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2009 Country Reports on Terrorism - United Kingdom

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 5 August 2010
Cite as United States Department of State, 2009 Country Reports on Terrorism - United Kingdom, 5 August 2010, available at: [accessed 15 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

In March, the UK government released its updated counterterrorism strategy, CONTEST TWO, which contains sections covering the risks of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear attacks, and highlights the threat from small terrorist groups. Published by the Home Office but based on broad intergovernmental input, CONTEST TWO is more detailed than its previous iterations in 2003 and 2006. The update focused more on isolating extremist voices who advocate violence and on encouraging moderate voices who advocate community cohesion. Then-Home Secretary Jacqui Smith characterized the strategy as extremely broad-ranging, including proposals to tackle radicalization, support mainstream Muslim voices, prepare for attacks, and garner support from Islamic communities for investigations. Government ministers have indicated that 60,000 workers, including shop assistants and hotel employees, were being trained to respond to terrorist attacks as part of the new strategy. Since 2003, the number of police in the UK working counterterrorism issues has risen from 1,700 to 3,000.

Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee published in May a review of intelligence concerning the London terrorist attacks of July 7, 2005. The report cleared the police and security services of any blame for failing to track those responsible for the bombings. The report noted that the UK's intelligence agencies and police had implemented operational changes and received increased resources from the government since the attacks, concluding that the government's ability to detect a similar plot in the future had been improved.

In July, the Joint Terrorism Analysis Center (JTAC) lowered the UK's terrorism threat level from Severe to Substantial. In announcing the change, the Home Secretary stressed that the overall terrorist threat had not dissipated and that the public should remain vigilant.

Since 2005, the UK has been able to ban foreigners who promote hatred, terrorist violence, or serious criminal activity from entering the country. In October, the government implemented more stringent rules for determining who could enter the UK.

Important counterterrorism legislation enacted in the UK in 2009 included:

  • In January, the UK government announced new legislation that requires travelers by sea and air between Ireland and the UK to show a passport for the first time to prevent terrorists, criminals, and illegal immigrants from exploiting less stringent border controls between the UK and Ireland. (Ireland announced similar requirements for those arriving from the UK.)

  • In March, the House of Commons renewed for another year the "control orders" program for terrorists. The program, which can impose up to 16-hour-a-day house arrest and other restrictions on terrorist suspects who cannot otherwise be brought to trial or deported back to their home countries, was part of the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 2005, enacted after the terrorist bombings on London's transport systems. The provision for control orders must be renewed every 12 months under the Act.

Prominent terrorism-related arrests included:

  • In April, in counterterrorism raids in northwest England termed Operation Pathway, police and security services arrested 12 suspects on suspicion of planning terrorist attacks in Manchester and other locations. Some of those arrested were Pakistani nationals who were released without charges and transferred to the UK Border Agency for deportation. The remaining suspects were also released without charge.[8]

  • In November, officers from the North West Counterterrorism Unit of the Greater Manchester Police arrested four men at addresses in Manchester and Bolton and a man at Heathrow airport in London in a coordinated operation under the Terrorism Act. A police spokesman said that three properties in Manchester and one in Bolton were searched. Media reported that police sources said that there was no imminent danger to the Greater Manchester area but that the arrests were related to an alleged overseas threat.

In the judicial arena, several high-profile terrorism cases were decided in 2009, including:

  • In April, a jury found Waheed Ali, Sadeer Saleem, and Mohammed Shakil not guilty of conspiring to cause explosions in the July 7, 2005 attacks on London transport that killed 52 passengers and four suicide bombers. Ali and Shakil were found guilty of the lesser charge of plotting to travel to a terrorist training camp in Pakistan, after being arrested at Manchester Airport in 2007. The two men were sentenced to seven years in prison, and are expected to serve 16 months after having already spent two years in Belmarsh high-security prison. Sadeer Saleem was acquitted of all charges.

  • Also in April, a Scottish court heard the appeal of Mohammed Atif Siddique, who was found guilty in 2007 of breaches of the Terrorism Act for possession of material connected with the commission, preparation, or instigation of a terrorist act. By year's end, the case was still in appeal.

  • On August 19, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Justice Kenny MacAskill released Abdelbasset al-Megrahi, a Libyan national convicted by Scottish courts for his role in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, on compassionate grounds over his failing health due to prostate cancer. MacAskill considered two legal questions on the case: whether to transfer Megrahi to Libya as part of the UK-Libya Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA), or to release him on compassionate grounds given Megrahi's terminal illness. MacAskill rejected Megrahi's request for transfer under the PTA, citing the clear understanding of the U.S. Government and families that Megrahi's sentence would be served in Scotland and he would not be transferred to Libya. He instead released Megrahi on a clause and practice in Scottish criminal law that allows for prisoners to be released on compassionate grounds, typically if medical experts determine that the prisoner has three months or less to live. At the end of 2009, Megrahi remained alive and free in Libya beyond the three months he was expected to live.

