Motion to Approve
My Lords, the Government are determined to do all they can to minimise the threat from terrorism to the UK and our interests abroad. Additionally, it is important that we demonstrate our support for other members of the international community in their efforts to tackle terrorism wherever it occurs. We propose to add Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM), which is also known as Ansar Jerusalem; Al Murabitun; and Ansar Al Sharia-Tunisia (AAS-T) to the list of international terrorist organisations, amending Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000. This is the 14th proscription order under that Act.
Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000 provides a power for the Home Secretary to proscribe an organisation if she believes that it is currently concerned in terrorism, as defined by that Act. If the statutory test is met, the Home Secretary may then exercise her discretion to proscribe the organisation. In considering whether to exercise this discretion, the Home Secretary takes into account a number of factors. These are: the nature and scale of an organisation’s activities; the specific threat that it poses to the United Kingdom and to British nationals overseas; the organisation’s presence in the United Kingdom; and the need to support other members of the international community in tackling terrorism.
Proscription is a tough but necessary power. Its effect is that a listed organisation is outlawed and is unable to operate in the United Kingdom. It is a criminal offence for a person to belong to, invite support for or arrange a meeting in support of a proscribed organisation. Additionally, it is an offence to wear clothing or carry articles in public which arouse reasonable suspicion that an individual is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation.
Given the wide-ranging impact of proscription, the Home Secretary exercises her power to proscribe only after a thorough review of the available relevant information and evidence on the organisation. This includes open source material, intelligence material and advice that reflects consultation across government, including with the intelligence and law enforcement agencies. The Home Secretary is supported in her decision-making process by the Cross-Whitehall Proscription Review Group. Decisions to proscribe are taken with great care by the Home Secretary and it is right that the case for proscribing new organisations must be approved by both Houses.
Having carefully considered all the evidence, the Home Secretary believes that ABM, Al Murabitun and AAS-T are currently concerned in terrorism. Noble Lords will appreciate that I am unable to comment on specific intelligence, but I can provide a brief summary of their activities. ABM is an al-Qaeda-inspired militant Islamist group based in the northern Sinai region of Egypt. The group is said to recruit within Egypt and abroad and aims to create an Egyptian state ruled by Sharia law. ABM is assessed to be responsible for a number of attacks on security forces in Egypt since 2011. The attacks appear to have increased since the overthrow of the Morsi government in July 2013. The group’s reach goes beyond the Sinai, with the group claiming responsibility for a number of attacks in Cairo and cross-border attacks against Israel. ABM has undertaken attacks using vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices and surface-to-air missiles. Examples of attacks for which the group has claimed responsibility include: in September 2013 an attack on the Egyptian Interior Minister in which a UK national was seriously injured; an attack on a police compound in Mansoura on 24 December 2013, killing at least 16 people, including 14 police officers; and an attack on a tourist bus in which three South Koreans and their Egyptian driver died on 16 January 2014.
Al Murabitun resulted from a merger of two al-Qaeda in the Maghreb—AQ-M—splinter groups that are active in Mali and Algeria, the Movement for the Unity and Jihad in West Africa—MUJWA—and Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s group, the Al-Mulathamine Battalion, which included the commando element “Those Who Sign in Blood”. The merger was announced in a public statement in August 2013. Al Murabitun aspires to unite Muslims from the Nile to the Atlantic and has affirmed its loyalty to the al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and the emir of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Omar. Al Murabitun’s first statement threatened France and its allies in the region and called on Muslims to target French interests everywhere. Belmokhtar has announced that he will not continue to lead the group in order to allow a new generation of jihadist leaders to come to the fore. Reports indicate that the new commander has fought against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s and the international intervention in Afghanistan.
Although the group has not claimed responsibility for any terrorist attacks since the merger, both precursor groups have participated in a number of terrorist attacks and kidnapping for ransom during the past 13 months. Belmokhtar’s group was responsible for the attack against the In Amenas gas facility in January 2013 that resulted in the death of more than 30 people including Britons. In May 2013 the two groups targeted a military barracks in Agadez, Niger and a uranium mine in Arlit which supplies French nuclear reactors. The suicide attack in Agadez resulted in the deaths of at least 20 people.
