80 separate terrorist plots.
Mr. Evans also said Al Qaeda's campaign against Britain was being orchestrated not just from Pakistan but from Somalia, Iraq, and Algeria, reports the Times. MI5's manpower would be increased to 4,000 by 2011 with recently increased funding, Evans added.
The Daily Telegraph reports that MI5 is also concerned about resources being diverted to dealing with Chinese and Russian espionage in the country.
Jonathan Evans said his service was stretched dealing with the jihadi threat yet still had to keep an eye on Moscow's operations.
"This year, yet again, there have been high levels of covert activity by foreign intelligence organisations in our country," he added.
… Six per cent of MI5's budget goes on countering the spies, and Mr Evans said: ''Despite the Cold War ending nearly two decades ago, my Service is still expending resources to defend the UK against unreconstructed attempts by Russia, China and others, to spy on us.
… They are resources which I would far rather devote to countering the threat from international terrorism – a threat to the whole international community, not just the UK."
The Independent drew attention to the timing of the revelations before the unveiling of the Labour government's latest antiterror laws.
The timing of the speech … was seen by Labour MPs as part of a softening-up process for the extension of the detention of terrorist suspects without charge beyond the current limit of 28 days.
… A QC and leading voice on civil liberties on the Labour benches, Bob Marshall-Andrews said he suspected the timing of the speech was linked to the legislation. He will oppose an extension of detention beyond 28 days unless he heard hard evidence that it was necessary. "I have still heard nothing to change my mind," he said.
Earlier, officials had suggested the the new counterterrorism bill would seek to extend detention time to 56 days. "Attempts in 2005 to extend pre-charge detention to 90 days ended in Tony Blair's first Commons defeat as PM," the British Broadcasting Corp. reports. Instead, MPs voted to extend the period from the then limit of 14 days to 28 days, with both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives refusing to support further extensions without new evidence.
Questioned recently, shadow home secretary David Davis said there remained "no shred of evidence" to support an extension, which he said could end up curbing civil liberties that "thousands, if not millions, of British citizens have died to defend."
Antiterror strategies are already under scrutiny with last week's court conviction of the London police in the killing of Brazilian electrician Jean de Menezes in operations in the wake of the July 2005 bombings of the London underground. The verdict brought both calls for the resignation of London's police chief, and fears that it would set back counter terrorism operations, reports The Scotsman.
The debate over antiterrorism laws extends to Europe, where the EU has proposed its own set of measures. These would include collection of flight details and and tighter Internet laws, reports the BBC. The plan would require EU members to collect 19 pieces of personal information about travelers to the continent, the BBC says.
The collection of Passenger Name Record (PNR) data would bring the EU in line with the US, which introduced a similar scheme following the 9/11 attacks.
The measures would not apply to flights within the EU.
Critics of the European plan fear it would impinge on personal liberties, introducing unnecessary levels of surveillance.
In a report comparing the treatment of Muslims and non-Muslims caught with bomb-making literature, The Muslim News, an independent Muslim monthly in Britian, suggests that many in the community feel that antiterror laws are already discriminatory.
[Terror suspect Mohammed Siddqui's lawyer Aamer Anwar] insisted the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] must address the discrepancies that arise in using terrorism legislations: "Why is it that when white males are involved in what is quite obvious terrorist atrocities and terrorist attacks, commission and preparation of terrorist acts, they (the CPS) are not prepared to use the laws, but are ready to use it when Muslims are involved?"
Human rights lawyer, Khalid Sofi, told The Muslim News: "The cases … put forward against British Muslims, a number of them are under the bases that they possess material which will be helpful to terrorists which confirms a bigger thing which is Muslims are being targeted disproportionately with the anti-terror legislation while others are not. By arresting and not necessarily charging someone under the anti-terror legislation the whole ball game changes immediately. They are treated differently, the community is treated differently and the media and the legal justice system deal with them differently."
Attention was focused on Britain's Muslim community after the July 2005 terrorist attacks, which left 56 dead and wounded 700. The Christian Science Monitor had reported then on the radicalization of young second and third generation British Muslims, "torn between two worlds."
Young, independent, and streetwise, they are preaching in urban slang outside the confines of Britain's mosques. They are helping teens and 20-somethings beat drugs and alcohol. And they are inspiring a new pool of impressionable young Muslims to consider killing their fellow Britons.
These radical bands constitute a small fraction of London's 1 million Muslims. But their freewheeling ideology - hardened in the jihadi echo chambers of cliques like Abu Osama's - is creating a new subculture within Britain's Islamic community. So far, the growing influence of these informal, maverick groups has gone largely undetected - and unchecked.