Home Secretary: We must work together to defeat terrorism
Theresa May addresses Metropolitan Police's counter-terrorism conference
I am honoured to be at this Counter Terrorism and Policing conference and to welcome so many partners from across Europe and from our Five Eyes allies.
We are gathered here to discuss policing and the changing threat from international terrorism, and unfortunately the timing could not be more apposite. In the past week we have heard separate but equally shocking media reports about dangerous radicalisation. Some of these cases have yet to be confirmed. But while I cannot comment in detail, I do want to say this: to the parents, siblings, faith leaders and community groups whose loved ones may be at risk: I want to work with you to stop this from happening.
Time and again we are seeing what we are now up against: the powerful allure of propaganda pumped out by ISIL and others to recruit and brainwash British men and women, the access social media and modern communications give terrorists to vulnerable people, and the desire of those terrorists to poison others against our values and our way of life.
But if we are to dissuade those wanting to travel to dangerous lands… if we are to stop those hoping to train and fight for a terrorist cause…if we are to protect the vulnerable who might be at risk of radicalisation……. then the Government and law enforcement cannot work alone. The threat has changed, and we are facing a pernicious new phenomenon, which is reaching out to people around the world and calling them to join their twisted cause. If we are to defeat this threat, if we are to confront this, and terrorism and extremism of all kinds, then we must work together. ISIL might seem a remote and distant organisation, but the fight against its evil influence must take place here in our towns and cities, in our communities, and in our homes.
Events this week coincide with another sombre occasion: two weeks from now Britain will mark the tenth anniversary of the attacks on 7 July 2005, which killed 52 people and injured more than 700.
We will all have different memories of that day. The profound sense of shock and outrage so many of us felt. The dignity and resolve of those caught up in those terrible events. We will remember the professionalism of the emergency services. The courage of those who rushed towards danger to help others with little thought for their own safety. The kindness of bystanders. And as a country our collective determination to stand united in the face of such cowardly attacks.
But most of all we will remember those who lost their lives and the many others who were injured. We should take a moment to remember them and the friends and family who still live with their loss and those who endure the consequences of that day.
The atrocities on 7/7, carried out by British terrorists, intent on the mass murder of fellow British citizens, changed the way we understood and approached the threat from terrorism. Ten years later we have seen that the threat has evolved, and it has become more serious and more complex. And it is a threat which is not only increasing in tempo, but which has expanded to touch every country represented in this room.
We have seen recent attacks in France, Belgium, Canada, Australia, America. And in 2013 in the UK, the brutal murder of Drummer Lee Rigby, killed in broad daylight by Islamist extremists, and the murder of Mohammed Saleem, a British Muslim grandfather from Birmingham, who was stabbed to death by a far-right extremist who then went on to try and bomb mosques in Walsall, Wolverhampton and Tipton.
We have seen dozens of attacks on our citizens overseas, some killed in large-scale terrorist incidents, others kidnapped, including British and American hostages murdered in the most horrific way imaginable.
There have been the many plots which have been foiled in this country and in each of yours. Plots to carry out mass murder and instil fear in our citizens. Plots inspired by propaganda on the internet that captures the minds of vulnerable people. Plots that target people for who they are and what they represent. Plots to conduct marauding ‘Mumbai-style’ gun attacks on our streets, blow up the London Stock Exchange, bring down airliners, assassinate a British ambassador and murder serving members of our armed forces.
To this we can add the fact that hundreds from the UK and thousands from Europe and the West have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight. We believe that around 700 Security Service subjects of interest have gone from the UK, a number of whom have joined ISIL, which through brute force and repression controls swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq. We know that ISIL aspires to become a state in its own right, and that they don’t just want to recruit young men, they also want to lure young women and families too by selling them promises about starting a new life. But these promises are false: ISIL is bringing death and destruction to Syria and Iraq, and has made clear its brutality in the murder, rape and torture of men, women and children.
