Conservative Diary

War on terror

8 May 2013 15:10:56

The Snoopers' Charter comes sneaking back. Again.

By Mark Wallace
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HOME-OFFICEWhen Nick Clegg announced that the Communications Data Bill - AKA the Snoopers' Charter - was being dropped, he prompted jubiliation from campaigners for privacy, individual liberty and digital technology.

The past history of the issue, however, suggested this wouldn't be the last we would hear of the proposals to gather data on emails. This idea has come up again and again, under different Governments, suggesting it is the pet project of someone or some group within the Home Office Civil Service.

Indeed, when one campaigner tweeted "What's next?" after the Government backed down, I was cynical enough to reply:

And lo, it came to pass. Only hours after the Queen's Speech, the BBC is reporting that the Government is looking at "fresh proposals" to pursue the same rotten idea.

Continue reading "The Snoopers' Charter comes sneaking back. Again." »

20 Apr 2013 17:41:41

It isn't too early to draw conclusions about the terror in Boston

Screen shot 2013-04-20 at 17.38.11
By Paul Goodman

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There is a mass of commentary about the Boston atrocity which agrees that it's too early to say very much about the dispositions, motives and connections of those who carried it out - because we know so little.

However, what we do know is extremely suggestive, and to claim that because we don't know everything we must say nothing looks suspiciously, in some cases at least, like an attempt to prevent views being voiced at all, for fear of them being politically incorrrect.

I think we can draw two clear conclusions from what's happened, as nurses in hospital try to save the life of a terrorist who took lives: a reminder, were one needed, of why the country whose virtues they show is better than the ideology whose evil he has spread.

  • Terrorism and belonging - or the lack of it - are inextricably connected.  Here is a list of British terrorists who were converts not usually to Islam itself, but in every case to Islamism - that pernicious distortion of it.  Richard Reid (the "shoe bomber", and a covert to Islam), Dhiren Barot (a convert to Islam from Hinduism), Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh (privately educated at Forest School, Walthamstow), Omar Khan Sharif (a maths student at King's College, London), Mohammed Sidique Khan, (the leader of the 7/7 atrocity gang, and a teacher radicalised to extremism), Brian Young (a convert to Islam, and one of the 2005 liquid explosives airplane plotters) and Nicky Reilly (a convert to Islam who tried to blow up a restaurant in Exeter).  None of these terrorists identified with Britain.  But they were all a product of it - and at home nowhere, emotionally or culturally.  It is striking that on a social networking site Dzhokhar Tsarnaev listed his "World View" as Islam and his "Personal Priority" as "career and money".
  • Anger about foreign affairs shouldn't be confused with anger about foreign policy.  A conventional view of Islamist terror is that it is simply a response to the invasion of "Muslim countries" by the country in question - a take that was endlessly repeated in the aftermath of 7/7.  Tsarnaev's social network postings help to demonstrate why this view is wrong.  He "posted a video expressing sympathy with rebels fighting in Syria" and "also has links to pages calling for independence for Chechnya".  But America has not invaded Syria.  Nor did it invade Chechnya.  One of Britain's earliest suicide bombers died in Kashmir 13 years ago.  But Britain has had no involvement in Kashmir since the late 1940s. (I have written at length about Kashmir here.)   Unless one is to argue that western countries are responsible for all the evils of the world, it makes no sense to blame (say) American foreign policy for foreign affairs - for example, the civil war in Syria, or what Russia has done in Chechnya.

It is certainly too early to claim, by way of a third point, that the terror in Boston proves the danger of the "lone wolf" - or, in this case, a lone wolf and his brother.

The British Security Services, in the wake of the decline of Al Qaeda as an organised force, are preoccupied by this threat - the self-radicalised extremists indoctrinated via the internet who strikes alone, as Roshonara Choudhry struck at the Labour MP Stephen Timms.

As I say, these are early days, and it may be that the Boston terrorists had help and training which we don't know about yet, but the possibility is worth keeping an eye on.

26 Mar 2013 10:31:09

The Government's counter-terror strategy: Quite a bit done, a lot more to do

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2013-03-26 at 07.38.45Almost eight years ago, 52 innocents were murdered and hundreds injured by Islamist terrorists on 7/7.  Two years ago, David Cameron made a speech about the causes of that terror in Berlin - his so-called "Munich Speech".  In the years between the two events, debate raged both about policy responses to Al Qaeda terror - dividing politicians, civil servants, the security services, the police and academics into two main camps.

The last Government's CONTEST counter-terror strategy was divided into four strands (and remains so under this one) - Prepare, Protect, Pursue and Prevent.  It was this last that proved the most contentious.

