Motion to Approve
My Lords, I beg to move that the Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2014, which was laid before this House on 16 June, be approved. The five groups named in the order are the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as ISIL, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, ISIS; Turkiye Halk Kurtulus Partisi-Cephesi, THKP-C; Kateeba al-Kawthar, KaK; Abdallah Azzam Brigades, including the Ziyad al-Jarrah Battalions, AAB; and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, PFLP-GC. We propose to add these groups to the list of international terrorist organisations, amending Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000. This is the 15th proscription order under that Act.
All five groups have links to the conflict in Syria, which is now the number one destination for jihadists anywhere in the world. Proscription sends a strong message that terrorist activity is not tolerated wherever it happens. The reality is that the Syria conflict has seen a proliferation of terrorist groups, with multiple aims and ideologies, and little regard for international borders. For example, in the past week we have seen significantly increased violent activity in Iraq by ISIL. Today, the UK is proscribing terrorist organisations that support the Assad regime, those that are fighting against it and those with ambitions beyond Syria that have taken advantage of the collapse of security and the rule of law.
Terrorism, from or connected to Syria, will pose a threat to the UK for the foreseeable future. Travelling to Syria for jihad can provide individuals with access to training, combat experience, a network of extremist contacts and a reputation that can substantially increase the threat that those individuals pose on return to the UK. The threat from returning foreign fighters was clearly demonstrated by the case of Mehdi Nemmouche. He is believed to have spent at least a year in Syria during which time he developed connections with ISIL before returning to Europe. He is the prime suspect in a shooting on 24 May at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in which three people died. Another person subsequently died of their injuries.
The Government advise against all travel to Syria. Anyone who travels there, for whatever reason, is putting themselves and others in considerable danger. Syrians have been clear that they want aid and diplomatic efforts to end the conflict, not foreign fighters. Both the regime and extremist groups have attacked humanitarian aid workers. The best way to help Syrians is not to travel, but to donate or volunteer with UK-registered charities that have ongoing relief operations.
We are committed to finding a political settlement to the conflict that will deliver a sustainable, inclusive transition process and allow the country to rebuild, communities to heal and extremism to be rejected. We will also continue to back the moderate Syrian opposition, which is a bulwark against the terrorism of the extremists and the tyranny of the Assad regime.
The Government are determined to do all that we can to minimise the threat from terrorism from Syria, Iraq and elsewhere to the UK and our interests abroad. Those who travel to Syria to engage in terrorism face prosecution on their return. We are investing resources in understanding individuals’ motivation for travel and how they are being recruited and then using this to inform public messaging and community events to deter individuals from travelling to Syria in the first place. Our operational partners are disrupting those individuals intent on fighting in Syria, using the range of tools available. For example, following his return from Syria, Mashudur Choudhury was successfully prosecuted for engaging in conduct in preparation of terrorist acts. We are working intensively with international partners to improve border security in the region. Four groups operating in Syria are already proscribed.
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. 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 a number of factors into account. 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 in effect outlaws a listed organisation and makes it unable to operate in the UK. Belonging to, inviting support for or arranging a meeting in support of a proscribed organisation is a criminal offence; as is wearing clothing or carrying articles in public which arouse reasonable suspicion that an individual is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation. Proscription can also support other disruptive activity, such as the use of immigration powers such as exclusion, prosecutions for other offences, messaging and EU asset freezes.
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 cross-Whitehall proscription review group supports the Home Secretary in her decision-making process. The Home Secretary’s decision to proscribe is taken only after great care and consideration of the particular case and must be approved by both Houses.
Having carefully considered all the evidence, the Home Secretary believes that ISIL, THKP-C, KaK, AAB and PFLP-GC are currently concerned in terrorism. As noble Lords will appreciate, I am unable to comment on specific intelligence. However, I can provide a brief summary of each group’s activities in turn.
ISIL is a brutal Sunni Islamist terrorist group active in Iraq and Syria. The group adheres to a global jihadist ideology, following an extreme interpretation of Islam which is anti-Western and promotes sectarian violence. ISIL aims to establish an Islamic state governed by Sharia law in the region and uses violence and intimidation to impose its extremist ideology on civilians. ISIL was previously proscribed as part of al-Qaeda. However, on 2 February 2014, AQ senior leadership issued a statement officially severing ties with ISIL. This prompted consideration of the case to proscribe ISIL in its own right.