ISIL now represents the deadliest threat we in the West face from international terrorism. We know ISIL uses sophisticated propaganda and modern technology to spread hatred and in some cases advocate or facilitate acts of terrorism. Since the start of the conflict in Syria around half of the Security Service subjects of interest who have gone to Syria from Britain have returned. We face the danger not only of ISIL using the space available to them to plan attacks against Western targets, but the very serious threat that returnees may carry out attacks on home soil, radicalise others, or fund or facilitate terrorism in other ways.
Last week we heard how MI5 now regard the number of people in the UK exposed to terrorist training and fighting as unprecedented, and that more people have gone to Syria from Europe than any other terrorist theatre in the 21st century.
One of ISIL’s terrorists first struck in Europe last May, when a French returnee from Syria shot four people dead at a Jewish Museum in Brussels. And in the last eight months there have been further attacks, some of them arguably demonstrating ISIL’s ability to inspire and reach out from Syria and Iraq. The murder of a soldier in a hit and run in Quebec and another soldier killed outside the Canadian Parliament. The hostage crisis at a cafe in Sydney in which two hostages died. Then the shocking attacks in Paris in which 17 innocent people were murdered in cold blood, and a number of others were injured.
So the threat from ISIL is clear. But it is not the only threat we face. There is Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, Al Shabaab in East Africa, and terrorists planning attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan. And across the world, kidnap for ransom continues to be carried out by a range of extremist groups either for propaganda, or as a way of funding terrorist activities. Nor should we forget the threat from Northern Ireland related terrorism and far right extremism.
I know that all these threats have tremendous implications for everyone in this room. They are increasing the pace at which you work and the pressure on your jobs. I know too that recent events have upped the stakes and that you run great risks to keep people safe. So I want to say thank you to everyone here and to the police and security and intelligences officers beyond who do so much, and whose work so often goes unreported and unrecognised.
What we’ve done – our approach in the UK
This is the scale of the threat which we are up against in this country, across Europe and indeed the West. It is a struggle fought on many fronts and in many forms – and it will require a comprehensive and coherent response.
This conference provides us with an opportunity to learn from each other, and today I want to share with you the work the UK government is doing to disrupt propagandists, stop people from engaging in terrorist activities, and prevent radicalisation.
In Britain, we have some of the most robust and effective legislation in the world, our counter-terrorism strategy CONTEST has been tried and tested over many years, and of course – we have first-class counter-terrorism police and intelligence capabilities. And when we came into Government in 2010 we protected the budgets for counter-terrorism policing and for the security and intelligence agencies.
I have always said that the strategy we inherited was broadly sound, but since becoming Home Secretary in 2010, I have strengthened our response.
In the last Parliament, we replaced control orders with Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures. And last year we introduced relocation powers to further strengthen these measures.
We made it easier to get rid of undesirable foreign nationals, including terrorists and terror suspects. We changed the law to make it clear to the courts that Article Eight of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to respect for a family life, is a qualified and not an absolute right.
We strengthened the criteria governing the use of the Royal Prerogative, which allows the Government to cancel British passports to disrupt the travel of people planning to engage in terrorist-related activity overseas. And in 2014, I removed 24 passports from people intending to travel for terrorism-related activity – a four-fold increase on the previous year.
And we changed the law so that we can, in certain circumstances, remove citizenship from naturalised Britons who pose a threat to our country, alongside the previously existing power to strip British citizenship from those who have dual nationality. Since August 2013 I have deprived 10 people of their British citizenship on the grounds that I do not consider their presence in the UK to be conducive to the public good.
We are also working to deal with the propagandists. On coming to power in 2010 we significantly revised the ‘Prevent’ pillar of the counter-terrorism strategy so that it tackles the ideology behind the threat, and tackles all forms of terrorism, not just Islamist-related terrorism.
We have now trained 300,000 frontline workers to help identify and prevent extremism, and I have excluded nearly 100 preachers of hate, more than any of my predecessors.
