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Ibrahim Magag

Volume 556: debated on Tuesday 8 January 2013

On 26 December 2012, Ibrahim Magag, a Somali-born British national who is subject to a terrorism prevention and investigation measure, failed to report for his overnight residence requirement. As I told the House yesterday, the police believe that he has absconded, and his whereabouts are currently unknown.

On 31 December, at the request of the police, I asked the High Court to revoke the anonymity order that was in force in relation to Magag. The police subsequently issued a public appeal for information that might lead to his location and apprehension. The Government took steps to inform Parliament of this incident as soon as it was lawful and operationally possible to do so. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), spoke to the Chairmen of the Home Affairs Select Committee and the Intelligence and Security Committee on 31 December. This was followed by letters to both Committee Chairmen, to the shadow Home Secretary and to you, Mr Speaker. Copies of the letters were placed in the Library of the House on the same day.

The statements that the police issued on 31 December and 2 January confirm that, at this time, Magag is not considered to represent a direct threat to the British public. The TPIM notice in this case was intended primarily to prevent fundraising and overseas travel. The Government do not believe that Magag’s disappearance is linked to any current terrorism planning in the UK. Nevertheless, we are of course taking this matter very seriously.

The police are doing everything in their power to apprehend Magag as quickly as possible. Although I cannot give operational details, I can confirm that the police, the Security Service and other agencies are devoting significant resources to the search for Magag. Members of the public with any information relating to the search should contact the confidential police anti-terrorist hotline.

Before the shadow Home Secretary stands up again, I would like to remind the House that this is not the first abscond of a terror suspect. In six years of control orders, there were seven absconds, of which six were never apprehended. Magag’s abscond is serious, and the authorities are doing everything they can to locate him. I will update the House when there are further developments as soon as it is possible to do so.

Ibrahim Magag is still missing after 13 days, and the Home Secretary clearly has no idea where he is. The first priority must be to find him, and she should tell us more about the additional resources being put into the search. Will she also tell us what the threat assessment really is? She said that the risk simply related to “fundraising and overseas travel”, yet the courts have said that Magag has attended terrorist training camps in Somalia, that he was fundraising for known terrorists and that

“the operational tempo and capability of the group of extremists based in London will be degraded by removing his operational role from London”.

Does the Home Secretary think that that threat assessment still holds?

How was Magag able to abscond in the first place? Was he even under surveillance at the time? Cabwise, a trade news service for London cabbies, reported yesterday that Magag

“used a London taxi in the vicinity of Triton Street at around 17:20 on 26 December.”

Is that true? Is the Home Secretary worried that surveillance can be shaken off simply by jumping into a black cab?

The Home Secretary allowed Ibrahim Magag to return to London. She has not answered the question from the independent reviewer, David Anderson, about whether it would have been harder to abscond in the west country, where Magag was made to live under a control order and where it would have been harder for him to get help from his associates, harder to hide and harder to get forged papers. She knows that relocation makes it harder to abscond, because she has included it in her draft emergency terror legislation.

The Home Secretary referred to the early years of control orders, but David Anderson, the independent reviewer has said:

“The absence of absconds since mid-2007 has coincided with the trend away from light touch control orders, and/or the more extensive use of relocation.”

The right hon. Lady chose to ditch relocations, and she has personally made it easier for people to abscond. Other people previously relocated under control orders are also now back in London on terrorism prevention and investigation measures. Could any one of them simply jump into a black cab tomorrow and be off?

Will the Home Secretary ask the independent reviewer urgently to investigate the failures of this case and to review the issue of relocation? She has ignored security advice before and someone involved in terrorism is now out on our streets. She must not ignore the evidence on relocations. She should put the national interest ahead of her political interests and stop ducking the issue. Is it not time that she took some responsibility and sorted this mess out?

I am very sorry that the shadow Home Secretary chose to pursue that line in relation to this case. Let me repeat the key fact that she does not seem to want to accept—that this is not the first time that somebody has absconded. She seems to think that it is all down to the difference between control orders and TPIMs, but in six years of control orders there were seven absconds and six of the individuals involved were never apprehended.

The right hon. Lady keeps saying that it is all down to whether we have the power to relocate, but relocation powers were available throughout the history of control orders and they did not prevent seven absconds by control order subjects. If she will not listen to me, perhaps she will listen to the police and the Security Service, which made it absolutely clear at the time TPIMs were introduced that there should be no substantial increase in overall risk and that appropriate arrangements were in place for the transition from control orders to TPIMs—and that remains their position.

The right hon. Lady asked about the current level of risk. I repeat what I said in response to her question—that the statements the police issued on 31 December and on 2 January confirm that at this time Magag is not considered to represent a direct threat to the British public, and that the Government do not believe that his disappearance is linked to any current terrorism planning in the UK.

The right hon. Lady made a number of references to David Anderson, the independent reviewer. He has said:

“The only sure way to prevent absconding is to lock people in a high security prison.”