The House will also be aware that ISIL not only poses a threat from within Syria but has, in the past two weeks, made significant advances in Iraq. The threat from ISIL in Iraq and Syria is very serious and shows clearly the importance of taking a strong stand against the extremists. We are also aware that approximately 400 British nationals have travelled to Syria and some of these will inevitably be fighting with ISIL. It appears that ISIL is treating Iraq and Syria as one theatre of conflict, and its potential ability to operate across the border must be a cause of great concern for the whole international community.
In April 2014, ISIL claimed responsibility for a series of blasts targeting a Shia election rally in Baghdad. These attacks are reported to have killed at least 31 people. Thousands of Iraqi civilians lost their lives to sectarian violence in 2013, and attacks carried out by ISIL will have accounted for a large proportion of these deaths. ISIL has reportedly detained dozens of foreign journalists and aid workers. In September 2013, members of the group kidnapped and killed the commander of Ahrar ash-Sham after he intervened to protect members of a Malaysian Islamic charity. In January 2014, ISIL captured the Iraqi cities of Ramadi and Fallujah, and it is engaged in ongoing fighting with the Iraqi security forces. The group has also claimed responsibility for a car bomb attack that killed four people and wounded dozens in the southern Beirut suburb of Haret Hreik.
ISIL has a strong presence in northern and eastern Syria, where it has instituted strict Sharia law in the towns under its control. The group is responsible for numerous attacks and a vast number of deaths. The group is believed to attract foreign fighters, including westerners, to the region. The group has maintained control of various towns on the Syrian-Turkish border, allowing the group to control who crosses, and its presence there has interfered with the free flow of humanitarian aid. ISIL is designated as a terrorist group by both Canada and Australia, and as an alias of AQ by the US, New Zealand and the UN.
THKP-C translates as the People’s Liberation Party/Front of Turkey. It is a left-wing organisation formed in 1994. THKP-C is a pro-Assad militia group fighting in Syria and has developed increased capability since the Syrian insurgency. THKP-C is assessed to have been involved in an attack in Reyhanli, Turkey, in May 2013, killing more than 50 people and injuring more than 100. The leader of the group, Mihrac Ural, holds Syrian citizenship and was born in the southern province of Hatay, where the organisation has always been most prominent. Ural has formed a number of other groups under the THKP-C umbrella including Mukavamet Suriye—Syrian Resistance—which is reported to have been responsible for the recent Baniyas massacre, killing at least 145 people.
KaK describes itself as a group of mujaheddin from more than 20 countries seeking a “just” Islamic nation. KaK is an armed terrorist group fighting to establish an Islamic state in Syria. The group is aligned to the most extreme groups operating in Syria and has links to al-Qaeda. KaK is believed to attract a number of western foreign fighters and has released YouTube footage encouraging travel to Syria and asking Muslims to support the fighters.
AAB is an Islamist militant group aligned with al-Qaeda and the global jihad movement. It is currently fighting in Syria and Lebanon. The group began operating in Pakistan in 2009. Its Lebanese branch uses the name the Ziyad al-Jarrah Battalion, named after the Lebanese 9/11 hijacker Ziyad al-Jarrah, who participated in the hijacking and crash of United Airlines flight 93. Since the onset of the Syrian insurgency, AAB has increased its operational pace. It claimed responsibility for a rocket attack launched from Lebanon into northern Israel in August 2013. On 19 November 2013, the brigade claimed responsibility for a double suicide bombing outside the Iranian embassy in Beirut, which killed at least 22 people and wounded more than 140.
The group’s media wing announced on Twitter and YouTube on 19 February 2014 that the group claimed responsibility for two suicide bombings near the Iranian cultural centre in Beirut, killing 11 and wounding 130, in revenge for actions by Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria. The group has threatened to launch further terrorist attacks and has demanded that the Lebanese Government free imprisoned jihadists. It has also threatened attacks on western targets in the Middle East. The group was listed as a terrorist group by the US in May 2012.
PFLP-GC is a left-wing nationalist Palestinian militant organisation based in Syria. The group is separate from the similarly named Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. From its inception, the group has been a Syrian proxy. PFLP-GC has been fighting in the Syrian war in support of Assad, including in the Yarmouk refugee camp in July 2013. The group also issued statements in support of the Syrian Government, Hezbollah and Iran. PFLP-GC has been designated as a terrorist group by the USA, Canada, Israel and the European Union.
In conclusion, I believe it is right that we add these groups—ISIL, THKP-C, KaK, AAB and PFLP-GC—to the list of proscribed organisations in Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000. Subject to the agreement of the House, the order will come into force on Friday 20 June.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his very helpful and detailed introduction of the order. Indeed, it was so detailed that I think he read almost verbatim the entire Explanatory Memorandum in terms of the details of the groups concerned. I agree absolutely with his analysis of the unpleasantness, nastiness and danger of these groups.