We have worked in partnership with communities, civil society and faith groups, as well as working with a range of institutions such as mosques and schools. Since 2011 we have delivered over 180 community-based Prevent projects, reaching almost 40,000 people last year.
I have talked today about the significance of the internet in radicalising young minds. Technology means that there is no need for face-to-face, or even direct, contact between a radicaliser and their target. Someone can be sitting in their bedroom, thousands of miles away from hate preachers and foreign fighters, and they can become radicalised and encouraged to go out and attack innocent civilians.
Our Internet Referral Unit takes down terrorist-related content from the internet, and since February 2010 we have removed more than 90,000 pieces of material – currently removing around 1,000 pieces a week.
We are also working with social media companies and encouraging them to take stronger, faster and further action to combat the use of their services by groups like ISIL, including through a zero tolerance approach to terrorist activity on their networks. They are committed to measures that make it easier for their users and the authorities to report terrorist and extremist propaganda. We will build on this to encourage companies to work together to produce industry standards for the identification, removal and referral of terrorist activity.
And last summer we legislated to deal with two urgent problems relating to communications data and the interception of communications. This put beyond doubt the legal basis upon which we require communication service providers to retain data, and the application of our laws on investigatory powers to providers overseas.
But I have always said that we would keep our counter-terrorism powers and capabilities under review. And as the threat evolves, we must keep pace.
That’s why earlier this year we legislated, through the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, to strengthen our ability to deal with foreign fighters and do more to prevent radicalisation.
We introduced a new power to temporarily seize the passports of people suspected of travelling to engage in terrorism overseas, and since it came into force I can confirm that we have used this power and it has proved effective. In some cases it has led to longer-term disruptive action using the Royal Prerogative power to cancel a British passport.
We extended the Authority To Carry provisions, and we are refusing airlines authority to carry to the UK people who have been excluded or deported from the UK or who are using invalid, stolen or lost travel documents. These people will be prevented from reaching the UK.
We will also refuse an airline authority to carry from the UK those people whose passports have been cancelled or seized and children who are believed to be travelling for terrorism-related purposes.
And from 1 July the new statutory Prevent duty for specified authorities will commence. Once this has been fully implemented it will require local authorities, the police, prisons, probation services, schools, colleges – and yes, universities too – to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. This will ensure that Prevent activity is consistent across the country and in all those bodies that work with those who may be vulnerable.
And of course, I know that the police and the security and intelligence services are working extremely hard to keep British people safe. Police figures tell us that in 2014/15 338 people were detained on suspicion of terrorism offences – a rise of 56% in the last three years compared with the previous three, and a rise of a third compared to the previous year. 79% of these arrests were UK nationals, and 17% were under 20. And around half of these arrests were related to Syria.
Mark Rowley, the Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, summed up that workload earlier this year when he said that terrorists are being arrested at a rate of almost one every day.
Together, the measures we are putting in place are strengthening our response. But where there are still gaps we must address them.
Last month, we announced that we will bring forward proposals to reform the legal framework governing the use of investigatory powers by the police and intelligence agencies.
The publication of David Anderson QC’s report on investigatory powers last week made clear how necessary these powers are to the police and the security and intelligence agencies, and his review is an important and valuable contribution. It is complimented by the Intelligence and Security Committee’s Privacy and Security report, which was published in March.
And later this summer, a panel coordinated by the Royal United Services Institute, and established by the former Deputy Prime Minister, will report on the legality, effectiveness and privacy implications of the UK’s surveillance programmes.
The Government will need to give proper consideration to each of these reviews and their recommendations, but I believe they will provide a firm basis for consultation on legislation.
In framing our Investigatory Powers Bill we will need to give due consideration to the balance between privacy and security. But as I have said before, it is not possible to debate the correct balance – including the rights and wrongs of investigatory powers and the oversight arrangements that govern them – without also considering the threats that we face as a country.
I am committed to ensuring that the police and the security and intelligence agencies have the powers, support and capabilities they need in order to do their important work. And I am clear – the issue of privacy and security is not a zero-sum game. We can only enjoy our privacy if we have our security.
