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Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

Volume 591: debated on Wednesday 21 January 2015

I beg to move,

That the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2015, which was laid before this House on 19 January, be approved.

Seventeen people were killed and a number injured in the appalling attacks in Paris earlier this month, while in December we saw deadly and callous attacks in Sydney and Pakistan. There can be no doubt that the terrorist threat we face is grave and relentless. The threat level in the UK, which is set by the independent Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, remains at “severe”, meaning that a terrorist attack in our country is highly likely and could occur without warning.

We can never entirely eliminate the threat from terrorism, but we are determined to do all to minimise the threat from terrorism to the UK and our interests abroad, and proscription is an important part of the Government’s strategy to disrupt terrorist activities. The two groups we propose to add to the list of terrorist organisations, amending schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000, are Jund al-Aqsa, also known as the Soldiers of al-Aqsa, and Jund al-Khalifa-Algeria, also known as the Soldiers of the Caliphate. This is the 17th proscription order under the Act.

Under section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000, the Home Secretary has the power to proscribe an organisation if she believes it is currently concerned in terrorism. Given its wide-ranging impact, the Home Secretary exercises her power to proscribe only after thoroughly reviewing the available evidence on the organisation. The cross-Government proscription review group supports the Home Secretary in her decision making process. Having carefully considered all the evidence, the Home Secretary believes that Jund al-Aqsa and Jund al-Khalifa-Algeria are both currently concerned in terrorism.

Jund al-Aqsa is a splinter group of the al-Nusra front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria. Since September 2013, the group has acted against the Syrian Government. It is a foreign fighter battalion comprising a variety of nationalities, as well as a native Syrian contingent. The group is primarily operating in Idlib and Hama. It is believed to be responsible for the attack on 9 February 2014 in Maan village, which killed 40 people, of whom 21 were civilians. In July 2014, it supported the Islamic Front in an operation to seize Hama military airport. In August 2014, the al-Nusra front released a document summarising its operations that included details of an attack targeting a resort hotel conducted in collaboration with Jund al-Aqsa.

Jund al-Khalifa-Algeria is an Islamist militant group believed to be made up of members of dormant al-Qaeda cells. It announced its allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in a communiqué released on 13 September 2014. In April 2014, it claimed responsibility for an ambush on a convoy that killed 11 members of the Algerian army. On 24 September 2014, the group beheaded a mountaineering guide, Hervé Gourdel, a French national. The abduction was announced on the same day that the spokesman for ISIL warned that it would target Americans and other western citizens, especially the French, after French jets joined the US in carrying out strikes in Iraq on ISIL targets.

In conclusion, I believe it right to add both groups to the list of proscribed organisations in schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000. Subject to the agreement of this House and the other place, the order will come into force on Friday 23 January.

I thank the Minister for his statement and I am grateful for the Home Secretary’s letter to my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary. On the basis of the Minister’s statement and that letter, the Opposition will support the Government’s motion.

We recognise, of course, that events in Syria, Iraq and northern Africa are fuelling a rapidly evolving network of inter-related terror groups who pose a real threat to the UK and our allies. It is absolutely right to use all legal measures to try to counter the spread of these groups and to ensure that they cannot establish themselves in the United Kingdom.

In this case, we have two groups with close links to other proscribed groups. Jund al Khalifa-Algeria is an Algerian-based Islamic militant group, linked to al-Qaeda and hoping to establish a caliphate in northern Africa. The group is affiliated to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Secondly, Jund al-Aqsa or Soldiers of al-Aqsa is a splinter group of the al-Nusra front, and it is just three months since we proscribed JKI—Army of the Islamic Caliphate, another splinter group of the al-Nusra front. In common with the al-Nusra front, the JAA is largely based in Syria, and as a group has attracted many jihadists from outside Syria. JAA started out as a campaign against the Syrian Government, but in recent attacks the group has seemed happy to target innocent civilians.

At this point in a proscription order, I normally have to conclude that we will take the assurances of the Home Secretary that she has sufficient evidence that the groups are conducting the activities described. This is obviously because the Opposition do not have access to the same intelligence as the Government. In this case, however, there is no need to see sensitive information to conclude that these are terrorist groups. Far from hiding their activities, they are actively boasting about them on social media, using YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to spread images of the most horrendous violence, alongside messages justifying it. These are not groups that want to hide; these are groups that are actively recruiting.

The JAA YouTube channel was opened on the 28 July 2014, apparently replacing a previous YouTube channel that had been closed down. The latest Twitter account opened in September in English, again replacing an account that had been closed down. The English Twitter account—we looked at it just yesterday—has 1,460 followers. Tweets declare fallen supporters to be martyrs, and there are links to YouTube videos and other Twitter pages run by JAA. One of these pages is the official JAA Twitter page in Arabic, which has some 17,500 followers.

The videos on the YouTube channel are even more disturbing. Let us take, for example, the video uploaded on to the official JAA channel on 21 September 2014. This video depicts JAA fighters engaging with Government forces—kicking, hanging, abusing the bodies of the dead and taking part in training exercises. It seems quite clear that this video is intended to glorify grotesque violence as a form of extremist propaganda. This video has been viewed 13,000 times, attracted 40 comments and has been “liked” on the YouTube rating system 96 times.

