Motion to Approve
My Lords, the threat level in the United Kingdom, 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 that threat both in the United Kingdom and in 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. Proscription is an important part of the Government’s strategy to disrupt terrorist activities.
The four groups we propose to add to the list of terrorist organisations, amending Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000, are as follows: first, the Global Islamic Media Front, or GIMF, including GIMF Bangla Team; secondly, the Turkestan Islamic Party, or TIP; thirdly, the Mujahidin Indonesia Timur, or MIT; fourthly, the Jamaah Anshorut Daulah. These groups are particularly relevant to south and south-east Asia, but also to the ongoing conflict in Syria. Your Lordships’ House will be aware that Syria is the number one destination for jihadists anywhere in the world. The attacks earlier this month in Bangladesh demonstrate the high threat from terrorism in Asia. Proscription sends a strong message that terrorist activity is not tolerated, wherever it happens. We propose to add these groups to the list of international terrorist organisations, amending Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000. This is the 20th order under the Act.
Noble Lords will appreciate that I am unable to comment on specific intelligence. However, I can provide a brief summary of each group’s activities. The first group this order proscribes is the Global Islamic Media Front, including GIMF Bangla Team, which is also known as Ansarullah Bangla Team, or ABT, and Ansar-al Islam. GIMF is an Islamist extremist propaganda organisation associated with al-Qaeda and other extremist groups around the world. Its activities include propagating a so-called jihadist ideology, producing and disseminating training manuals to guide terror attacks and publishing jihadi newscasts. GIMF releases products in a number of languages including Arabic, Urdu, Bengali, English, German and French.
On 31 December 2015 GIMF announced a merger with Ansarullah Bangla Team, or ABT, subsuming it into its ranks and renaming it GIMF Bangla Team. Noble Lords will be aware of the rise of sectarian violence in Bangladesh. Prior to this merger, using the names ABT and Ansar-al Islam, the group we are proposing be proscribed today claimed responsibility for the prominent murders of and attacks on a number of secular bloggers since 2013. The group has also been linked to the circulation of a number of hit lists of bloggers, writers and activists around the world, including nine individuals based in Britain, seven in Germany, two in America, one in Canada and one in Sweden, in 2015. On 7 January 2016 GIMF Bangla Team published an infographic chronicling attacks carried out against “blasphemers” in Bangladesh from January 2013 to October 2015. The graphic contained names and locations of 13 attacks, eight of which were celebrated as successful assassinations. Bangladesh banned ABT in May 2015.
The second group to be proscribed is the Turkestan Islamic Party, or TIP, also known as the East Turkestan Islamic Party, or ETIP, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, or ETIM, and the Hizb al-Islami al-Turkistani, or HAAT. TIP is an Islamist terrorist and separatist organisation founded in 1989 by Uighur militants in western China. It aims to establish an independent caliphate in the Uighur state of Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of north-west China and to name it East Turkestan. TIP is based in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, and operates in China, central and south Asia and Syria. The group has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks in China, the latest of these being in April 2014. TIP has links to a number of terrorist groups including al-Qaeda. In November 2015, TIP released the 18th issue of its magazine Islamic Turkestan through the Global Islamic Media Front, detailing TIP’s so-called jihad against the Chinese authorities. Video footage from September 2015 shows TIP hosting training camps in areas controlled by the Pakistani Taliban in north Waziristan.
More recently, TIP has maintained an active and visible presence in the Syrian war and has published a number of video clips of its activities. Examples of this from March to April 2016 include: TIP claiming a joint attack with Jund al-Aqsa in Sahl al-Ghab and publishing a video of a suicide bomb attack in April 2016; a video published in March 2016 which promotes the victories of TIP in Syria and calls for Muslims to join jihad; and a video slideshow published in April 2016 which shows fighters and children in training. As noble Lords may be aware, TIP has been banned by the UN and is also sanctioned by the United States under the Terrorist Exclusion List.
The third group to be proscribed is Mujahidin Indonesia Timur—MIT—which is Indonesia’s most active terrorist group based in the mountainous jungle of Poso in Central Sulawesi. Its leader, Abu Wardah, also known as Santoso, is Indonesia’s most wanted terrorist. The group’s modus operandi is to attack the police and the army, which includes the use of explosives, including the use of IEDs, and shootings. MIT has been responsible for the deaths of more than a dozen police officers in Poso in the last three years. It has also used kidnappings and beheadings of Christian farmers in Poso to dissuade the local populace from assisting the police. MIT pledged its allegiance to Daesh in July 2014 and is assessed to have links to other Daesh-affiliated terrorist groups in the region.
