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Countering International Terrorism

Volume 508: debated on Monday 22 March 2010

Protecting the safety of the UK and our interests overseas is the primary duty of Government. International terrorism remains the pre-eminent threat to the security of the United Kingdom.

I have today published the first annual report of the Government’s strategy for countering international terrorism, Contest (Cm 7833). This report provides a written account of our progress against the objectives set out in our strategy over the last year. The report has been developed to be read alongside the 2009 publication of Contest (Cm 7547) which remains one of the most comprehensive and wide-ranging approaches to tackling this threat in the world. Copies of the annual report will be made available in the Vote Office.

The greatest security threat we face continues to come from al-Qaeda and related groups and individuals. The nature of this threat has changed over the last 12 months. Al-Qaeda’s leadership has come under severe pressure in Pakistan and NATO’s presence across the border continues to deny them a safe haven in Afghanistan. However, an increase in the capability of some al-Qaeda affiliates and associated groups, highlighted by the attempted Detroit airline attack, demonstrates the evolving and diffuse threat we continue to face.

Contest explains how contemporary terrorist organisations aspire to use chemical, biological, radiological and even nuclear (CBRN) weapons. The availability of information on the internet, changing technology and the theft and smuggling of CBRN materials make this aspiration more realistic than it may have been in the past. To support delivering our response, I have also published today the United Kingdom’s Strategy for Countering Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Terrorism which addresses the specific threat posed by terrorist use of CBRN materials. A copy of the strategy will be placed in the House Library.

During 2009 thousands of people, including British citizens, have been killed or injured in terrorist attacks around the world. There have been no attacks, successful or unsuccessful, by international terrorist groups or individuals associated with them in the UK over the past 12 months. This reflects the resources and capabilities that we have put in place to deal with the threat. The Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, responsible for setting the UK threat level, currently assess that the UK threat level is severe meaning an attack is highly likely and could happen without warning at any time.

Our response continues to be based at all times on principles that reflect the core values of the UK including human rights, the rule of law, legitimate and accountable government, justice, freedom, tolerance and opportunity for all.

We recognise that our response must continue to be founded on partnerships across the spectrum from local, national to international. Communities, local authorities, Departments, agencies, devolved Administrations, and overseas partners all play vital roles in the successful delivery of Contest.

We judge that to date Contest has achieved its aim—to reduce the risk to the UK and to its interests overseas from international terrorism, so that people can go about their lives freely and with confidence.