The need for Europe-wide action
Now I have spoken today about our work here in the UK. But the threat, as I said earlier, that we face is a common one, shared by many of your countries. And if we are to defeat it, we need to work together.
Following the attacks in France earlier this year, I attended the peace rally in Paris and held talks with my counterparts from Europe, the United States and Canada to discuss what more we can do. There was support from all present for new action to share intelligence, track the movement of terrorists and defeat the ideology that feeds and sanctions terrorism.
In Europe, we are already working on ways to counter propaganda. We have provided UK experts to an EU Syria Strategic Communications Advisory Team, which is supporting Member States to tackle the particular national and local communications challenges posed by their citizens travelling to Syria. We are grateful to the Belgian government for their sponsorship and welcome discussions with them to explore the future of the team beyond 2015.
We have also supported the EU in setting up an Internet Referrals Unit at Europol to address the increasing amount of terrorist and extremist propaganda available on the internet, and I am pleased to say that the UK will be seconding a police officer to this unit.
But there are many more ways in which we can work together. In particular we need to stop terrorists having access to lethal weapons by increasing information sharing, and working to ensure that there are minimum standards for firearms deactivation.
We need to develop a better picture of criminals moving between our countries, for example by sharing more data-linked to criminal convictions, including those related to terrorism.
And we need to better identify those who might try to do us harm, by making the best use of passenger data on travel to, from and within Europe to spot suspicious activity.
We must also continue our close working with our Five Eyes allies in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand to share information, best practice and vital intelligence to prevent the movement of would be foreign fighters.
We need to work together to defeat the threat we face
But ultimately we must all do more to stop people from becoming radicalised, and to challenge the twisted ideology that lies behind the threat.
The Government has an important role to play. But the Government cannot do this alone, no matter how determined we are. All too frequently I hear from community representatives, civil society organisations, and from reports in the media how shocked, confused, and distressed people are when they hear of someone they know who has gone to Syria or Iraq. How they can’t understand why someone they know perhaps from school, from their community or even from their own family, has left Britain and our way of life.
That’s why we have to work in partnership, a real partnership, to defeat the many threats we face. It will require all of us to be part of the response. It will require all of us to challenge dangerous and destructive narratives, to protect the vulnerable from damaging propaganda, and to stand up for the values that unite us.
So the Government has announced a new counter-extremism strategy to protect people from extremism in all its forms: non-violent and violent, Islamist and neo-Nazi. At the heart of that strategy sits a positive vision of Britain and our values, and an open offer to work in partnership with all those determined to eradicate extremism.
For too long extremists have defined the debate in terms of “them” and “us” – telling young people that they can’t be a good Muslim and a British citizen. I want this partnership to reclaim that debate…. to defeat their poisonous ideology… and deny them the opportunity to spread messages of hate and division.
And I want to end my remarks today by issuing a direct message to those British men and women who are thinking about travelling to fight and live in Syria and Iraq.
I know you have been told that fighting for ISIL represents a glorious cause. I know you have heard that Syria offers your family a new way of life. And I know you have been instructed that you have a duty to respond to events in the Middle East. And yes, I recognise that some of you may have been tempted by these messages on social media, the internet and elsewhere.
But to you, I say this. Travelling to Syria and Iraq is dangerous. You will be putting your life and the lives of your families at serious risk. You will be subjecting yourself and your children to a life of war, famine and hardship. You will be hurting the families who brought you up and the friends who love and care for you. And you will be travelling to a place where there are none of the freedoms and opportunities which you have enjoyed in this country. There is no democracy, no rule of law, no equality. If you travel, you reject these freedoms, you turn your back on your families and your communities, and instead you embrace hatred, intolerance and brutality.
So the message is clear: do not travel, do not engage in dangerous activities, do not put yourself or those you care about at risk. But if you do not follow this advice, and if you become involved in illegal and harmful activities, we will do everything in our power to keep the people of this country safe from terrorism.