  • Seven men were convicted in connection with the 2006 plot to blow up transatlantic flights with bombs disguised as soft drinks. Abdulla Ahmed Ali, Tanvir Hussain, and Assad Sarwar were arrested in 2006 and convicted in a June 2008 trial of conspiracy to murder using home-made explosives; the jury, however, failed to determine whether the suspects' plans extended to detonating devices on airplanes. During a September retrial, a second jury found that a terrorist plot targeting airplanes had existed and convicted the three men. They were sentenced to life in prison with a minimum mandatory time to be served of between 32 and 40 years in prison. A fourth man, Umar Islam, was found guilty in September of conspiracy to murder and sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 22 years. In December, Adam Khatib, Nabeel Hussain, and Mohammed Uddin were also convicted in connection with the plot. Khatib was sentenced to life in prison and should serve a minimum of 18 years.

  • In September, the Home Secretary lifted a control order on a Libyan-British terrorist suspect known as "AF," who had reportedly been linked to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, after a legal battle raised concern among government officials that secret evidence might be revealed about the case if the control order was pursued. Also in September, the Home Secretary lifted the control order of a second terrorist suspect, an Iraqi-Kurd known as "AE", rather than disclose secret evidence against him. The moves by the Home Secretary came after a June Law Lords judgment that ruled that individuals subject to government control orders must be given sufficient disclosure about the case against them in order to advise their lawyers to prepare a defense.

The UK is the second largest contributor to NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, with more than 9,500 troops.

Northern Ireland

There was an escalation of terrorist activity in Northern Ireland, with more than 130 explosives, weapons, or ammunition finds attributed to dissident republican elements in the first half of the year. In January, police discovered a 300-lb car bomb prior to its detonation at Castlewellan, County Down. The bomb was placed in a car on Dublin Road, a mile from a primary school. Real IRA splinter group Oglaigh na hEireann (OnH) claimed responsibility for the home-made explosives, which they said were intended for detonation at Ballykinler Army Base.

On March 7, British Army soldiers Mark Quinsey and Patrick Azimkar were shot dead by gunmen outside Masserene Army Barracks in Antrim. Within 48 hours of that attack, Police Service of Northern Ireland constable Stephen Carroll was murdered in his vehicle in Craigavon as he supported a police response to a domestic violence call. The Continuity IRA claimed responsibility for both attacks. Throughout March, bomb disposal experts were called to 79 alerts, 28 of which were found to be viable devices.

In April, a 37-year-old man was shot in both legs in Rosemount Gardens in Londonderry in what appeared to be a paramilitary-style punishment shooting. Also in April, four masked men shot a 26-year-old man in the thigh, knee, and ankle in a similar attack at a house in Londonderry's Creggan Heights. In May, components for a bomb containing approximately 100-lb of explosives were found by police near Roslea, County Fermanagh. In August, suspected dissident republican terrorists wearing balaclava masks set up an illegal roadblock in the south Armagh village of Meigh.

In June, some loyalist paramilitary groups decommissioned weapons. General John de Chastelain, head of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning and a number of independent witnesses, observed an act of decommissioning by the Ulster Volunteer Force. A series of bombs were discovered in separate incidents in September, including a 600-lb bomb found near the south Armagh village of Forkhill. Additionally, a dissident group also shot and injured a man in the Ballmagroarty area of Londonderry.

In November, the latest report of the International Monitoring Commission said that the dissident threat was at its highest in six years. At least two paramilitary-style shootings occurred: a 23-year-old man was shot in the legs in the Creggan area of Londonderry; a 27-year-old from Brandywell was also shot in the legs. The Continuity IRA claimed responsibility for shooting a man in the leg in west Belfast. Four men were arrested in relation to an attempted gun attack on a police constable in the village of Garrison in County Fermanagh. Dissident republicans were blamed for the attempted bombing of the Northern Ireland Policing Board headquarters in Belfast where a 400-lb bomb was discovered after it failed to detonate properly.

[8] The UK's independent reviewer of counterterrorism legislation, Lord Carlisle, undertook a review of Operation Pathway and the manner in which police and security services pursued it. Carlisle's report concluded that the police had no realistic alternative to arresting at least some of the suspects in the interest of public safety; that the arrests were made on the basis of the intelligence assessment; and that the need for early intervention based only on intelligence may result is some people being arrested and held in detention while the investigation continues, evidence is collected, and charges are considered. Carlisle's report made a number of recommendations to the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to improve operational performance and procedure.

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