The murder of David Amess: Terror has “evolved”, so must our security apparatus

Sir David Amess, a Conservative MP from Essex, was stabbed to death at his constituency surgery last Friday, in what police are treating as a terrorist attack. It was a regular surgery at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, where he meets with his constituents regularly.

He passed away on the spot. A constituency surgery, also known as a constituency clinic in the UK, is a series of one-on-one meetings between a MP and constituents.

Ali Harbi Ali, a British national of Somali origin, is the 25-year old terrorist who took away Amess’ life. This attack was linked to Islamic extremism, according to the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command. A few years ago, he was sent to the counter-terrorist Prevent scheme, which was aimed at preventing people from becoming radicalised.

To the uninitiated, Prevent is the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy.

Ali was never a formal subject of interest, according to MI5. The MI5, or military intelligence, Section 5, is the UK’s domestic counter-intelligence and security organisation, and its job is quite similar to our Special Branch of the Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM).

R Paneir Selvam

With this tragedy, the effectiveness of the present Prevent scheme in protecting the public and prominent people in the UK has been called into question. The truth is, there is no point in coming up with various strategies and measures in the aftermath of a terrorist attack, which clearly slipped under the radar of its intelligence apparatus’ surveillance.

Programmes such as Prevent, which is being adopted all over the world, is designed to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks. However, what assumptions are made about these terrorists who are classified as low-risk terrorists but later, launch lethal attacks, as in this case?

Until now, it is unclear whether the perpetrator was born in the UK or acquired citizenship through naturalisation. Despite condemnation from the British public, no religious organisations in the UK have spoken out against it, as of now.

Furthermore, the police stated that this was a lone wolf attack, and Ali would later be declared a martyr by terrorist groups such as Islamic State or al-Qaeda.

In my opinion, Ali is nothing more than a coward who attacked a defenceless man.

The victim, who has been an illustrious MP for 38 years; first in Basildon from 1983 until 1997 when he was elected to represent Southend West, is married with five children.

The late Amess, according to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, is one of the sweetest, gentlest person in Parliament, holding a stellar track record of introducing laws to benefit the most disadvantaged in their society. This is the second time a sitting MP has been killed by a terrorist.


Extremists sending a message


In 2016, Jo Cox, a Labour Party MP, was assassinated by a far-right extremist, Thomas Mair. She was shot and stabbed outside a library in Birstall, West Yorkshire, where the politician was scheduled to hold a constituency surgery. Cox later died in hospital as a result of her injuries.

It is of my view that these perpetrators must be classified as terrorists, whether they are Islamic radicals or far-right extremists. This is because their shared goal is to kill defenceless and innocent people in the name of a false ideology that has no concern for the lives of innocent people, including women and children.

Unlike in Malaysia, where the PDRM ensures the safety of our MPs, in the UK, MPs are free to mingle with their constituents without fear of being attacked. The assassination of two sitting British MPs has prompted questions about whether or not MPs are adequately protected.

The question is what level of protection should be provided to their MPs, and if the current set of procedures is adequate and should be enhanced.

Meanwhile, with the present political atmosphere and economic slump in Malaysia, as well as the rise of the Taliban and ISIS-K in Afghanistan, it is time for the PDRM or other relevant authorities to tighten their current procedures to ensure the safety of our MPs.

One of the most serious security concerns in the UK is the influx of asylum seekers from war-torn countries such as Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan and Somalia; where sympathisers, supporters, and low-profile terrorists linked to al-Qaeda, ISIS, or Al Shabab have slipped through the cracks and resettled in the UK as “genuine’ asylum seekers”.

In the most cases, these radicals serve as sleeper cells.

For instance, Salman Ramadan Abedi, the Manchester bomber, is of Libyan descent, and his father is a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). This should have prompted action, but because of his father’s involvement in terrorist operations in Libya, he poses a threat to UK society.

Unfortunately, the UK security and intelligence apparatus did not consider Salman to be a high-risk terrorist. When he detonated an improvised explosive device at the Manchester Arena in 2017, he killed more than 20 people and injured more than 1,000 people.

Ali and Salman have a lot in common since they both hail from families that came from war-torn nations, where the terrorist groups actively involved with civil wars in the respective countries.

The motivations that may have inspired them to carry out such attacks as a kind of retaliation against UK troops fighting in Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq, killing their “brothers and sisters”.  They believed they were fighting infidels who were attempting to undermine their religion.

Both attacks were carried out by lone wolf terrorists who are tough to track down and function as sleeper cells. Despite being under the watchful eye of security and intelligence organisations, they are considered low-risk.

I agree that one cannot monitor every single movement of a supporter, sympathiser, or “low risk” terrorist, but those who indulge in such false doctrine pose a threat to a nation’s peace and security.

As a result, the security forces cannot rely on present strategies and must constantly innovate by utilising technology, particularly artificial intelligence (AI), to track the activities of these hazardous individuals.


Crack the whip


Terrorists, in a nutshell, are not affiliated with any religion or race. They are misguided individuals who must be kept away from the general public. This is because they believe that everything they are doing and will do in the future is correct. They have no regard for the rule of law or ordinary people’s lives, including women and children.

And when terrorists commit atrocities in the name of religion, religious leaders must take immediate action by condemning it and reject the terrorists who use religion for personal gratification.

What occurred to Amess cannot be viewed as a one-off occurrence. It can strike anyone at any time and in any place. Terrorists, particularly lone wolves, target prominent people such as Cox and Amess in order to reinvigorate their false ideology.

Such attacks are also necessary to send a message to their “comrades” to continue with their barbarous acts.

These terrorists are irrational individuals and a threat to humanity. These extremists have shown that they have little regard for human life as shown by their atrocities in Afghanistan, Yemen, Mozambique, Nigeria, Mali,and Somalia. Not only do the lives of MPs matter but so do the lives of ordinary people.

Therefore, the present criminal justice system, not only in the UK but throughout the world, must take aggressive measures to severely punish these terrorists. – Oct 17, 2021.


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

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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