Another terror attack in the UK: Why are counter-terrorism agencies failing?

EMAD Al Swealmeen, an asylum seeker from Iraq who was carrying a homemade bomb, arrived at the Liverpool Women’s Hospital using a taxi a few days ago. When the bomb went off, it killed him and injured the driver. 

As a result, the terror threat level in the UK has been increased to “severe,” indicating that another  attack is extremely likely.

Last month, Ali Harbi Ali, a British citizen of Somali descent, was detained under the Terrorism Act for stabbing Conservative MP Sir David Amess to death during a surgery with constituents in Essex. In February last year, an Islamic State (ISIS)  member named Safiyya Shaikh was arrested after admitting to plotting to blow herself up in an attack on St Paul’s Cathedral.

Sudesh Amman, another ISIS terrorist who was just freed from prison, stabbed two victims in Streatham, London, last year and injured another victim indirectly. He was sentenced to prison for terrorism-related offences such as urging his fiancée to murder her own parents, threatening to carry out a knife attack and gathering and distributing terrorist material that may be used in terror acts, including a hoard of bomb-making manuals. 

Amman was sentenced to three years and four months in prison, but after completing half of his term, he was freed in January of this year. Despite being under severe supervision and licence limitations, he rampaged his victims without any effort on Streatham’s crowded High Street. 

Boris Johnson, the UK Prime Minister, demanded to know why a known terrorist like Amman was freed from prison sooner than expected and promised to crackdown on these “sick terror offenders.” He also wants to change the legislation to keep these kinds of criminals in prison for extended periods of time. 

Furthermore, at the time, the head of UK counter-terrorism, Neil Basu, stated that the unpredictable nature of terrorists and terrorist acts, combined with a lack of intelligence, puts enormous pressure on the Government to combat terrorism. In addition, he said that terrorists use low-cost, simple tactics to attack soft targets.

Terrorist assaults in Streatham and London Bridge obviously signalled the start of a new wave of such incidents. Basu also mentioned that terrorists operate as lone wolves and use encryption to communicate with one another. He also stated that, despite the fact that attacks and preparation are less often currently, they are tough to predict and eliminate.

Three similar attacks involving religious militants using knives occurred in November 2019 in Fishmongers’ Hall, HMP Whitemoor, and Streatham. In order to deceive security services, these militants employed phoney suicide vests in similar attacks, and they are known to the relevant UK agencies. 

Terrorist attacks have been a widespread occurrence since the beginning of 2019. Many people believe that after al-Qaeda and ISIS were defeated, the world would be at peace without “issues” from these terrorist groups. 

However, the truth is rather different. 

When a suicide car bomber from the Al-Shabaab terrorist group targeted Turkish and Somali authorities in Afgooye, Somalia, in February last year, at least four persons were killed and more than twenty were critically injured.

Last year, Malaysia’s Deputy Home Minister Datuk Azis Jamman said that a local militant organisation is collaborating with the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group to target tourists, primarily in the Sabah’s east coast. Their primary goal is to abduct these foreigners and hold them for ransom in order to support their terrorist activities. 

Both the Philippines and Indonesian security officials believe that the Abu Sayyaf group is receiving assistance from Malaysians in abducting Westerners. PDRM has captured a number of terrorists in relation to this connection since 2018, but bizarrely, foreigners are still being kidnapped in Sabah. 

In addition, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines have formed a trilateral security pact to address the problem, with Malaysia establishing the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) to oversee the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (ESSZONE). This shows that terrorists are employing some effective propaganda methods to persuade and manipulate a quarter of the local population to accept their cause. 


Emboldened terrorists, how it happened? 

Why isn’t it possible to avoid terrorist attacks? Aren’t the various global intelligence agencies’ countermeasures effective in halting the rise of terrorist strikes around the world?

What motivates terrorism in the first place?

In general, terrorists are unpredictable by nature, making them difficult to deal with. For example, Usman Khan, who had been released from jail for terrorist-related offences, stabbed five people in London last November, killing two of them. 

He was at an offender rehabilitation conference at the time of the incident. He was also a strong supporter of Al-Muhajiroun, a home-grown militant cell recognised by UK intelligence and security authorities, as well as a personal friend of Anjem Choudary, the organisation’s co-founder. Choudary is regarded as one of the most well-known radical Islamist preachers in the UK> 

The question now is whether the UK’s de-radicalisation strategy is successful. If that was the case, the London Bridge assault would not have happened. Choundary should have been reformed, and he should have helped security forces detect and de-radicalise other prospective terrorists but that was not the case. 

Despite the fact that prominent members of Al Muhajiroun, including Choundary, are being closely monitored, they appear to be carrying out their “activities” undetected. According to UK intelligence authorities, they are recruiting through internet forums and holding regular smaller group meetings in secret locations.

One of the most important tasks for intelligence and security personnel is to keep an eye on the activities of hate preachers and “dubious” religious NGOs. In most cases, these preachers and NGOs will cloak their operations under the guise of religion. Terrorism-related occurrences cannot be completely eradicated unless security agencies and government religious authorities work together to combat the threats posed by these preachers and NGOs.

Terrorism is constantly changing. Terrorists are “innovative” individuals who adapt to their circumstances. Terrorist attacks no longer necessitate large sums of money or a large group to coordinate, as in the 9/11 attack, Bali bombing and the Mumbai assaults. The majority of today’s terrorist acts are self-funded and use “unconventional” weaponry such as knives, automobiles and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

This “unconventional” method of operation was demonstrated in the Villejuif, France event, in which Nathan Chiasson stabbed three individuals, one of whom died. Last year, a suicide bomber detonated an IED in a mosque in Quetta, Pakistan, killing more than 15 people and injuring at least 20, pointing to a resurgent trend of suicide bombers.

The director-general of MI5 issued a warning in May 2019 about the threat presented by ISIS sympathisers. Despite the fact that potential terrorists’ access to Syria has been restricted, he claims that ISIS propaganda continues to inspire people. Al-Muhajiroun’s attempt to attract returning Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTFs) and sympathisers in order to achieve its goal is worrisome.

Militant organisations such as Al-Muhajiroun and hate preachers such as Anjem Choudary inspire not only locals but also others to conduct acts of terrorism. For example, Abdul Lathief Jameel Mohamed, one of the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka, was radicalised by Choudary after attending his sermons in 2016.

Last year, the head of Bukit Aman’s Special Branch Counter-Terrorism Division (E8) stated that 15 of the 56 Malaysians jailed in Syria had contacted the polce and expressed their desire to return home. According to him, the Malaysian men who are returned to their homeland would face charges in court, while the ladies will be evaluated for their ideological influence. He went on to say that their children will also be subjected to rehabilitation programmes. 

After two years in detention, Yazid Sufaat was freed from the Simpang Renggam detention centre in Malaysia. In the last 18 years, he has been imprisoned three times for terrorism-related acts.

The question now is if our de-radicalisation campaign is working and whether supporters, sympathisers, and terrorists can be rehabilitated. – Nov 21, 2021. 


R Paneir Selvam is a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Business, Economic and Accounting/Institute of Crime and Criminology, HELP University.

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