I have met Google in the past to discuss YouTube’s hosting of terrorist propaganda, and it is supposed to be taking down extremist content when it comes across it. The Home Office’s counter-terrorism internet referral unit is also supposed to be identifying this content and getting it taken down. Here, however, is a whole YouTube channel run by, as we know, a known terrorist organisation and including sermons advocating terrorism and videos of violent terrorist acts attracting thousands of views.

At one level, there is an irony that these extremist terrorist groups, rallying against western consumerism, are happy to use these enormous western companies to spread their message of hate, but there is also a very serious point. As the Minister said in an earlier speech to the House, the

“effect is that a listed organisation is outlawed and is unable to operate in the UK. It is a criminal offence for a person to belong to…support…arrange a meeting in support of a proscribed organisation, or wear clothing or carry articles in public which arouse reasonable suspicion that an individual is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation.”—[Official Report, 2 April 2014; Vol. 578, c. 948.]

A very brief look at what was available on social media enabled me to come across deeply offensive and worrying videos and tweets. I am very pleased that we are proscribing the organisations that produced them, but I think that the Minister should bear in mind that social media companies are making such videos and tweets available for everyone to see, and consider what more can be done about those companies.

I will be very brief.

As is normal in the case of proscription orders, the whole House is united in support of what the Government are doing. As far as I can remember, no order of this kind has ever being opposed, because we trust and accept the good faith of the Minister when he tells the House that dreadful organisations are seeking to propagate terrorism, which is indeed true.

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) raised the issue of the internet. As the Prime Minister said recently, it is the “dark net” that gives so much succour to those who are indulging in terrorist activities. The Home Affairs Committee has tried to encourage internet companies to take firmer action on many occasions, but, as the Minister knows, this material is still on the net as we speak.

Many organisations such as those that we are proscribing today recruit through the net. In the past, there was one-to-one grooming of those who wished to become jihadists; that activity then moved to the madrassahs and then to the universities, and it is now taking place in our prisons. It is, however, the internet through which organisations that seek to change the face of Governments —in Algeria, in particular—are operating.

I hope that the Minister will continue to do what I know he has started to do, and ensure that the net is free from these agents of destruction. I am happy to support the order.

The hour is late, and I do not intend to detain the House. I think that the Government are right to proscribe Jund Al-Aqsa and Jund al-Khalifa-Algeria. However, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), it is important not just to proscribe terrorist organisations, but to work to reduce their influence—and, indeed, that of other organisations that the Government may be forced to proscribe in months to come—on young people in our country.

The protest that took place on the Sunday after the appalling killings in Paris united the whole of Europe, and people from beyond Europe. It is difficult to think of any other demonstration that could have brought together the President of Palestine and the Prime Minister of Israel, who walked side by side. However, if we are to prevent young minds in this country from being poisoned by propaganda of this kind—particularly through the web—it is important for us to work with Muslims in this country. The vast majority of them have absolutely no truck with violence, which they consider to be a denial of the principles of Islam, but we need to ensure that they counter, within their own community, the lies and falsehoods that the terrorists are propagating.

More Muslim parents are talking to me in York, which does not have a particularly large Muslim population. They tell me that they want more to be done to deflect young people from these dangers. I hope that the Minister will say a little about what the Government are doing in relation to Muslims in this country.

With the leave of the House, and in thanking right hon. and hon. Members for their support for the order this evening, let me respond first to the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson). Yes, of course we are vigilant in seeking to combat the use of messages on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter or any other social media platform, including the new ones that appear. That is precisely why we have the counter-terrorism internet referral unit with which the hon. Lady will be familiar. It has taken down 72,000 individual items since it was established in 2010. She highlighted a video and the original has been removed, but it continues to be put up in different places. That is why we have the CTIRU to flag that and to work with industry to take it down.

The hon. Lady and other right hon. and hon. Members made a broader point about the role and responsibility of the internet industry. We are obviously flagging these items, but the industry has a responsibility to take action when it identifies such images. A number of companies do that, but there is more to be done for them to realise their responsibilities and take further action. Indeed, the Prime Minister’s comments on this subject after the publication of the Intelligence and Security Committee’s report on Woolwich identified that challenge and how we all need to do more. The social media companies and the internet industry certainly need to do more.

I entirely endorse the comments made by the hon. Member for York Central (Sir Hugh Bayley) about working with communities. That is precisely the approach the Government take. We are seeking to ensure that we challenge ourselves on what more we can do and that is why the provisions in the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, which is currently in the other place, put on a statutory basis our work on counter-radicalisation and the Channel de-radicalisation programmes.

We are doing work in government, but there is also work in communities. Some incredible British Muslims are taking a stand and showing leadership, such as the 100 imams who wrote a letter condemning the actions of ISIL and groups such as Families Against Stress and Trauma. Through their programmes, there is an outlet that prevents people from being radicalised and going down that pathway. This is clearly a broader and wider debate. We have debated some of it on the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, but proscription can be an important way for the police to get further evidence, which can lead to prosecution of those who belong to groups that are not proscribed.

I am grateful to the House for the support it has shown this evening. I hope that we will remain vigilant, whether online, in communities or more broadly, to ensure that we do our utmost to protect our country and our citizens and to confound and confront those who would do us harm.

Question put and agreed to.