One school of thought held that government could use the bad against the worst - in other words, non-violent extremists against the violent extremists of Al Qaeda.  Individuals and groups aligned with such Islamist movements as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Jamaat e-Islami had, it was argued, "credibility" with young British Muslims, and could help turn them against AQ - thus helping to prevent terror attacks.

Others disagreed, arguing that it would be disastrous for the state to fund or patronise movements that were ambiguous, to say the least, about liberal democracy, and held ideas about, for example, the place of women in society that were antithetical to it.  In Munich, David Cameron threw his weight decisively on the side of the second school, and against not only those who committed violent acts, but against those who supported the ideology that helped to underpin them.

Continue reading "The Government's counter-terror strategy: Quite a bit done, a lot more to do" »

18 Mar 2013 07:00:00

Hague and Cameron are right to consider arming Syria's rebels but the region's wealthy oil states need to deliver more life-saving aid. And quickly.

By Tim Montgomerie
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William Hague and David Cameron are seriously considering sending arms to help the Syrian opposition in their civil war with the Assad regime. Assad's armed forces are being financed and equipped by Russia and are getting a helping hand from Iran's Revolutionary Guard. The combination of Russia and Iran is a particularly horrible one. Moscow's fingerprints are all over the Grozny-style bombing of Syrian cities that means many of them now resemble 1945 Berlin. Tehran's contribution has been to help brutalise the Syrian regime's anti-insurgency operations. Many prisoners of war aren't detained but are mutilated before being killed.

It is no wonder that, in Mr Hague's words, Syria is producing the world's "biggest human catastrophe of recent years". At least 70,000 people have already died. Four million people are in acute need. More than one million refugees have fled Syria and that flow is accelerating rather than declining. Last week, as a guest of the Save the Children charity, I visited the Zaatari refugee camp on Jordan's border with Syria.

Continue reading "Hague and Cameron are right to consider arming Syria's rebels but the region's wealthy oil states need to deliver more life-saving aid. And quickly." »

22 Feb 2013 08:28:17

Islamist terror and extremism: "They haven't gone away, you know"

By Paul Goodman
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There has been no mass terror attack in Britain for over five years - since the bombing of Glasgow airport in 2007.  Osama Bin Laden is dead, and the reach of his Afghanistan-and-Pakistan-based Al Qaeda network reduced.  British troops have returned from Iraq and will, before too long, come back from Afghanistan.  It might therefore be assumed that the threat of bombs on the tube - or elsewhere - carried by Islamist fanatics has faded away altogether.

However, yesterday's conviction of three would-be suicide bombers from Birmingham is a reminder that Al Qaeda, as Gerry Adams once said of the IRA, "hasn't gone away, you know".  It never had: for example, innocents in Exeter's Giraffe Cafe were lucky not to die or be maimed in 2008, when Nicky Reilly's exploding bomb injured only himself.  Reilly was a convert to an extremist variant of Islam - a distortion of the classical, traditional form.

Continue reading "Islamist terror and extremism: "They haven't gone away, you know"" »

21 Nov 2012 10:08:58

The vision of terrorists stalking MPs is "merely comic"

By Paul Goodman
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The claim that disclosing the addresses of places where MPs live "for a moment...seems merely comic.  It conjures up visions of Al Qaeda terrorists trailing LibDem backbenchers home or crazed women stalking handsome Tory junior Ministers they accuse of having done them wrong. Come off it. No-one could recognise 51 MPs in an identity parade, let alone take the trouble to rough them up for voting the wrong way in the last Commons division." - Max Hastings, Daily Mail, November 21 2012.

"A 21 year old student has been jailed for life at the Old Bailey for trying to murder Labour MP Stephen Timms because he voted for the war in Iraq." BBC, November 3 2010.

12 Nov 2012 16:25:34

Theresa May vows to fight on, despite Abu Qatada's latest legal victory

By Tim Montgomerie
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Abu Qatada - known in the tabloids as "Osama Bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe" - has won his appeal against deportation to Jordan and will now be released from jail tomorrow, under curfew. Theresa May had, through painfully long negotiations, won assurances from the Jordanian authorities that no evidence gained from torture could be used in court against Qatada. Britain's Special Immigration Appeals Commission has nonetheless decided - largely, it appears on very technical grounds - that a fair trial cannot be guaranteed.

The BBC's home affairs correspondent Dominic Casciani described the ruling as an "absolutely huge blow to the home secretary" and as "a very, very significant judgement." Sources close to Theresa May, however, tell ConHome that the Home Secretary is determined to appeal the judgment and to patiently, persisently pursue all legal options until Qatada is successfully extradited. Mrs May delivered the extradition of Abu Hamza, noted my source, and she's not ready to give up on this mission either.