However, my reason for speaking is that I have never quite understood the purpose of proscribing organisations in this way. First, the organisations concerned have a capacity to change their names and identities with remarkable rapidity and ease. Does proscription mean that, if any of those organisations change their names or identities, a new proscription order must be found?
Secondly, what additional and valuable powers does the order actually give over the individuals who may be covered by such proscription? For example, in the various cases that the Minister cited, he talked about individuals who have fought as part of those groups overseas and might be returning to this country. Are they not therefore covered by other offences under the Terrorism Act, which means that, in fact, the key issue would be their combatant status elsewhere, engaging in and promoting acts of terrorism elsewhere?
Then there is the question of what the order actually covers. It would now be a criminal offence for a person to belong to those organisations. Which of them have an explicit membership? Surely the issue here is one of association rather than membership. I cannot believe that the extremely nasty Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has a membership card. I cannot believe that it has a formal roster of members. There may be a series of people who are associated with it, who have fought with it or worked with it, but I do not believe that it is likely to have a membership structure. I may be wrong; it may be that some of these organisations have a membership structure, but it would be useful to know from the Minister which of them do.
It will become a criminal offence to arrange a meeting to support a proscribed organisation. When, in respect of each of those organisations, has anyone organised a meeting in support of them? By a meeting, does the Minister mean a public meeting or does he mean a gathering of like-minded individuals? If it is the latter, I see that the order might have some function, but I wonder whether there have been public meetings organised in that way.
Finally, I ask about the proscription on wearing clothing or carrying articles in public which arouse reasonable suspicion that an individual is a member or supporter of one of those organisations. I have already made the point about whether those organisations have membership, but what would constitute clothing or articles that may be carried in public that would arouse that suspicion? If they have a membership badge which reads, “I am a member”, no doubt that is covered, but I do not think that that is what the Minister is talking about. Is it a scarf in a particular colour? Is it a particular style of dress? It would be helpful to have some clarity as to what that means in practice.
My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey, I thank the Minister for his explanation today—and for writing to me earlier this week with the details of the Government’s proposals and much of the information that he gave today.
This is not the first time that such an order has been debated in your Lordships’ House—by my reckoning, it is the fifth such order that I have been involved in debating—but it is right that we have an opportunity to have a serious debate, so I appreciate the time that the Minister took to put on record the information that he did, because the proscription of any group or organisation is not a matter to be taken lightly.
The Government have to be confident that the information that has led them to propose proscription is robust, accurate and up-to-date. This is a very tough measure. As my noble friend Lord Harris just said, it makes it illegal to belong to or in any way support a listed organisation, so it can be used only when it is essential to protect the national interest. Although as the Official Opposition we do not have access to the same security and intelligence information as is available to Ministers, we base our judgment in support of proscription orders on the assurances of Ministers. That is why we are grateful for the explanation given by the Minister today, and why we support the order before us today.
A group can be proscribed under Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000 if it,
“commits or participates in acts of terrorism … prepares for terrorism … promotes or encourages terrorism, or … is otherwise concerned in terrorism”.
The Minister spoke of the care taken by the Home Secretary in considering these matters. I would also place on record some kind of tribute to or appreciation of those agencies that undertake the gathering of such evidence. That obviously takes considerable time and requires painstaking attention to detail, while of course at times it can be very dangerous to seek to gather such information.
There are five organisations in the order before us today. We understand that British jihadists are joining these groups, mainly in Syria, and we concur that they can pose a threat to the UK on their return. There is no doubt that this is an extremely worrying problem, both nationally and internationally. More has to be done to identify and take action against those who recruit and train individuals to fight abroad. I think that we will further engage on this issue in our discussions on the Serious Crime Bill, where there are specific clauses on the training of those who wish to engage in terrorism abroad.
The first of the five organisations listed today can be addressed separately. Noble Lords may be aware of our previous debates on proscriptions. In our last debate, on an order that prescribed Boko Haram, I reminded the Minister that I had previously queried why action had not been taken earlier. Specifically, action had been taken to proscribe the breakaway group from Boko Haram, Ansaru, but no action had been taken against the parent group. We understand that a balance has to be found between acting swiftly and ensuring that evidence is robust. At the time of our last debate, I think that few members of the public had heard of Boko Haram. Now, after its evil and shocking abduction of the Nigerian schoolgirls, few are unaware of its activities.
