The Times front page story yesterday covered the publication by the Home Office of the CONTEST counter-terrorism strategy 2012 annual report.
The Times and Daily Telegraph both point to the report’s mention of trouble spots around the world that threaten the UK’s national security including Yemen, Somalia, al Qaida in the Maghreb, covering Mali, Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, as well as Syria.
On Syria, the basis of the Times and Daily Telegraph stories emerge for this paragraph in the report:
“There are now hundreds of foreign fighters from Europe in Syria. As and when UK residents return here there is a risk that they may carry out attacks using the skills that they have developed overseas.”
BBC News meanwhile focuses on claims in the report on the number of interventions made under the Channel programme – which deals with referrals of individuals suspected of vulnerability to radicalisation. The report claims:
“Between January 2007 and December 2012, almost 2,500 referrals were made to Channel, generally by the police and statutory organisations. Over 500 people have received support.”
The annual report, which covers the period July 2011 to December 2012, states that “In the twelve months to 30 September 2012, there were 245 terrorism-related arrests in Great Britain: 45 people were charged with terrorism related offences and 18 convicted; a further 25 people were awaiting trial as at 18 January 2013.”
The report goes on to relay some of the cases that have been prosecuted this past year as well as breakdown initiatives and sectors covered by the four strands of the strategy, Pursue, Prevent, Protect and Prepare.
On assessment of the counter-terrorism threat facing the UK, the report states:
“We judge that the terrorist threat to the UK from far right extremism is low in comparison to the threat from international terrorism. NDEU data shows that in 2012 there were five arrests under terrorism legislation in relation to far right wing activity.”
Though the revised CONTEST strategy took note of terrorism threats emerging from non Al-Qaida inspired violent extremism, it is difficult to discern from the annual report the extent to which far right extremism is treated as a serious concern.
The report mentions stop and search powers granted under terrorism legislation and the changes introduced in the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 altering Section 44 stop and search powers.
In the same section, the report also covers the consultation on Schedule 7 powers stating the Government “…has completed a review of the operation of Schedule 7 and a public consultation on proposals to amend how the powers might operate in future. Responses to that consultation, which ended in December 2012, are being considered and proposals to amend the legislation will be brought forward at the earliest opportunity.”
On Prevent, the aspect of counter-terrorism strategy that has had the greatest impact on Muslim communities, the report makes mention of all the sectors in which work is undertaken including education, prison, higher education institutions, the charity sector, faith sector, and health services.
The report states that counter-terrorism work has enabled “…identif[ying] structured, co-ordinated, and well funded networks of Islamist extremists in this country whose messages are divisive, anti democratic, anti western, intolerant of other faiths and lifestyles and highly critical of people who do not follow their interpretation of Islam. We have seen how far right groups have developed an Islamophobic and white supremacist ideology, which is also anti democratic, intolerant and conducive to violence. We know these extreme Islamist and far right organisations feed off one another and try to create enmity, suspicion and hatred between our communities.”
The report recognises the role of the faith sector and its “unique role…in engaging with young people at risk of radicalisation and addressing claims made in the name of religion by apologists for violence”
The emphasis on religiously inspired violence permeates the annual report and as the paragraph above shows, there is little in the report to suggest how threats from far right extremism are being tackled. This despite the speech delivered by the Security Minister, James Brokenshire earlier this month on the very real threat posed by the far right.
The report also mentions initiatives supported by the Home Office on tackling online propaganda and messages:
“We have supported community-based campaigns that rebut terrorist and extremist propaganda and offer alternative views to our most vulnerable target audiences. We have worked with digital communications experts to help fifteen civil society groups exploit the potential of the internet.”
There is no mention in the report of which ‘community-based campaigns’ have received support or detail on the ‘alternative views’ disseminated. Nor any information about the ‘fifteen civil society groups’ that have received guidance. If a major concern of the former strategy was the lack of transparency over Government funding of ‘community campaigns’, the annual report published this week fails to remedy this disquiet on government interventions in civil society.
Finally, the report alludes to aspects of the ‘community based approach’ to counter-terrorism referring to the need for “more websites established to refute claims made by terrorist and extremist organisations. Wherever possible these websites should be created and sustained by communities and not by Government.”
You can lodge a Freedom of Information request with the Home Office for details concerning the campaigns and civil society groups that have been supported and financed by the Government since the introduction of the new CONTEST strategy. Details of how to here.