Genealogy of Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism Efforts within the United Kingdom

Today, modern-day terrorism is principally looked at as a serious global threat that warrants immediate attention. Its extensive scope, dynamic nature, and the number of nation-states impacted negatively by associated aftermaths has now forced many to resort to formulating elaborate counter-terrorism strategies to remain one step ahead of their adversaries. The United Kingdom is among a growing list of countries that have grappled with terrorism as a contemporary reality. Under UK law, terrorism is defined as using threats and intimidation with the main aim of influencing government. This is primarily done to advance a particular religious or political ideology (Great Britain. Home Office 2009).. Although the UK had previously been subjected to a number of terrorist attacks linked to the political unrest in Northern Ireland, it was only during the turn of the 21st century that the inaugural Terrorism Act of 2000 was formally implemented.

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Major Events that shaped the Creation of the Terrorism Act 2000

            The Terrorism Act of 2000 is officially recognized as the chief legislation dealing with terrorism-related matters in the UK. Its implementation was an attempt to implement legislation that focused generally on terrorism, as opposed to focusing exclusively on the situation in Northern Ireland.  The 7 July 2005 London bombings were a major factor that prompted the implementation of this particular Act. The 7/7 bombings, as they are commonly referred to, were a series of synchronized attacks targeting London’s underground railway commuter system. This marked a turning point in the UK’S approach to terrorism, especially since the attack resulted in the deaths of close to 60 individuals and hundreds more were injured (Tembo 2015). Additional coordinated attacks were also slated for the days following the bombings, but were largely ineffective due poor organization. The four suicide bombers were later identified as British nationals Mohammed Sidique Khan, Germaine Lindsay, Shehzad Tanweer, and Hasib Hussain linked to jihadist terrorist cells (Staniforth & Fraser Sampson 2014).

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Proscribed Terrorist Groups under Terrorism Act 2000

            One of the most significant aims of the Terrorism Act of 2000 was a succinct classification of terrorist groups under the new legislation. The Act currently identifies Islamic extremism, far-right ultra-nationalist movements, and radical anarchist groups in Northern Ireland as major areas of focus when seeking to address immediate concerns related to terrorism. Individuals who identify as members of such organizations, those who don associated regalia, and those suspected to support them may be charged with a terrorist offence. This act also extend prosecution to persons who knowing or unknowingly join groups with links to local and international terrorist groups.

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Definition of Terrorism Prior to the adoption of the Terrorism Act 2000

            Before the 7/7 bombings and the subsequent enactment of the Terrorism Act of 2000, terrorism was synonymous with the activities of the Irish Revolutionary Army (IRA).  This had previously resulted in the implementation of the Northern Ireland Emergency Act of 1996 to aid in stemming the threat posed by the IRA (Richards 2012).  It offered a clear definition of terrorism while emboldening the police with new investigatory powers to effectively confronted suspected cases.

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Counter-terrorism Efforts in the United Kingdom

            The primary objective of implementing counter-terrorism strategies in the UK is to develop the most suitable response to imminent terrorist threats. These efforts have mainly focused on the implementation of specified measures to prevent individuals from joining or supporting terrorist organizations (Great Britain. Home Office 2009). Additionally, they also aim to thwart terrorist attacks by gathering sufficient and some of the most reliable intelligence. Counter-terrorism strategies in the UK also intend to utilize appropriate infrastructure to protect citizens against potential terrorist attacks. It also guarantees a high level of preparedness to mitigate negative consequences often associated with terrorist attacks. Target groups include Islamic extremism, far-right ultra-nationalist movements, and radical anarchist groups in Northern Ireland.

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Counter-terrorism strategies in the UK now include provisions that allow members of law enforcement agencies to arrest suspects even without a warrant. This provision affords them a great deal of latitude in arresting and detaining individuals with suspected links to proscribed terrorist organizations. It has been hailed by security experts as a positive development and a shift from ordinary criminal law that hindered extensive investigation of suspects. Stop and search provisions have also become a part of counter-terrorism efforts in the UK in the wake of threats posed by terrorist attacks. Under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act of 2002, stop and search devoid of any reasonable suspicion to aid in seizing material intended for terrorist-related activities (Chatterjee 2012). Police officers were also allowed to make specific authorizations in the event they suspected of participating in acts of terrorism. Furthermore, the UK currently implements stringent measures which criminalize the collection of information to be used to plot terrorist attacks. Under section 58, suspects will be liable for to serve nearly a decade in prison for this particular offence. Bilal Zaher Ahmad was among the first individuals to be charged as a direct consequence of this counter-terrorism strategy for collecting extremist material distributed by al-Qaeda (Elshimi 2018).           

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Perhaps the most controversial counter-terrorism strategy employed in the UK is the stop and search provision under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act of 2000. This is mainly due to the fact that it can be applied by the police even without any reasonable suspicion. Law enforcement officers can now choose to arbitrarily implement this particular provision; searching individuals and cars, even though the suspects might be innocent. One of the main criticisms of this approach surrounds the low numbers of individuals incarcerated for terrorist offences after routine stop and search events. The European Court of Human Rights has even gone as far as publicly criticizing the stop-and-search provisions granted and also asserted that it was in direct contravention of Article 8 of its Convention on Human Rights (Elshimi 2018). This has resulted in repeated calls to have this section repealed to protect the individual dignity of UK nationals. The most immediate impact of these efforts has been a sudden drive towards the prevention of terrorist attacks and an unintended consequence in the rise in islamophobia. Nevertheless, counter-terrorism strategies have largely remained static, which is worrying given the changing face of terrorism.

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