Britain widens terror net

British Home Secretary Charles Clarke on Wednesday broadened Britain’s response to the 7/7 bombings in London with plans to allow him to exclude or deport from Britain Islamist militants whose inflammatory language or behaviour is judged to foment or provoke terrorism.

His announcement immediately preceded another wave of attacks on London transport on Thursday involving small explosions at three tube stations and an “incident” on a bus in Bethnal Green. It was speculated that dummy explosions using only detonators had sparked the evacuation of three tube stations and the closure of the Northern Victoria and Hammersmith and City lines. Casualty numbers appear to be low.
Police cordoned off large areas around Warren Street, Oval and Sheperd’s Bush tube stations.

Clarke told MPs on Wednesday that intelligence, foreign and home office staff would compile a database of individuals which may lead to them being refused entry to Britain, or even being removed. Civil liberties groups said they were alarmed by the list’s catch-all nature.

Under the plan, a systematic index will be drawn up of what Clarke called “unacceptable behaviours’‘. Included will be anyone preaching, running a website or writing articles “intended to foment or provoke terrorism’‘.

As a first step towards deporting some of the most controversial Islamist figures living in Britain, Clarke confirmed that agreement had been reached with Jordan that returnees would not be tortured. This paves the way for action to be taken against the self-exiled cleric, Abu Qatada, who is a prime target for expulsion.

Born in Jordan, Abu Qatada has lived in Britain since he fled the country in 1993, having been convicted of inciting terrorism. He is on a control order — effective house arrest — after his release from London’s Belmarsh high-security prison. He is accused by the government of having raised funds on behalf of terrorist organisations.

British government ministers hope the Jordan agreement will be the first of several with countries across the Middle East.

Pressure is also mounting to introduce a plea-bargaining system designed to improve patchy intelligence on terror suspects within Britain. Under plans being drawn up in London, convicted terrorists would be given lighter sentences if they supplied information to the security and intelligence agencies before their trial.

Suspects would be given the chance to provide information in “intelligence-only’’ interviews, The Guardian has learned. The interview would take place after the suspect had been arrested or charged. None of the information would be used against the suspect in the subsequent trial and the future security of the suspect would be protected.

Trial judges would be told how helpful the suspect had been and, in the event of a conviction, would reduce the sentence accordingly. The information supplied by the suspect would be revealed in court only if it was shown he had lied or that his subsequent evidence conflicted with what he had said.

The plan is being drawn up amid concern about the continuing threat of terrorism and serious gaps in intelligence, particularly about the activities of young men attracted to extreme Islamist ideology or sympathetic to al-Qaeda.

Clarke’s announcement of a crackdown on extremists was part of a further hardening of the government’s stance against what British Prime Minister Tony Blair admitted was a “deeply-rooted’’ vein of extremism that had led to attacks in 26 countries, including this month’s bombings, which have cost 56 lives in London.

The House of Commons statement was part of a rapid evolution of policy by consensus that will see cross-party legislation later this year to close legal gaps, and criminalise “acts preparatory to terrorism’‘, indirect incitement short of “glorifying or condoning’’ terrorism, and those “giving and receiving terrorist training’‘.

On the last full sitting day of Parliament before the summer recess, Clarke and Blair coupled tough promises of action with gestures of reassurance to the mainstream Muslim majority, and sought to shore up cross-party consensus. — Â

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