MIT has also claimed responsibility for a number of recent attacks and has threatened attacks on targets across the country, including the capital—specifically, the Jakarta police headquarters and the presidential palace—in a video uploaded on 22 November 2015. In September 2015, MIT was banned as a terrorist group by the USA and the UN.
The last group to be proscribed is Jamaah Anshorut Daulah. It was established in March 2015, following the merger of several Indonesian extremist and terrorist groups aligned to Daesh. JAD, as it is known, has extensive links to Daesh and actively recruits fighters in Syria. This group is led by the imprisoned extremist cleric Aman Abdurrahman and has close ties to other terrorist groups, including Daesh. Its membership includes several former Jemaah Islamiyah members. JI was, of course, responsible for the 2002 and 2005 Bali attacks. JAD was responsible for the attack near Sarinah mall in Jakarta in January 2016, which was claimed by Daesh and resulted in the deaths of seven people, including the five attackers, and 20 people, including five police officers, being injured.
Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000 provides a power for the Home Secretary to proscribe an organisation if she believes it is currently concerned in terrorism. If the statutory test is met, the Home Secretary may exercise her discretion to proscribe the organisation. In considering whether to exercise this discretion, the Home Secretary takes a number of factors into account, including the nature and scale of an organisation’s activities 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 United Kingdom. Proscription can also support other disruptive activity, such as the use of immigration powers, including exclusion, prosecutions for other offences and acts to support strong messaging to deter fundraising and recruitment. Additionally, assets of a proscribed group are liable to seizure as a terrorist asset.
The Home Secretary exercises her power to proscribe only after a thorough review of the available relevant information and evidence on an 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-government Proscription Review Group supports the Home Secretary in this decision-making process. As I am sure noble Lords are aware, a decision to proscribe is taken only after great care and consideration of the particular case, and it is therefore appropriate that it must be approved by both Houses. I beg to move.
My Lords, as the Minister said, this is the 20th proscription order that your Lordships’ House has debated; I think that it is the 11th that I have responded to. I think it is fair that I say at that outset that we support the order and the proscription of these four organisations. The Minister will know—he acknowledged—that we brought in the legislation in 2000. It is clear in that legislation and from his comments today that any proscription order has to be backed by evidence. I am very grateful to him for providing the information that he has today because, as the Opposition, we do not have access to the kind of intelligence information that the Government have. There is always an element of trust when we look at these issues and we have to be confident that the Government would not have brought this order before us today unless they were confident that there was a case for proscribing the organisations. I think that he has made that case; we accept, on trust, that the intelligence information is available and we support these proscriptions.
Reading the speeches in the House of Commons yesterday and hearing the Minister’s comments today, I think that part of the evidence is in these organisations’ own words. They almost boast; they claim responsibility for their activities and they damn themselves by what they say. I have a couple of questions that would help me understand and clarify some aspects of this. When we proscribe organisations, we cannot act alone; we work with and support the international community. Our borders are not such that terrorism will not cross them. This sort of terrorism knows no boundaries, particularly with the kind of technology that we have these days, where it is very easy to move money and share information. We can really only be effective in the fight—not just against terrorism but against serious organised crime—if we work internationally.
I was pleased when the Minister, when referring to both TIP and MIT, said that both the UN and USA have banned such organisations, but can he say more about that and when that was? On a previous order, I was concerned that other countries had taken action two or three years before we had. If we are to be effective against terrorism, we need to share the information that we have and act together with other countries, so can he say what other countries, other than the USA—and the UN—have taken action against these organisations and when it was taken? In particular regarding the Global Islamic Media Front, most of its propaganda was translated into German; in fact, more is translated into German than into English. It would be useful to know if the German Government are also taking similar action against it.
Given that we are now negotiating for Brexit and we have a new Minister in charge of those negotiations, I am concerned about how such a move will impact on our negotiations, our discussions, our sharing of information and our co-operation with other European countries. Can the Minister take back the message today that the issue of the country’s security has to be at a very high level in any discussions and negotiations on Brexit? Having gone through the various debates that we had in your Lordships’ House about the police and criminal justice measures—which the previous coalition Government opted out of before opting back in to almost everything that was relevant, being used or was not extinct—it struck me how important that co-operation and work with the EU was. It would be helpful if the Minister can give his assurance that he will draw this to the attention of the new Minister and ensure that this is at the heart of our discussions and negotiations in Europe.