Theresa May will make a statement to the House of Commons in the next few minutes on the news. She's likely to be urged by backbench Tory MPs to tackle the underlying problem of ECHR membership. Earlier this year Tory MP Peter Bone called for temporary withdrawal from the Convention in order to deliver Qatada's immediate extradition. Patrick Mercer argued that European laws meant that one of one of the world’s most dangerous men was allowed to walk the streets of London. Last week, in an interview with Paul Goodman, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling opened the door to Britain leaving the ECHR. The world, he said, has changed since the convention has drawn up, people "who have an avowed intent to try to do damage to our society" are trying to use the court to stop deportation, and the court and its jurisprudence "have moved far, far away from the original intention of the authors of the convention."

The Daily Mail estimates that legal costs for Mr Qatada have equalled nearly half-a-million pounds over the last ten years of disputed proceedings. That's enough to pay off a BBC Director General.

16 Sep 2012 09:58:25

Sir John Major whispers what Downing Street is saying privately -- a slow recovery is underway

By Tim Montgomerie
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Major John Sept 2012 470

John Major was the main guest on this morning's Andrew Marr show and his interview was notable for five main things...

First, he suggested that economic recovery was probably underway. Twenty years ago Norman Lamont said that the green shoots of recovery were emerging and he was shot down for saying so. But, said Sir John, he was right. Today, he suggested, it was also probably true: "Recovery begins from the darkest moment. I am not sure but I think we have passed the darkest moment." The former PM pointed to employment and manufacturing data that suggested Britain had turned the corner, as did stock market sentiment. The recovery would be slow, he continued, but it was underway. This was Lord Bates' argument this time, last week, on ConHome.Downing street thinks the same but won't say so until there's a lot more data in. What they can't work out is whether economic recovery will lead to political recovery. Will the return of a modest feel good factor overwhelm the pain of difficult cuts?

Second, Major urged the Conservative Party to unite behind David Cameron. There is, he said, an "inevitability" about division and leadership speculation in politics. For the last thirty years the Conservative Party has been divided in different ways - first between economic wets and dries and then, in the 1990s, over Europe. “If the Conservative Party has learnt anything," Sir John told Andrew Marr, "it’s that regicide is not a good idea.” The man who benefitted from Lady Thatcher's "regicide" and went on to win the 1992 election as a result, praised the Mayor of London as an "attractive, able" politician who is "doing a supremely good job". Boris Johnson is not in parliament, however, and keeps saying he has no intention of challenging David Cameron. People talking of a leadership challenge were filling newspapers but weren't living "in the real world". The party, Sir John said, needed to remember that "disunity costs votes".

Continue reading "Sir John Major whispers what Downing Street is saying privately -- a slow recovery is underway" »

23 Aug 2012 08:31:21

Cameron and Obama inch closer to intervention in Syria

By Matthew Barrett
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Cameron & Obama

David Cameron has endorsed a warning by President Obama that the threat of chemical weapons being used in Syria would cause them to "revisit their approach so far", the Guardian reports today.

On Monday, Mr Obama said:

"We cannot have a situation where chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people. We've been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is if we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilised."

The Guardian also notes the conversation between Cameron and President Hollande, in which a Downing Street spokesman said...

"The Prime Minister said that he and President Hollande were 100 per cent in agreement as they discussed political, humanitarian and military issues affecting the country and the wider region. They discussed how to build on the non-lethal support recently announced by the UK and agreed that France and the UK would work more closely to identify how they could bolster the opposition and help a potential transitional Syrian government after the inevitable fall of Assad."

Continue reading "Cameron and Obama inch closer to intervention in Syria" »

30 May 2012 08:28:24

Ken Clarke bids to end unjustified compensation payouts for terrorist suspects

By Matthew Barrett
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Clarke ken_small.ashxYesterday, Ken Clarke announced the watering down of some elements of the proposed Justice and Security Bill, which has caused some controversy due to the parts of the Bill which would allow courts to hear cases in secret. Gone is the ability for the Government to hold sensitive inquests, such as those concerning troops killed overseas, in secret. 

However, certain controversial elements remain. Citizenship cases (for example, a suspected terrorist applying for a British passport) will be heard by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, which can conduct cases in secret. Civil courts will also be allowed to go into private sessions when hearing intelligence material, if a request is made by a Minister. Some of these measures have been tightened up. Approval for a closed hearing would have to come from a judge, and can only be granted on the grounds of national security. The Intelligence and Security Committee will also be able to hold MI5 and MI6 to account, with only Ministers being able to refuse to hand over information.

A common sense change many people would think right to introduce is that now Ministers are exempt from demands for secret intelligence material from foreign courts.

Continue reading "Ken Clarke bids to end unjustified compensation payouts for terrorist suspects" »