Isis – the three big questions for Britain
Theresa May promises tougher approach to domestic extremism. MI5 claims it’s closing in on identity of James Foley’s killer. Philip Hammond rules out Assad alliance as old hands demand ‘harsh realism’.
Home secretary Theresa May is expected to announce a three-point plan to counter Islamic extremism in Britain. Proposals being considered include new powers to ban groups deemed to be extremist alongside civil court injunctions – dubbed “Asbos for terrorists” – which are aimed at stopping extremists trying to radicalise others. The measures would curtail the activities of radical preachers such as Anjem Choudary whose extreme rhetoric currently does not constitute a crime.
May has also announced that any organisations believed to be inciting terrorism could also be banned. This could target a number of Islamist political organisations and other Muslim groups that tacitly support extremism. Finally, state-funded organisations such as councils and schools will be given a new legal obligation to combat extremists. Labour have said more detail is required on the plans.
The video of James Foley‘s beheading by a British Isis fighter has also prompted calls for the reintroduction of control orders, which were used to monitor terrorist suspects and replaced in 2011 by the less stringent terrorism prevention and investigation measures (Tpims). The demands follow heightened concerns over the threat from Britons returning after fighting in Syria and Iraq.
The hunt for ‘Jihad John’
The field of suspects has been “narrowed down significantly” according to MI5 sources, although a definitive identification has yet to be made. A shortlist of men who might be the British murderer of James Foley is understood to have been drawn up by the UK security services in collaboration with Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command and the FBI.
Videos on social networking sites continue to be compared with the London-sounding accent of the killer on the beheading video, which was shared around the world.
Some reports, not verified, have said that potential identities for the masked extremist include a rapper, a hacker and a travel guide writer, who are all in their 20s and all thought to be residing in the Syrian city of Raqqa.
One former hostage, who was held for a year by the group in Raqqa, told the Guardian that the British executioner is “intelligent, educated and a devout believer in radical Islamic teachings”.
Police are preparing to raid the homes of several Britons in order to help establish the killer’s identity.
Security sources have reportedly said they are looking at a “number of individuals” in England who are suspected of communicating with extremists in Syria and who might hold vital information on Foley’s British killer.
An alliance with Assad?
The foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, has flatly ruled out an alliance with the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in order to defeat Isis, describing such a move as “poisonous”.
However, Malcolm Rifkind, former foreign secretary and chair of parliament’s intelligence and security committee, has called for a “harshly realistic” approach that might entail some form of alliance, suggesting there could be a case for collaborating with Assad to ensure the defeat of Islamic extremists.
Rifkind said: “Just as during the second world war Churchill and Roosevelt swallowed hard and dealt with Stalin, with the Soviet Union, not because they had any naivety about what Stalin represented but because that was necessary in order to defeat Hitler, and history judged them right in coming to that difficult but necessary judgment.”
The former head of the British army, General Lord Dannatt, has gone one step further, saying that Britain should co-operate with Assad in order to tackle Isis, referring to the relevance of the old saying: “My enemy’s enemy is my friend.” Dannatt said: “Whether it is above the counter or below the counter, a conversation has got to be held with him [Assad].”
- The Observer,