Prime Minister David Cameron has proposed fresh anti-terror laws to counter the threat posed by homegrown jihadists, having raising the UK's terror threat level from ‘substantial’ to ‘severe’ over recent events in Iraq and Syria.
Cameron said he wished to avoid “knee-jerk reactions” and said the proposals did not represent “sweeping new powers”. He called for “forensic” approach that would offer “targeted, discretionary power to exclude British nationals from UK” if they are suspected of backing extremists.
The announcement was based on negotiations between Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition partners, and included measures to block British nationals fighting with IS (formerly ISIS) militants from re-entering the UK, where they pose a terrorist threat.
In an effort to control the flow of British-born jihadists traveling to and from Iraq and Syria, the new measures allow intelligence agencies to access airline passenger data and carry out additional security screening. There are also plans to allow airport border police to temporarily seize suspects' passports while they investigate.
The government plans to intensify its intelligence sharing with fellow EU member states.
Signs of coalition tensions were highlighted over the weekend when former Lib Dem leaders criticized Cameron's decision to raise the terror threat rating. Negotiations between Cameron and the Lib Dem Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg sought to balance security concerns against the protection of civil liberties.
UK, foreign and duel nationals suspected of involvement in terrorist acts can have their British citizenship revoked under the proposals. Cameron said parliament would enact primary legislation if the High Court challenged its Royal Prerogative Powers.
Signs of coalition tensions were highlighted, however, when former Lib Dem leaders criticized Cameron's decision to raise the terror threat rating. Negotiations between Cameron and the Lib Dem Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg have sought to balance security concerns against the protection of civil liberties.
On Friday, Britain’s terror level was officially raised from ‘substantial’ to ‘severe’. In a statement, Cameron called the IS a “greater and deeper threat to our security than we’ve seen before.” He said there are “gaps in our armory” that would need to be filled with new legislation “to keep our people safe.”
The upgraded alert was put in place by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) - a subset of Britain’s Security Service (MI5) dedicated to analyzing intelligence relating to global terrorism. According to MI5, Britain has not faced such a serious risk of terrorist attacks since 2011.
Around 30 UK citizens every month are now traveling to Syria and Iraq across the frontier, in a journey dubbed the ‘Jihad Express’. About 500 British citizens are believed to have gone to Syria to join militant groups, though some have estimated that figure could be up to three times higher.
The king of Saudi Arabia warned at the weekend that terror groups would attack Europe in the next month unless they were confronted with “power and speed.”
In a public statement, Home Secretary Theresa May said on Friday the “increase in the threat level is related to developments in Syria and Iraq where terrorist groups are planning attacks against the West.”
“Some of these plots are likely to involve foreign fighters who have traveled there from the UK and Europe to take part in those conflicts,” she added.
Meanwhile, the deputy secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), Harun Khan, has raised concerns that the government’s crackdown on British-born extremists could push young Muslims closer to radical clerics instead of drawing them back into mainstream society.
In an interview with the Guardian, Khan called the situation “unprecedented” and urged the government to consult British Muslim groups to better understand how extremists are able to recruit.
“They need to be talking to us and others to understand what it is that's leading these boys down this route,” said Khan. “Part of the problem is the constant talk of legislation, harassment and monitoring, stripping people of their passports. This is what's leading young people towards radicalism."
As well has domestic legislation, Britain stepped up the battle against IS by flying tons of ammunition to Kurdish forces in Iraq. It is the UK’s first delivery of military equipment, though it has delivered aid and non-lethal kit.
Two RAF C-130 Hercules planes made a secret landing in Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish region of Iraq, early Monday morning to deliver nine tonnes of 7.62mm ammunition for assault rifles, as well as hundreds of sets of body armour, helmets and sleeping bags.