By contrast, the first organisation named on today’s order, ISIL—or ISIS, as it is commonly known in the press—has an extremely high profile. There can be few who have not heard of it and it is known worldwide to be ruthless and very hard-line. We have seen graphic and distressing photographs in the news, so no one can be in any doubt about how dangerous this organisation is. The world has watched with horror the extreme violence used to take control of the Iraqi city of Mosul and the brutal deaths of so many citizens. Like my noble friend Lord Harris I have no doubt about the need to proscribe this organisation, when it seems that each day brings a new horror and a new tragedy. The organisation has claimed responsibility for numerous atrocities. It is reported to have abducted foreign journalists and aid workers and it now has sizeable financial resources and weaponry at its disposal.
However, ISIL or ISIS is different in one major respect. The Minister may correct me if I am wrong but I am not aware that any newly proscribed group has had such a high profile as this organisation. The knowledge of its activities and the threat that it represents have been known for some time. Obviously, ISIL/ISIS would not be so well funded or organised had it not been active for some time. The Minister confirmed in his comments that until February this year, ISIL was considered to be proscribed as part of al-Qaeda. It was only after the senior leadership of al-Qaeda broke its links with ISIL in February that the Government were, as I think he put it, “prompted to consider” the case against ISIL as an independent organisation. Last year, when ISIL sought to merge with the al-Nusra Front, the Front was proscribed as being an al-Qaeda affiliate but ISIL—or ISIS—was not, even though it also appears to have been an affiliate of al-Qaeda at the time.
The Minister confirmed again at the Dispatch Box today that other countries have taken action much more quickly than we appear to have done against this specific organisation. I am trying to understand how such proscription orders work in practice. Was there a gap during which ISIL was neither proscribed as being part of al-Qaeda nor, until Friday, proscribed in its own right?
In his letter to me of 16 June, the Minister provided the date of 2 February when al-Qaeda issued a statement distancing itself and severing all links from ISIL. It is unlikely that our security services were unaware of that. I am concerned about whether or not there was a gap between 2 February, when it became clear that the organisations were separate, and today, when no action was possible against members or supporters of ISIL or ISIS.
A similar point was made by my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey when he referred to the almost organic nature of such groups and organisations, which exist in one form but are then set up, or split into, another one. They have not just arrived; they have been around for some time, and it is just the structure or bureaucracy of the organisations that appears to change. The concern is that they can change and the law is not quick enough to catch up with them. If we pass a specific order for one organisation that does not include its affiliates, or do not pass separate legislation for those affiliates, organisations can still be legal in some respects even though their parent organisation or associates have been proscribed by the kind of legislation before us.
Each generation faces new and different threats. The horrors of war today are very different from those that our predecessors faced on the beaches of Normandy, and the tools needed today to tackle the threats are very different. From talking to Normandy veterans and others, I gather that to many people today’s threats seem less tangible and harder to understand. We have to apply all the tools available to tackle modern threats.
In the previous debate, both my noble friend Lady Royall and the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, referred to vox pop radio interviews with young British Muslims. One of the things that was very clear from those interviews—I do not know if the Minister had the benefit of hearing them—is that those young British Muslims were saying that they wanted to go and fight for British Muslims, not recognising that in Syria and other places we are talking about Muslims fighting against Muslims; they thought it was a case of Muslims fighting against the United States. While their views are sincerely held, it was clear that the factual basis on which they were making their judgments was inaccurate.
I recall engaging, as a Minister in the previous Government, with different communities and groups across the country with other ministerial colleagues as part of the Prevent programme. Could the Minister update the House, either today or in writing, on how the Prevent agenda has been updated to address the challenges that we face today and the different nature of these groups that we are seeing? Government action to tackle terrorism and recruitment has to be evident across the whole of government; it cannot be seen in isolation in the Home Office.
We support the measures before us today but I hope that the Minister will respond to the points that I have made. If he is unable to respond in detail today, I hope that he will be able to write to me, particularly on the issue of the Prevent agenda.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, and the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, for their speeches and their support of the Government bringing forward the order. They are quite right to challenge; that is why we have these debates. However, this is very much a cross-party issue; indeed, the legislation under which we are dealing with these matters was introduced by the previous Government. The truth is that both the Home Secretary and I, and I believe the House, strongly believe that ISIL, THKP-C, KaK, AAB and PFLP-GC—I will get these initials right in the end; your Lordships can tell that I am slightly word-blind—should be added to the list of proscribed organisations in Schedule 2.
There were some usual useful challenges and it is good that we should discuss them. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, asked what proscription does. It effectively outlaws listed organisations, as I said in my speech. It stops people belonging to an organisation from arranging any sort of meeting supporting it—in other words, meeting in any numbers at all—and wearing clothing or any identifying articles that can be considered to show support for that organisation. In other words, it makes it difficult for such an organisation to prosper in this country.