Despite previously separating themselves from AQ-M, citing leadership issues and the desire to expand their control, both precursor groups continued to co-operate and fight alongside AQ-M fighters in Mali and other regions of West Africa. This activity has continued since the merger.
The Sahel region continues to see high threats of kidnap and terrorist attacks. Hostages are currently held in the Sahel and surrounding regions, which includes Algeria, Cameroon, Libya and Nigeria. The Canadians designated Belmokhtar’s group in November 2013 and the US designated it in December 2013, specifying Al Murabitun as an alias.
Ansar Al Sharia-Tunisia—AAS-T—is a radical Islamist group founded in April 2011. The group aims to establish Sharia law in Tunisia and eliminate western influence. Between 5,000 and 10,000 individuals may be attracted to rallies organised by the movement. The group is ideologically aligned to al-Qaeda—AQ—and has links to al-Qaeda affiliated groups. It is reported that the group announced its loyalty to AQ-M in September 2013.
AAS-T’s leader, Seif Allah Ibn Hussein, also known as Abu Ayadh al-Tunisi, is a former AQ veteran combatant in Afghanistan. He has been hiding following the issue of a warrant for his arrest relating to an allegation of inciting the attack on the US embassy in Tunis that killed four people in September 2012.
Salafists believed to have links with AAS-T are assessed to be responsible for the attacks in October 2011 on a television station and, in June 2012, an attack on an art exhibit. AAS-T is assessed to be responsible for the attacks on the US embassy and the American school in Tunis in September 2012. The Tunisian Government believe that AAS-T was responsible for the assassination of two coalition assembly members: Chokri Belaid in February 2013 and Mohamed Brahmi in July 2013.
Additionally, elements of the group are believed to have been involved in the attempted suicide attack, in October 2013, at a hotel in a tourist resort in Sousse where a significant number of British tourists were staying. More than 400,000 British tourists visited Tunisia last year. The Tunisian Government listed AAS-T as a terrorist group in 2013 and the US did so in January 2014.
Subject to the agreement of this House and the House of Commons, this proscription will come into force on Friday 4 April.
In conclusion, I believe it is right that we add Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, Al Murabitun and Ansar Al Sharia-Tunisia to the list of proscribed organisations in Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000. I beg to move.
My Lords, this is a serious issue. The order that the Minister has moved was agreed in the House of Commons yesterday and, as he has said, if it is agreed by this House today it will come into effect tomorrow. I thank him for the letter that he sent to my noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon on 31 March, which set out the case for the proscription of the three groups named by the Minister, and he has of course repeated that case in moving the order today. This is an issue of national security, and we are happy to accept the Government’s assurances on the basis that all three groups seem to have been involved in terrorism at the highest end of seriousness, including some directed at our citizens and allies.
There are, however, two points that I wish to raise about the issue of proscription, though not specifically about the three groups in question; as I indicated, we are happy to accept and agree the order. I am sure that the two issues will not come entirely as a surprise to the Minister. As I understand it from what was said in the Commons yesterday, there are apparently 52 international and 14 Northern Ireland-related terrorist organisations that are already proscribed, and I gather that between 2001 and the end of March last year 32 people have been charged with proscription-related offences as a primary offence in Great Britain and 16 have been convicted, so there are a number of organisations on the list.
I am sure that the Minister will not be too surprised if I say that it appears that one organisation is not yet on the list: Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is of course the one that the Prime Minister said when he was leader of the Opposition that he thought ought to be banned. It is not clear why after all this time that organisation has not been proscribed if apparently, in the Prime Minister’s view, the case was so clear-cut a number of years ago when he announced his personal view of what he would do. I would be grateful if the Minister could throw any light on that, purely in the sense of whether this organisation is likely to be banned or not. What are the Government doing on this at the moment? Have they come to the conclusion that it does not require to be banned, or is it after all these years an issue that they are still considering? They seem to be taking a remarkably long time to come to a conclusion.
