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More than 400 former jihadi fighters back in Britain, say security sources

UK authorities are facing an increased terror threat from battle-hardened fighters returning from Mosul and other conflict zones in Iraq and Syria. Security sources have told Sky News more than 400 former fighters are now believed to be back in Britain. The authorities believe there is a growing risk the UK could suffer the kind of mass gun and bomb attacks seen in France and Belgium recently, as many returning fighters will have been trained in the use of weapons and the construction of improvised explosive devices. It is a serious, two-pronged challenge for the police and security services, who are already working flat-out to counter the threat from homegrown lone-wolf extremists, like Khalid Masood, who launched last week’s deadly attack on Westminster.

:: The battle for Mosul: A timeline1

Former Scotland Yard Specialist Firearms Officer and author Tony Long said combating an attack launched by a well-trained returning jihadist could be a tough prospect. He said: “These are combat-hardened soldiers . They might not be trained in the way that NATO might train their soldiers but they’ve seen more close quarter conflict and more urban fighting than probably most members of the British Armed Forces and you have to respect that.

“Of course they’re bringing that knowledge back with them to the UK and it’s very very difficult because of the legal restrictions that are put on the security services and the police to actually monitor all of these people.”

To date, only a fraction of those returning from the battlefields of Syria and Iraq have been prosecuted, as authorities need enough evidence to put before the courts and often returning fighters go to great lengths to cover up their overseas activities. Imran Khawaja, 29, from west London, is currently serving 12 years in prison after he faked his own death in Syria in an attempt to sneak back into the UK undetected. Khawaja had joined a militant group with links to so-called Islamic State while overseas. He was pictured posing with the severed heads of Syrian soldiers during his six months in the country. He was arrested as he tried to re-enter the UK through the port of Dover and later admitted preparing for acts of terrorism, attending a camp, receiving training and possessing firearms.

Security sources said they could not be certain that Khawaja would have launched an attack back home, but the pattern of returning jihadists posing a major risk to national security is well established. More than a decade ago, groups of al Qaeda trained terrorists were responsible for mass carnage in Europe and the United States. Those who launched the devastating attack on the London transport system on 7 July 2005 had attended al Qaeda training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Some of the terrorists who launched a similar failed attack on London on 21 July 2005 had received weapons and explosives training, as had some of the plotters who planned to blow up airliners with liquid bombs in 2006. :: Traumatised children of Mosul2

Security expert Professor Tahir Abbas from the Royal United Services Institute said: “The police and security services are certainly preparing for all eventualities, because in Britain, we’ve had our lessons from the past. “These returning fighters pose a number of threats in relation to security here. “They’ve been through a lot of very traumatic conflict and engagement, often involved in street-to-street fighting.

“Now, having made their way back to Britain, they pose a particular threat because of their capacity – and perhaps they’ve been instructed to return, hold fire and wait for the go ahead to launch attacks.

“They are likely to be traumatised, but also extremely experienced and well trained individuals who pose a serious risk.” With the growing threat from returning fighters, emergency services have been increasing their training to respond to gun and bomb attacks. On March 19, more than 200 police officers carried out a training exercise on the River Thames, where police firearms teams boarded a boat in a training scenario involving dozens of hostages. The UK government has provided millions of pounds in extra funding to help Chief Constables across country to increase their firearms capability to respond to a terrorist attack.

:: Watch a special programme, The Battle For Mosul, at 7pm on Monday on Sky News.

References

  1. ^ :: The battle for Mosul: A timeline (news.sky.com)
  2. ^ :: Traumatised children of Mosul (news.sky.com)

More than 400 former jihadi fighters back in Britain, say security …

UK authorities are facing an increased terror threat from battle-hardened fighters returning from Mosul and other conflict zones in Iraq and Syria. Security sources have told Sky News more than 400 former fighters are now believed to be back in Britain. The authorities believe there is a growing risk the UK could suffer the kind of mass gun and bomb attacks seen in France and Belgium recently, as many returning fighters will have been trained in the use of weapons and the construction of improvised explosive devices. It is a serious, two-pronged challenge for the police and security services, who are already working flat-out to counter the threat from homegrown lone-wolf extremists, like Khalid Masood, who launched last week’s deadly attack on Westminster.

:: The battle for Mosul: A timeline1

Former Scotland Yard Specialist Firearms Officer and author Tony Long said combating an attack launched by a well-trained returning jihadist could be a tough prospect. He said: “These are combat-hardened soldiers . They might not be trained in the way that NATO might train their soldiers but they’ve seen more close quarter conflict and more urban fighting than probably most members of the British Armed Forces and you have to respect that.

“Of course they’re bringing that knowledge back with them to the UK and it’s very very difficult because of the legal restrictions that are put on the security services and the police to actually monitor all of these people.”

To date, only a fraction of those returning from the battlefields of Syria and Iraq have been prosecuted, as authorities need enough evidence to put before the courts and often returning fighters go to great lengths to cover up their overseas activities. Imran Khawaja, 29, from west London, is currently serving 12 years in prison after he faked his own death in Syria in an attempt to sneak back into the UK undetected. Khawaja had joined a militant group with links to so-called Islamic State while overseas. He was pictured posing with the severed heads of Syrian soldiers during his six months in the country. He was arrested as he tried to re-enter the UK through the port of Dover and later admitted preparing for acts of terrorism, attending a camp, receiving training and possessing firearms.

