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Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

Volume 594: debated on Wednesday 25 March 2015

I beg to move,

That the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2015, which was laid before this House on 23 March, be approved.

The threat level in the UK, which is set by the independent Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, remains at “severe”. This means 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 we can to minimise the threat to the UK and to our interests abroad. It is also important that we demonstrate our support for other members of the international community in their efforts to tackle terrorism wherever it occurs. 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 Jamaat ul-Ahrar and the Haqqani network. This is the 18th proscription order under the Act. Under section 3, the Home Secretary has the power to proscribe an organisation if she believes it is currently concerned in terrorism. The effect of proscription 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 or arrange a meeting in support of a proscribed organisation, or to wear clothing or carry articles in public that arouse reasonable suspicion that an individual is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation.

Having carefully considered all the evidence, the Home Secretary believes that JUA and the Haqqani network are both currently concerned in terrorism. Hon. Members will understand that I am unable to comment on specific intelligence, but I can provide a summary of each group’s activities in turn.

Jamaat ul-Ahrar is a militant Islamist group that split away from Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan in August 2014. JUA aims to establish an Islamic caliphate in Pakistan and aspires to extend global jihad into the Indian subcontinent. The group has claimed responsibility for a number of recent attacks. In September 2014, JUA’s spokesman released a statement criticising the British Government for arresting suspected Al Muhajiroun associates and made a threat, stating that

“your future security depends upon how nicely you treat the Muslims in Britain”.

Additionally, the group has claimed responsibility for the fatal attacks on Christian sites in Lahore earlier this month.

The Haqqani network is an Islamist nationalist group seeking to establish sharia law and to control territory in Afghanistan. It is ideologically aligned with the Taliban. It has links with a number of terrorist groups in the region, including proscribed central Asian group Islamic Jihad Union, and long-established links with al-Qaeda.

The Haqqani network continues to play an active and influential role in the Afghan insurgency in the east of the country, and is seeking to expand its influence into other areas of Afghanistan. Given the Taliban practice of claiming attacks on behalf of the insurgency as a whole, it can be difficult to identify the Haqqani network’s specific responsibility for attacks, but the group is believed to have been responsible for the attack against the British embassy vehicle in November 2014 that killed six people, including a UK national and an Afghan member of UK embassy staff, and that injured more than 30 people. It is likely that the Haqqani network will continue to view Kabul as a key target location due to the concentration of UK and western interests in the capital.

In conclusion, it is absolutely right that we add JUA and the Haqqani network to the list of proscribed organisations in schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act, subject to the agreement of the House and the other place. The order will come into force on Friday 27 March.

I thank the Minister for his statement. There is a long tradition of cross-party co-operation on national security. The Opposition will support the Government motion. We are satisfied that the groups included meet the test of terrorism under section 3 of the 2000 Act.

This is the last time we will discuss a proscription order during this Parliament. I believe it is the eighth time I have responded for the Opposition on a proscription order, and the sixth time in the past two years. The increasing rate of proscription orders reflects the increasing terror threat in recent years and the emergence of terror groups across the world.

During this Parliament, we have proscribed groups such as Boko Haram from Nigeria, and Imarat Kavkaz from the Caucasus. Less than two years ago, we were proscribing the Islamic State in the Levant, which is now the world’s largest, best-funded and most powerful terrorist organisation ever. The two groups we are discussing are, in some ways, a break with the trend of the past five years. They are established and well-publicised groups relating to long-standing terror groups including al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

The Opposition, as always, have not had access to the same information about the groups as the Minister. However, given that the two groups are already well established and high profile, and are linked to a series of shocking and violent terrorist acts, we are happy to support the Government motion.

As the Minister laid out in his statement, JUA is an Islamic extremist group that is seeking to establish a so-called Islamic caliphate in Pakistan, and to commit a global jihad across the Indian subcontinent and beyond. As he explained, the group is linked to several high-profile attacks from last year, and has spoken out to support UK-based hate preacher Anjem Choudary.