The other issue that I would like to raise, and it is the final one that I want to talk about, is the issue of de-proscription. This was raised in the House of Commons yesterday but I want to put a question about it to the Minister. Obviously we have a procedure for, quite rightly, putting organisations that are threats to national security on the list so that action can be taken. I have referred already to the figures that the Minister in the House of Commons gave about the number of organisations currently proscribed. My question about the issue of de-proscription is on the understanding that the only group that has ever been de-proscribed obtained that through judicial review. It is of interest to raise this issue because, according to the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, the Home Office was at one point considering an annual review of the proscribed list to see which groups still met the criteria.
That independent reviewer suggests—I do not know whether it is true—that there is no current evidence of terrorist involvement, even in this century, for some proscribed organisations. According to the independent reviewer’s website, last summer the Home Office had compiled a list of up to 14 groups that no longer met the criteria for proscription and the independent reviewer has been calling for the annual review of proscribed groups to which I have referred and which it was claimed that the Home Office was at one point considering.
In conclusion, since it appears that the Home Office now wishes to go down a different road for de-proscription for individuals or organisations, why is it not in favour of at least a regular review of the proscribed groups to see if they still meet the criteria that necessitate their being on the proscribed list in the light of an apparent view—whether right or wrong—of the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation that a number of organisations on that list no longer meet the criteria for remaining on it?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for his support for this order. I will do my best to answer his questions. As he said, there was a lengthy debate yesterday in the House of Commons where my honourable friend James Brokenshire presented this order for approval by that House. The noble Lord asked first about Hizb ut-Tahrir. Hizb ut-Tahrir has been considered by the Home Secretary. The Government have significant concerns about it and we are continuing to monitor its activities very closely. Of course, individuals are still subject to general criminal law. We will seek to ensure that the group and groups like it cannot operate without challenge in public places in this country. We will not tolerate secretive meetings behind closed doors on premises funded by the taxpayer. We will ensure that civic organisations are made aware of this organisation and groups like it, the names under which they operate and the ways in which they go about their business. I can comment no further on that organisation.
As the noble Lord will well know, de-proscription is by application. While we keep a watch—and it is quite proper that we do—on organisations about which we are concerned, it is up to organisations to apply for de-proscription. Under the current regime they can write to the Home Secretary and request that she considers that they should be removed from the list of proscribed organisations, and they should state the grounds under which they should be de-proscribed. The Home Secretary is required to make a decision on that application within 90 days. I hope the noble Lord will understand that there is a proper mechanism for dealing with de-proscription. However, it is not a proactive one. It is one made by application.
The noble Lord will accept that if you are not meant to be a member of that organisation at the time you apply it is a bit of risk applying for it to be de-proscribed—by definition you are almost admitting to be associated with the organisation that you are not allowed to be associated with.
That is the procedure, my Lords. That is the consideration that the Home Secretary makes. I think the noble Lord will understand that you do not get on the proscribed list without the Government having real concerns about the aims and objectives of the organisation. I ask the noble Lord to accept that assurance.
I hope that the Minister would accept that my comments have been prompted to some extent by what the independent reviewer has claimed. I do not know whether that is true or not, but a number of organisations on the list would apparently no longer meet the criteria. I am certainly not raising it in a flippant manner—this is an issue of national security. Frankly, however, if there are organisations there and the independent reviewer is questioning whether they still meet the criteria, the effectiveness of the list is surely a factor of the organisations on it being ones that should be on it.
Well, I am satisfied with the arrangements. On the question of incrimination, I can reassure the noble Lord that, in fact, if a person makes an application for a group to be de-proscribed, Section 10 of the Terrorism Act 2000 provides that evidence submitted in relation to de-proscription application is not admissible in proceedings against an individual for an offence under that Act. I hope that reassures the noble Lord to some extent about the self-incrimination process of writing to the Home Secretary to apply for de-proscription.
Finally, proscription is not targeted at any particular faith or social grouping but is based on clear evidence that an organisation is concerned with terrorism. We are satisfied that the three groups about which we have been talking today meet that statutory test and it is appropriate in each case for the Home Secretary to exercise her discretion to proscribe the group. The proscription of ABM, Al Murabitun and AAS-T demonstrates our condemnation of the activities of these groups and our support for the efforts of members of the international community to tackle terrorism. On those grounds, I commend the order to the House.