Security sources said they could not be certain that Khawaja would have launched an attack back home, but the pattern of returning jihadists posing a major risk to national security is well established. More than a decade ago, groups of al Qaeda trained terrorists were responsible for mass carnage in Europe and the United States. Those who launched the devastating attack on the London transport system on 7 July 2005 had attended al Qaeda training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Some of the terrorists who launched a similar failed attack on London on 21 July 2005 had received weapons and explosives training, as had some of the plotters who planned to blow up airliners with liquid bombs in 2006. :: Traumatised children of Mosul2

Security expert Professor Tahir Abbas from the Royal United Services Institute said: “The police and security services are certainly preparing for all eventualities, because in Britain, we’ve had our lessons from the past. “These returning fighters pose a number of threats in relation to security here. “They’ve been through a lot of very traumatic conflict and engagement, often involved in street-to-street fighting.

“Now, having made their way back to Britain, they pose a particular threat because of their capacity – and perhaps they’ve been instructed to return, hold fire and wait for the go ahead to launch attacks.

“They are likely to be traumatised, but also extremely experienced and well trained individuals who pose a serious risk.” With the growing threat from returning fighters, emergency services have been increasing their training to respond to gun and bomb attacks. On March 19, more than 200 police officers carried out a training exercise on the River Thames, where police firearms teams boarded a boat in a training scenario involving dozens of hostages. The UK government has provided millions of pounds in extra funding to help Chief Constables across country to increase their firearms capability to respond to a terrorist attack.

References

  1. ^ :: The battle for Mosul: A timeline (news.sky.com)
  2. ^ :: Traumatised children of Mosul (news.sky.com)

London attack a reminder of fears for post-Brexit security cooperation

BRUSSELS Hours before Wednesday’s attack in London, the head of the European Union police agency Europol warned that a large group of radicalised individuals posed a constant threat to Britain and Europe.

“Some of these are likely to succeed in the future,” Rob Wainwright, who is British, wrote in a blog to commemorate the attacks in Brussels that killed 32 people on March 22, 2016.

In the year between those incidents and the attack that killed three people and injured dozens near Britain’s parliament, European security officials say intelligence sharing on potential threats has increased 10-fold.

More work is being done to tighten security by streamlining databases, clamping down on identity fraud and making reporting of suspicious individuals obligatory.

Britain is one of the top three users of Europol data . But as it leaves the EU, there is a risk that it will be shut out of this cooperation, becoming more vulnerable to Islamist radicals who have killed 300 people across Europe over the past two years.

The suspect in the London attack was British-born, and Britain is not part of the EU’s open-border Schengen zone . But London still shares with its EU peers fears – and information – about Islamists, often radicalised online, returning home after going to train or fight with jihadists in the Middle East, North Africa or Afghanistan.

British security officials warned parliament last year of the dangers of leaving Europol and the agreement covering the European Arrest Warrant, which requires all EU governments to arrest a suspect wanted in another EU country.

5,000 EXTRADITIONS

A year ago, when she was interior minister, Theresa May said that Britain’s close intelligence relationship with the United States “does not mean we would be as safe (outside the EU) as if we remain”.

May, now prime minister, said the Warrant had enabled Britain to extradite more than 5,000 people in the previous five years.

Being outside Europol, which was founded in 1998 to help combat organised crime, cybercrime and militant groups across borders, would leave Britain reliant on individual links with each of the other 27 EU governments, former officials say.

Before Europol existed, coordination was done “on the basis of who you knew and who you could ring up”, according to Bill Hughes, ex-director-general of Britain’s now defunct Serious Organised Crime Agency . He told parliament it was a “labyrinthine exercise”.

Besides Europol, Britain is also party to intelligence-sharing protocols of the Schengen agreement, and to a deal to exchange airline passenger data between EU security forces.

EU diplomats have refused to discuss Britain’s future defence and security cooperation until London triggers the formal exit proceedings, but one senior British diplomat said the government was likely to seek a “special relationship”.

“The European Union is not good at involving third parties and we need to be able to talk intimately,” the diplomat said.

May, expected to start two-year EU exit proceedings next Wednesday, has said she wants to retain a close relationship with the EU on security and defence, and the EU has expressed similar sentiments, but tensions are apparent.

She said in January that Britain’s intelligence capabilities were “unique in Europe” and that its military and counter-terrorism resources should help it to secure a better exit deal.

But EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier is dismissive. “Security cannot be weighed off against economic and commercial interests,” he said in a speech in Brussels on Wednesday.

LIMITS OF COOPERATION

Britain does already have additional bilateral security agreements with fellow EU members France and Germany, as well as the long-standing “Five Eyes” intelligence sharing pact with the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

But cooperation agreements between Europol and non-EU countries Russia, Turkey and Ukraine took several years to negotiate, and there are limits on what data can be shared.

Under EU agreements, transferring fingerprints and DNA data can take minutes . With Britain outside the EU, the Global Risk Insights think-tank says it could take months.

Some critics do note that information-sharing within the EU is still far for perfect .

While France and Germany have large, well-staffed intelligence agencies, years of neglect in Belgium’s secret services were exposed by last year’s airport and metro blasts.

And militant Anis Amri, who killed 12 people at a Christmas market in Berlin last December, was on watch lists but still managed to avoid detection by using 14 different aliases in different countries.

However, the recent attacks have pushed the EU to try to plug gaps with a proposal in December to make it obligatory for states to issue alerts on individuals who pose a potential threat, and to float a plan to build a shared database of biometric data, such as fingerprints.

Claude Moraes, a Briton who chairs the European Parliament’s Liberty, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, said the stakes for Britain were high: “We need to have a much tougher discussion about what it is we are going to lose.”

(Additional reporting by Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels and Guy Falconbridge in London; Editing by Kevin Liffey)