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.
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.
TECHNOLOGY companies must allow the security services access to messages in times of emergency, Home Secretary Amber Rudd has said. It follows reports that Khalid Masood, the man responsible for the terrorist attack in London on Wednesday, used the WhatsApp service to send someone a message just three minutes before he mowed down 40 people on Westminster Bridge. The inbuilt encryption of WhatsApp means police and MI5 have reportedly not seen the contents of that message.
Doing the rounds on the Sunday morning political TV shows, the Home Secretary said technology firms must build in back doors to allow security services to eavesdrop.
Rudd also insisted WordPress, and Google, who run YouTube, must realise that they are now publishers rather than simply technology companies, and so should do more to tackle extremist videos and blogs.
Although the Home Secretary said she would like companies to do this voluntarily and independently, she refused to rule out changing the law to force their hand.
Rudd told BBC One s Andrew Marr Show: It is completely unacceptable, there should be no place for terrorists to hide.
We need to make sure that organisations like WhatsApp, and there are plenty of others like that, don t provide a secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other.
It used to be that people would steam-open envelopes or just listen in on phones when they wanted to find out what people were doing, legally, through warrantry.
But on this situation we need to make sure that our intelligence services have the ability to get into situations like encrypted WhatsApp.
Asked if she opposed end-to-end encryption on Sky News s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Rudd said: End-to-end encryption has a place, cyber security is really important and getting it wrong costs the economy and costs people money.
So I support end-to-end encryption, it has its place to play.
But we also need to have a system whereby when the police have an investigation, where the security services have put forward a warrant signed off by the Home Secretary, we can get that information when a terrorist is involved.
She denied what she was describing was incompatible with end-to-end encryption, adding: You can have a system whereby they can build it so that we can have access to it when it is absolutely necessary.
Rudd said she was calling in a fairly long list of relevant organisations for a meeting on the issue on Thursday, including social media platforms.
I would rather get a situation where we get all these people around the table agreeing to do it, she told Marr.
I know it sounds a bit like we re stepping away from legislation but we re not.
What I m saying is the best people who understand the technology, who understand the necessary hashtags to stop this stuff even being put up, not just taking it down, but stopping it being put up in the first place are going to be them.
Tributes paid to Westminster victims as security is ramped up at Wembley ahead for England vs Lithuania
Police have implemented extreme security at Wembley for England’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania following the terror attack in Westminster1 this week. Reinforced vans and additional presence on the ground has been deployed around the home of the national team after the attack in the capital on Wednesday. The St George’s flag is flying at half mast at Wembley as security is ramped up following the terror attack in Westminster earlier this week.
(Photo: PA) (Photo: PA)
A minute’s silence will be observed as football remembers those that lost their lives in the atrocity, while the death of former England boss Graham Taylor will also be acknowledged. Extra security has been drafted in around the ground as London reacts to the attack3 which saw five people, including the terrorist, lose their lives.
Security is ramped up at Wembley (Photo: REUTERS)
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan is attending the game and has called on football to unite.
“We ll stand together at Wembley to remember those killed & injured in Wednesday s attack & show we will never be cowed by terrorism,” he said. An FA spokesperson added: Fan safety is of paramount importance and we have robust security measures in place at Wembley Stadium.
The England flag at half mast (Photo: PA) England take on Lithuania (Photo: REUTERS) Tributes will be paid to Graham Taylor (Photo: PA)
“In collaboration with the local authorities and the Metropolitan Police there will be an enhanced security operation for the England v Lithuania match on Sunday, to ensure a safe and secure environment for spectators.
“All supporters are encouraged to arrive as early as possible to avoid any delays in entering the stadium.
Search dog patrols outside Wembley (Photo: PA) Police outside the stadium (Photo: REUTERS) The Bobby Moore statue (Photo: PA)
The Sunderland striker has been in superb form this season with 14 Premier League goals and has been rewarded with a chance to shine at Wembley in the starting line-up.6
Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is another surprise starter in an exciting, attack-minded line-up that also includes Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana.
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