The Haqqani network appears to be an even larger group, hailing from Afghanistan and aiming to establish sharia law and take control of territory. As the Minister said, the group is aligned with both the Taliban and al-Qaeda, as well as with other known terror groups such as Islamic Jihad Union. Taken together, the groups provide a substantial force with a reach across central Asia. The Opposition are particularly concerned about the apparent involvement of the Haqqani network in attacks on the British embassy, and so absolutely support its proscription.

I agree with the Minister that proscription is a vital tool against terrorism, and that it enables us to tackle and disrupt terror groups co-operating around the world, but as we come to the end of a Parliament during which there has been an exceptional number of proscription orders, we need to consider whether the proscription powers we currently use are having the results we require. The effect of a proscription order is to make it illegal to join, support or even wear a uniform associated with a terrorist group, but it seems that proscription orders are not having the effect of reducing a group’s presence on social media. I am sure the Minister is acutely aware of the findings of the Intelligence and Security Committee that social media sites were a “safe haven” for terrorist groups.

The last proscription order we passed in the House related to a group that had Arabic and English official Twitter accounts, and an official YouTube channel. They seem to be unaffected by the proscription order. Various Twitter accounts associate themselves with the Haqqani network and an associated group that has posted numerous YouTube videos.

Does the Minister agree that we need to reconsider the situation whereby legislation says it is illegal to wear a uniform, but there is no problem hosting extremist videos or distributing hate messages to millions of people? Why was there nothing in Monday’s counter-terrorism strategy announcement to deal with social media?

I want to press the Minister on the issue of prosecutions of members, supporters and facilitators of proscribed organisations. The ISC report on Lee Rigby’s murder, which was published last year, highlighted the low number of prosecutions and the difficulties the police face in obtaining the necessary evidence. Have the Government had a chance to respond to that particular aspect of the report?

I do not want to detain the House for longer than is necessary. I welcome the Minister’s commitment to the changes. The attack on the church in Lahore was carried out by people who move from organisation to organisation. Some of those involved have also been involved in other attacks, but they go under a different name each time. Is it possible for us to take a different approach? Rather than having to come back here every time a new organisation claims responsibility for something that involves people who have been involved in other attacks, is there any way that we could circumvent this process?

On social media, last night I attended a talk on women and terrorism that underlined very clearly the threat of social media and how it is used to influence people. Is there anything more we can do to address the issue of social media?

On social media, I underline the work of the counter-terrorism internet referral unit, which since February 2010 has secured the removal of more than 80,000 pieces of unlawful terrorist-related content that encourages or glorifies acts of terrorism. In the context of today’s debate, CTIRU has identified and secured the removal of nine Twitter accounts and one Facebook account relating to Jamaat-ul-Ahrar. The Haqqani network has no formal social media presence at present, but the CTIRU continues to monitor the situation.

The industry must ensure that the internet does not become a safe haven for terrorists and extremists. Communications service providers have a responsibility to prevent their networks from being used to recruit vulnerable people and plot attacks. That is why the Home Secretary attended the recent countering violent extremism summit in the United States—it was attended by representatives from more than 70 countries and large communications service providers—to emphasise the importance of the work we are doing and the fact that more needs to be done. That is precisely what this Government are committed to doing.

On enforcement, between 2001 and the end of March 2014, 33 people were charged with proscription offences as a primary offence in Great Britain and 16 have been convicted. Obviously, the ability exists to make arrests, and arrests are being made in relation to alleged proscription offences. That may lead to other charges relating to terrorism, and it is important that that is understood.

I welcome the House’s support for the proscription order under discussion. It is important that we are vigilant. The threat we face from terrorism is real and pervasive and it will continue. We have a generational struggle against ISIL and the ideology that underpins it. That is why this Government are committed to our continued security.

In my last speech of this Parliament, I know this House will want to join me in commending and sending a big thank you to the police, the security services and our intelligence agencies for their tireless work in keeping us safe and ensuring that that continues into the future.

Question put and agreed to.