Counter Violent Extremism – “Communities beat terrorism”

Speech to SUPKEM National Conference on Security and Countering Violent Extremism.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Ladies and Gentlemen.

I recently hosted a reception at my Residence to thank all those whom we had worked with during the Westgate tragedy last September. Our chief guest was the UK’s top police expert on terrorism, Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick. Her core message was one that is central the theme of this important conference: that communities beat terrorism. In the UK we have learned that the hard way, through some bitter experience, and I want to share some of that with you here today.

Violent extremism is a global scourge. In the 12 months leading up to July 2012, more than 220 people were arrested in the UK for terrorism-related offences. With further incidents since then we know the threat in the UK from home grown terrorism remains challenging. The growing number of terrorist incidents in Kenya, most notably the tragic events of Westgate, demonstrates that here too there are many people vulnerable to extremists capable of persuading them to do terrible things.

The UK deplores and will fight terrorism of every kind, whether based on Islamist, extreme right-wing or any other extremist ideology. We will not tolerate extremist activity, which creates an environment for radicalising individuals and could lead them on a pathway towards terrorism. In the UK we tackle this threat through a holistic cross-government approach, based around something called Prevent, which is part of the UK Government’s wider Counter Terrorism Strategy (CONTEST).

The Prevent strategy is clear: ideology that distorts religion is the problem. Legitimate religious belief is not. This work is not something we should be afraid to address for fear of cultural sensitivities. In the UK we have already put in place some of the toughest terrorism prevention controls in the democratic world.

The UK’s Prevent strategy has 3 key objectives:

Firstly, to respond to the ideological challenge of terrorism and the threat we face from those who promote it.

  • This means challenging terrorist ideology. We have set up a body called the Research, Information and Communications Unit (RICU) which challenges and confronts terrorist ideology, providing pathways for people to explore alternatives.
  • It also means disrupting the activities of those who promote terrorist ideology. This is done through the work of law enforcement agencies, under existing terrorist legislation. The Home Secretary also has powers to stop those who advance extremist narratives from entering the UK.
  • And it means working with local communities, bringing people together to develop counter narrative projects and supporting community voices in challenging extremism.

The second objective of our strategy is to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism and ensure they are given appropriate advice and support.

  • Radicalisation is a process, not an event. During that process it is possible to intervene to prevent vulnerable people being drawn into terrorist related activity.
  • We do that through frontline staff in key sectors, for example those involved in health, education and youth offending, have a significant role to play in identifying and supporting vulnerable individuals.

Thirdly we work with sectors and institutions where there are risks of radicalisation.

  • The police play a key role in the delivery of Prevent in the UK. At a local level there are over 200 Prevent Engagement Officers who connect counter terrorism policing, neighbourhood policing and communities. The Police also develop comprehensive assessments of threat, risk and vulnerability in local areas that identify priority areas and underpin the delivery plans for those areas.

Prevent is also active in other sectors including:

  • The internet, which plays a role in perpetuating extremist and terrorist ideology. The Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit (CTIRU) leads UK work on the internet and works to remove or modify sites that breach UK terrorism legislation, developing a list of unlawful websites for inclusion in commercial ‘parental control’ filtering and working with civil society groups to encourage them to challenge extremist narratives.
  • In Higher and Further education. The Department for Business, Skills and Innovation (BIS) is leading a programme of activity to understand how extremism is promoted on campus and can be effectively challenged. 10 regional coordinators work directly with local authorities Education Officers to help colleges and universities understand and manage the risk of extremism and radicalisation.
  • In schools. The Department for Education is committed to a range of activities to reduce the risk of radicalisation in schools, including strengthening the regulatory framework for independent schools to safeguard against promotion of unacceptable views of teaching not compatible with UK democratic views.
  • In the Criminal Justice System. The National Offender Management Service has created a training programme to ensure that all staff can identify and address extremism in prisons. It uses behavioural and theological interventions with extremist offenders or those vulnerable to extremist views to encourage disengagement and diversion from extremist views. There is also a programme of support for prisoners convicted of terrorist offences or at risk of radicalisation after their release.

The thread running through all 3 strands of this strategy is clear. The response must involve all parts of government, working together; and it will not succeed unless it is based firmly in the community.

The response we have developed over 10 years in the UK will not necessarily apply simply to Kenya. Kenya will need to evolve its own specific solutions to Kenyan challenges.

But we must remain ever vigilant and ready to continue adapting. Following the brutal killing of British soldier Lee Rigby in the streets of London last May Prime Minister David Cameron set up the Extremism Task Force (ETF), to build on the work under the Prevent strategy. The ETF has again considered the issues I have just described, focusing on the practical steps needed to deal with confronting extremism within each area.

As I have described, in the UK we have found that support from across government departments helps us to deliver on this strategy. We also think that collaboration internationally, with other countries and international organisations is equally important.

Here in Kenya, we are working though the Department for International Development (DFID), to tackle some of the underlying reasons for some people to become vulnerable to extremist influence, particularly amongst the youth. We are supporting a range of initiatives aimed at building much-needed trust between the police and local communities. This year DFID will start a programme to assist improving the employment prospects for youth in Mombasa.

The UK is playing a leading role in helping the government of Somalia tackle the challenges within and across their borders, bolstering security including through support to AMISOM, and giving constant diplomatic, financial and humanitarian support.

We have worked hard to secure €2 million funding from the EU to help counter violent extremism in the Horn of Africa, and the UK will play a role in helping to deliver it. We have a UK Secondee at the Global Counter Terrorism Forum’s (GCTF) International Centre of Excellence for CVE - the Hedayah Centre in Abu Dhabi – who leads on training and capacity building. Both the UK and Kenya will be represented at the GCTF workshop (27-28 January) on development of National CVE Strategies, an event which will allow international partners to share insight and good practice on CVE.

We also know that respect for human rights is a vital element of this work. As Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a speech last year, all of us “must remember that in standing up for freedom, human rights and the rule of law ourselves, we must never use methods that undermine these things. As a democracy we must hold ourselves to the highest standards. This includes being absolutely clear that torture and mistreatment are repugnant, unacceptable and counter-productive. Our bottom line is always that we are determined to uphold the law.”

Overall, as this conference has shown, dialogue and engagement is critical. That is why I so welcome the efforts of SUPKEM to gather so many of you together today, and congratulate you on your efforts.

To go back to where I started, and Cressida Dick’s exhortation that “communities beat terrorism”. In all of the human tragedy and sorrow of Westgate, the thing that most sticks in my mind is the amazing resolve of those caught up in it not to be cowed. The response of the Red Cross and St John’s Ambulance. The resolve of the security forces. And the remarkable bravery and will of the local community. They have our deep admiration.

In conclusion, it is for the Kenyan Government and Kenyan people to work together to tackle this threat, with the international community stepping in with support where we can. The UK and Kenya have a deep mutual interest in tackling terrorist threats and we are committed to helping Kenya strengthen its capacity to do so. Unity of purpose will prevail against those that wish to hurt us, and if we speak with one voice we can achieve much. I wish the follow-up to this conference every success in its efforts to map out a Kenyan-owned, Kenyan-delivered plan for countering violent extremism. We stand ready to support.

Published 17 January 2014