By Samantha Sheen, AML Director Europe, ACAMS
26 August, 2016
“Exiting Britain to fight for Daesh is tantamount to taking the escalator to an early death. One in two people do not return… Identifying the tipping point remains the holy grail in our fight against radicalisation.”
Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP, Chair of the UK Home Affairs Select Committee
On 25 August 2016, the UK’s Home Affairs Select Committee (”Committee”) released its draft report entitled, “Radicalisation: the counter-narrative and identifying the tipping point” (“Report”). The Committee first called for evidence in August 2015 concerning the recruitment of individuals in the UK to terrorist movements. The Report notes that an estimated 800 UK-linked fighters have travelled to Syria and Iraq since the conflicts began there. Fifty percent (50%) of these are thought to have returned to the UK. Terrorism-related arrests in the UK were 35% higher in 2015 than in 2010. Radicalisation is therefore seen as a serious issue in the UK. Following its collection of information and evidence, some of the Committee’s key findings and recommendations to more effectively address the risks associated with radicalisation are as follows:
Government put on notice: Make Next Counter-Terrorism Laws Work
The Committee notes that there had been a great deal of legislation in the past 12 years which had not been effective in countering terrorism and extremism. It concludes that it is imperative that the new Countering Extremism and Safeguarding Bill does not turn out to either fail to achieve or be counter-productive in fulfilling its objectives.
Improve Police Counter-Terrorism Capabilities
The Committee recommends that the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit (CTIRU) be upgraded and better resourced to perform its intended role. The CTIRU should be transformed into a high-tech, state-of-the-art round-the-clock central operational hub. It should be capable of early detection, be able to quickly block risks and instantly share information of a sensitive nature with other security agencies. The Committee also suggests that representatives from all of the relevant agencies, including the Home Office, MI5 and major technology companies, be co-located within CTIRU, to ‘enable greater cooperation, better information-sharing and more effective monitoring of and action against online extremist propaganda’.
Greater Monitoring and Action by Providers
The Report notes that between mid-2015 and February 2016, Twitter suspended over 125,000 accounts linked to terrorists. Google removed over 14 million videos. The Committee observed however, that these efforts amount to a ‘drop in the ocean’. The Committee took the view that companies such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were ‘consciously failing’ to combat the misuse of their sites to promote terrorism. It suggests that more resourcing should be given to the monitoring teams in these companies to strengthen and improve the blocking of such information.
Revisit Government Strategy to Tackle Extremism
The current UK government strategy to tackle extremism is called “Prevent”. The Committee suggests that the name should be changed to “Engage” as its current name is perceived by the UK Muslim community as having a negative connotation. There is also a need for greater transparency about the activities under this strategy. Institutions involved in implementing Prevent’s strategy need to receive sufficient training in order to effect the desired measures. Regular meetings with leaders of UK’s Muslim community should also be facilitated. The Committee also encourages the government to reach out to the IT community for assistance, noting that ‘The UK has the brightest and the best talent in the creative industries in the world, including in video-games, and this talent should be used to ensure that every sophisticated piece of extremist propaganda is countered by even more sophisticated anti-radicalism material’.
Support for Families and Communities
The Committee is highly critical of the current support offered to families of individuals who have traveled overseas to join terrorist organisations. Greater support, advice and counselling is needed for them. The name of the reporting hotline, the “anti-terrorist helpline”, was seen to be a disincentive to it being used. The Committee recommends that at a minimum, its name be changed. Muslim communities also need to take up more of an active leadership role in providing support to affected families.
Strengthen Measures to Reduce Ability to Abscond
The Committee recommends that the UK government ensure that new legislation be introduced to require automatic notifications to be sent to the Passport Office and the CTIRU about individuals suspected of terrorism offences. As a pre-condition of bail, individuals should be required to surrender their passport.
Maintain Involvement in Europol
The Committee notes that Europol is a vital resource for the UK in combating terrorism and extremism and therefore must aim to retain a central position in Europol, post Brexit.
If fully implemented, the Committee’s recommendations would represent a significant, holistic approach towards strengthening the UK’s efforts to mitigate the risk of radicalisation. The measures proposed and comments made by the Committee reflect the importance given to this issue here in the UK and the organisations responsible for addressing it. The final comment at the end of the Report best summarises the motivations behind the measures proposed by the Committee:
‘Terrorism is an overwhelming global crisis, and violent extremism is what fuels it. Countering it involves the portfolios of education, health, justice, home affairs, foreign affairs and international development. Local communities in the UK are ready and willing to enter the fray and defend the British way of life.
The Government must not squander any opportunity to harness this beneficial force. It must forge and disseminate strong counter-narratives that will address the wilful blindness and blame-games of vested interests and combat the lies and deceit that the extremists want to feed to our young people in order to send them to their deaths’.
For more information about the Committee’s Report see: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/home-affairs-committee/news-parliament-2015/radicalisation-report-published-16-17/