Our priority is to make it difficult for these organisations to survive in this country. It sends a strong message that terrorist organisations are not tolerated in the UK and deters them operating here. It is a valuable tool as it supports other disruptive activities, including immigration disruptions, prosecution for other offences, messaging and EU asset freezes. The assets of a terrorist organisation are terrorist property and therefore are liable to be seized. That is an important aspect when one thinks of the funds that have been available to some of these organisations.
The noble Lord asked whether these organisations have members and whether they are card-carrying members. No. The criminal offence requires that a person belongs to or professes to belong to a proscribed organisation. It does not require a subscription to have been paid in the way that we are members of our parties. It is a different sort of membership, but it is with a serious purpose in mind. The Section 13 offence is of wearing clothing in such a way or in such circumstances as to arouse a reasonable suspicion that a person is a member. Whether somebody is prosecuted will depend on the circumstances, but if, for example, a person wears a badge with the insignia on it it would constitute an offence, so it effectively bans the wearing of the insignia of an organisation.
While understanding the reason why these organisations are being banned, the noble Baroness asked whether, given the fact that in February al-Qaeda announced that it was severing its links with this group, there was an interim period with a security risk. The fact that a group is not proscribed does not prevent the police or the Crown Prosecution Service taking action against an individual for terrorist offences. The fact that a group is not proscribed does not prevent other disruptive activity, including these powers that I have talked of. None the less, it is quite clear that the two organisations are now separate and, indeed, in conflict with each other, and it is right that we should therefore ban ISIL.
Section 3(6) of the Terrorism Act 2000 allows the Home Secretary by order subject to the negative procedure to specify an alternative name for an organisation to deal with these matters. The listing of proscribed organisations is kept under review, including whether they are operating under any aliases. This is why, following review, the Home Secretary decided specifically to ban ISIL under Section 3 of the Terrorism Act. This provides an effective mechanism for dealing with organisations which, as the noble Baroness will know, splinter all the time and when actual membership is difficult to prove for exactly the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, provided.
I am grateful to the Minister. I think he has confirmed my understanding, but I hoped I was wrong. In the letter he sent to me he pointed out that ISIL is designated as a terror group in Canada and Australia and as an alias of al-Qaeda in the US, New Zealand and the UN. It seems that there is a mechanism so, as groups splinter off, action is taken to deal with them. What he appears to be saying is that we have to take separate action once a group splinters and that there was a gap when ISIL was not proscribed. Even though it was known to be part of al-Qaeda, it was covered only by the order affecting al-Qaeda.
Action would have been taken against any individuals who were involved in ISIL’s activities under the proscription of al-Qaeda. This has been specifically mentioned today because we wish to make it clear that that organisation is proscribed and that the full force of the law, through anti-terrorism measures, can therefore be levelled against that body.
The noble Baroness was quite right to mention Prevent, which is an important part of the anti-terrorism measures. The police’s Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit has taken down 34,000 pieces of unlawful terrorist-related content which encourage or glorify acts of terrorism, of which 15,000 have come down since the extremism taskforce concluded in 2013. Through proposals from the extremism taskforce, as announced by the Prime Minister in December, we want to further restrict access to terrorist material which is hosted overseas and to identify other harmful extremist content to be included in filters. The police also have comprehensive powers to take action against people who spread hatred and incite violence.
To counter the messages of those who are attempting to recruit fighters to Syria and Iraq, we produce community-wide messages that aim to raise awareness of the risks of travelling and directly target the motivation for travel. We also provide tailored advice for those who are actively considering travel before their plans develop. I repeat that people intending to travel to Syria, as well as returnees, are actively considered for Prevent interventions. We do not recommend travel to Syria.
I conclude by saying that proscription is based on clear evidence that an organisation is concerned in terrorism. We need that evidence in order to make a proscription order and there is a process laid down in law which we are rightly required to follow. It is not targeted at any particular faith or social grouping. It is my and the Home Secretary’s firm opinion that, on the basis of the available evidence, all five groups named in the order meet the statutory test for proscription. It is appropriate in each case for the Home Secretary to exercise her discretion to proscribe these groups.
Proscribing these groups linked to the conflict in Syria demonstrates our condemnation of their activities and our support for the efforts of members of the international community in tackling terrorism. Proscribing them will also enable the police to carry out disruptive action against their supporters in the UK and to ensure that they cannot operate here. For that reason, I commend this order to the House.
House adjourned at 5.48 pm.