I agree, which is why we provided extra funding to the Security Service and the police when we introduced TPIMs to maximise the opportunities to prosecute terrorists in open court and to minimise the risk they pose to national security. The alternatives—whether we are talking about TPIMs or control orders—are highly useful disruptive tools, but because they do not involve locking people up, as the history of control orders shows, there will always be a risk of abscond.

Currently, the police and other agencies are, as I have said, working very hard to apprehend Ibrahim Magag. They have taken the operational decisions that needed to be taken and the way in which they pursue their inquiries is an operational matter for them. When the dust has settled, we will look again to see whether any lessons need to be learned. The independent reviewer produces an annual report that covers TPIMs, and I fully expect him to cover them in his review. I say to the shadow Home Secretary, however, that all she has done in highlighting this matter is to demonstrate the weakness of her argument, as what she says about TPIMs was also true of control orders. I hope that the whole House will join me in supporting the police, the Security Service and other agencies in continuing their work and in keeping our country safe.

Order. To maximise the number of participants in these exchanges, I appeal to right hon. and hon. Members to ask single short supplementary questions and, of course, to the Home Secretary to provide us with her characteristically pithy replies.

Since the previous Government introduced the Human Rights Act 1998, it has been more difficult, has it not, to strike the right balance between the rights of terrorists and the proportionate protection of society from the threat they present? Should we not be thinking about the long- term future of the Human Rights Act, notwithstanding the support it has from Opposition Members?

My hon. Friend tempts me down a road that, if I were to travel down it, would probably necessitate a rather longer response than the pithy answer you have requested of me, Mr. Speaker. I can tell him, however, that the Government are looking at the Human Rights Act, and that the Commission on a Bill of Rights is considering what legislative support we should have in relation to human rights.

I thank the security Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire)—for contacting me about this matter on new year’s eve. May I briefly express two concerns? First, it has been alleged that Magag was forging passports while he was in the camp in Somalia. Can the Home Secretary confirm that the police have his passport so that he is not able to travel abroad? Secondly, will she personally review the arrangements for the other nine people who are subject to TPIMs, in order to be satisfied that they are all in place and are secure?

The issue of the passport has not been discussed openly in public, but given the right hon. Gentleman’s position I shall be happy to talk to him about it on Privy Council terms. As for his second question, when one TPIM subject absconds, the agencies take appropriate steps to look at other TPIM subjects.

Does the Home Secretary agree that the whole concept of internal exile without trial is abhorrent? Labour should never have introduced such a Stalinist, authoritarian approach, and she was right to get rid of it. Someone who has committed a terrorist offence should be tried, convicted and jailed, not exiled indefinitely without trial.

As I explained in my response to the shadow Home Secretary, one of the purposes of the extra resources that we provided for the Security Service and the police following the introduction of TPIMs was to improve their ability to identify opportunities for prosecution. As was pointed out by the independent reviewer, the best place for a terrorist suspect is behind bars.

The Home Secretary decided to rebalance in favour of civil liberties rather than security, and that cost £50 million. Will she answer this question? Did the absence of relocation affect the ability of this individual to abscond?

When the Government took office they decided to review counter-terrorism legislation. There was a public consultation, and a number of changes were made as a result. It is possible for people to abscond from wherever they are; indeed, three of the control order subjects who absconded did so from outside London.

Is not one of the root causes of the current problem the fact that members of the Labour Government allowed so many of these people to have visas and passports, letting them stay in the United Kingdom? Is it not time that we rounded up as many of them as possible, and established grounds on which to strip them of their visas and passports and deport them to whichever hellhole they came from and wish to emulate?

My hon. Friend makes his point in his normal forthright manner. I can tell him that the Government view national security as an absolute priority and take every possible step to keep the public safe, through deportations when they are possible, through the application of TPIMs, or through other measures.

On many occasions the Home Secretary has been at pains to reassure the House that the extra measures are sufficient to mitigate any increased risk caused by the absence of a relocation power and the move from control orders to TPIMs. Why were those additional resources not effective in this case?

It is true that when we introduced TPIMs we made extra resources available to the Security Service and the police. However, as I said in my original response in relation to whatever powers actually exist, the best place for a terrorist or a terrorist suspect is behind bars, because without that there is a risk of absconding.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the crude political posturing of Labour Members is all the more ironic given that they did not even vote against TPIMs when the Government proposed their introduction, and given that they lost seven people under control orders, six of whom have never been seen again?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The point that the shadow Home Secretary seems incapable of accepting is that under control orders with relocation powers, seven people absconded.

The Home Secretary is at pains to say that it is not all about relocation, and she reminds the House that she chose to legislate to give these suspects access to mobile phones and the internet, and for a sunset clause that would kill this regime off after two years even if the threat level from the individual had not changed. Given the disappearance of Mr Magag, does she not regret regarding increased risk to the public and unnecessary extra pressure on the police and the security services as an acceptable price to pay and as, in the end, a civil liberties pose rather than a move to increase national security?