The orders are effective, I think, from the moment that we agree them. Is the Minister aware of the Twitter account—I checked today that it was still active—@Jihadology_Net? At least two of these organisations have their actions and their proclamations advertised on that Twitter account. It claims to be an academic website—it is academic only in the sense that it provides information. It actually promotes these two organisations and others that carry out atrocities. Do these organisations have to be proscribed before any action can be taken, or can that account be closed down sooner, because it promotes activities that most of us would regard as totally abhorrent? It may claim that it is merely reporting but, given its title and from looking at the content, I think that it goes beyond that. I would be very grateful if the Minister could look at that even if he cannot respond today.
I raised my next point when we considered previous proscription orders. In 2009 when I was in the other place, the previous Prime Minister, David Cameron, made several references in the House of Commons to Hizb ut-Tahrir. He taunted his predecessor, Gordon Brown, by saying that the organisation must be banned immediately. It was a commitment in the Conservative manifesto that Hizb ut-Tahrir would be banned. That has not happened. What is the reason? I assume that the evidence is not there, but I also assume that a leader of the Opposition would not make such claims or put it in a party manifesto unless there was some evidence that the organisation should be banned. The impression was given that it would be banned immediately but it has not been. If it is merely a question of evidence not being available and it was incorrect to say it should be banned, it would be helpful to know. In the current climate, we need such reassurance.
That brings me to my final point. Can the Minister give an assurance that evidence is always kept under review? There has been one case when an organisation that had been proscribed applied to be deproscribed, if that is the correct word, and it took some time to resolve. We know that there are groups which should be proscribed in the future, but it is a question of gathering evidence. If the Minister can say something about the review process, that would be helpful.
These are merely matters of clarification, and we support the order.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her support for this order and for her customary expertise. These issues are extremely sensitive and extremely important to tackle. The unity of purpose and action that is shown across both Houses and all Benches is extremely important when it comes to standing up to this global threat.
The noble Baroness mentioned the @jihadology.net Twitter account. I have made a note of it and will take it back to the Home Office. We are making great strides in working very closely and in partnership with internet service providers and social media companies. There is a great deal of collaboration taking place internationally as well, a point that the noble Baroness made. It is important that these websites, Twitter accounts and social media accounts are closed down as soon as possible. Their impact is immense; they can only be live for a few minutes and their reach is global. We successfully took action when we co-operated with social media on issues such as sexual violence against women. There is a great deal of work going on in this respect.
The noble Baroness spoke of our departure from the European Union. As I am sure she will know, the former Home Secretary, now our new Prime Minister, has been very particular in ensuring that issues of security are paramount in our discussions. We will continue to work very closely with partners on a global level. I am sure that that will be the case as we leave the European Union but continue to co-operate with our European neighbours because this is a global issue. Indeed, my current brief in the Home Office of countering extremism takes this issue further. We welcome the co-operation we have had from our European neighbours but also at a global level in fighting the challenge of extremism. We will continue to put the security and safety of our citizens at the forefront of all discussions.
The noble Baroness referred to the Global Islamic Media Front and when other countries may have proscribed it. I will write to her regarding which countries proscribed that organisation and when. I have already talked about the UN.
The noble Baroness referred to Hizb ut-Tahrir. I am sure that we all agree that, while not currently proscribed in the UK, the organisation has at its heart evil practice. It believes in dividing societies and communities. Under the current rules of proscription, as the noble Baroness will be well aware from her own time in government, a group has to fulfil the defined criteria. Of course, the Government have significant concerns. The noble Baroness asked about issues of review. I assure her that we continue to monitor all activities, not just of HUT but other organisations, on a regular basis. We will seek to ensure that HUT and other groups like it cannot operate without challenge in public spaces in this country. We will also ensure that civic society is made aware of HUT and groups like it.
Finally, there has been some discussion in the Home Office about organisations and individuals who operate within the parameters of the current law and stay legal—but only just. It is right that we work in a collaborative manner to see how we can starve individuals and organisations of oxygen. They may not be proscribed as terrorist groups or may not support terrorist groups but nevertheless they are focused on encouraging hate and division in society. We continue to work on how best we can bring forward measures to address those issues. I will reply specifically to the noble Baroness on the matter she raised about Germany and the GIMF. I commend the order to the House.
House adjourned at 5.41 pm.