I am confident in the TPIM package that was available—the TPIM measures plus the extra resources that were made available to the Security Service and the police. We of course consulted on them at the time this was done. As I said in response to the urgent question from the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), they were clear that there was no substantial increase in risk, and that remains their position.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way to avoid such dangerous individuals being loose in our society is to improve our ability to intercept their communications? Will she therefore agree to carry on supporting the telecommunications Bill—which I hope will come before the House—so that our agencies can do the best job they can?

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that it is important to improve and develop the ability of the agencies to have access to communications data. That, if I might gently remind my hon. Friend, is not about intercepting data. Intercept of data is a separate issue under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, but it is true that we need access to those communications data. As terrorists and others—organised criminals, paedophiles and others—use new means to communicate, it is important that the Government have access to the communications data from those new means of communications.

The Home Secretary has repeated several times this afternoon that the Security Service and the police advised that there would be no substantial increase in risk as a result of the introduction of TPIMs, but the question that she is singularly failing to answer is how she can justify any increase in risk to the safety of this nation. Or is she saying that the absconding of Mr Magag and the more relaxed conditions that allowed it to happen are now part of an additional but acceptable risk that she is prepared to take?

I say to the right hon. Gentleman, as I have said to him on a number of occasions, because he has asked a number of questions in relation to TPIMs—[Interruption.] He says from a sedentary position that he will continue to do so, and I will continue to answer them in the same way. When we looked at the legislation, we did introduce the TPIMs. One of the purposes of the TPIMs was to ensure that people were better able to find evidence that would lead to prosecutions. Extra resources were given to the Security Service and the police at the time, and the Security Service and the police at the time and now are clear that there was no substantial increase in risk.

In my experience, the very best way of stopping potential terrorists in action, in thought or in any deed is to relocate them. Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the measure? I was always uneasy about changing from control orders.

I have to say to my hon. Friend that my view, as I have stated this afternoon, is clearly that the best way to deal with terrorists and terrorist suspects is to be able to prosecute them and put them behind bars.

Apparently, during the period that he was supposedly subject to a TPIM, this man was allowed to meet regularly with other known extremists. Why did the Home Secretary think that was a good idea?

For every individual who is placed on a TPIM, there is a particular package of measures that is part of that. The details of that are operational matters. What I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that the package of measures is carefully considered for each individual and is reviewed regularly.

Will my right hon. Friend remind the House that more people absconded under the previous Government than under this Government? While she is at it, will she remind the House that under the previous Government and under the control order regime there were more absconds that were not based in London?

My hon. Friend has put it well and put it on the record. It is the singular fact that the shadow Home Secretary is reluctant to accept—indeed, will not accept—that there were seven absconds under control orders, and six of those individuals were never apprehended.

Even if Magag does not pose a direct, imminent terror threat, as the Home Secretary claims, does she not accept that his presence in a city such as London is of great concern and risks radicalising young vulnerable people such as some in my constituency? What assurances can she give that that will not happen?

We take that individual’s abscond extremely seriously, as I have said. The police, the Security Service and other agencies are working and putting resources into trying to apprehend him. That is entirely right and, as I said earlier, I hope the whole House will support the police and the other agencies in doing that.

Does not the fact that six people absconded under the control orders and were never found show the major flaws in the control order system? Can my right hon. Friend set out how the TPIM system, with the extra resources thrown at it, is much more advantageous?

My hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head: the Opposition fail to accept that under the control order regime there were seven absconds, six of whom were not apprehended. That was under a regime that had the relocation power. What we did with TPIMs and in giving extra resources to the police and the Security Service was to put in place the regime that was appropriate for national security, but which also should allow greater opportunities for prosecution.

The background to this is clear. Under control orders, people absconded, so the extra power to enforce their relocation was used and as a result, during the next four years, no one absconded. The Home Secretary made a political decision to get rid of that power and allowed this man to come back, live where he wants, mix with whoever he likes and as a result, within 12 months he has absconded. That is what happened. It is clear. Is it true—yes or no—did he just ring a cab?

The situation that the hon. Gentleman portrays in the whole of his question is not the situation that pertains. I made it clear in answer to his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) that for any individual on TPIMs a range of measures can be applied, including, for example, listing those with whom they may not associate. Those measures are put in place for each individual. They are carefully considered and regularly reassessed.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the real issue is not about relocation orders but about the extra resources that were given to the police and security services when TPIMs were introduced? Can she reassure me that those extra resources are being used with specific reference to this person so that he can be apprehended as soon as possible?

The extra resources that were available were to be used on the introduction of the TPIMs and for a period of time in terms of the individuals who were on TPIMs and the TPIM regime that had been introduced. In relation to resources for the potential apprehension of Ibrahim Magag, I am assured by the police and others that they have the resources that they consider necessary to be able to conduct the inquiries and the search they are conducting.

Further to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the Chair of the Select Committee, why cannot we all be told whether the authorities have Magag’s passport? Do not the public have a right to know?

Perhaps I can answer the question in this way. There are certain facts in relation to an individual that are not publicly known because they are subject to an anonymity order, and there are various legal issues relating to that. If I may go away and check those issues, and if it is possible to make a public reference in the House in relation to the passport issue, I will place a letter in the Library of the House.