Country Report on Terrorism 2016 - Chapter 2 - United Kingdom

Overview: In 2016, the United Kingdom (UK) continued to increase resources to fight terrorism at home and abroad. The UK continued its military efforts against ISIS as a partner in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, which included strike and surveillance operations in Syria and Iraq, as well as a full range of participation in counterterrorism-related working groups of the coalition. The UK is also taking the lead in designing a country-wide program for the coalition to provide training and equipment to counter the threat from improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The UK also expanded counter-ISIS efforts to Libya. Following ISIS attacks in France and Belgium, the UK increased efforts to enhance the counterterrorism capabilities of partner nations, including working more closely with European Union (EU) countries on shared foreign terrorist fighter concerns. Domestically, Prime Minister May worked toward the introduction of an updated Counterterrorism Strategy, and the parliament passed legislation revamping the government’s electronic surveillance collection. The UK also took steps to expand the government’s ability to counter terrorist financing and to prevent abuse of the charitable sector for terrorism purposes. UK law enforcement agencies have not announced the number of terrorist attacks disrupted in 2016, saying only that 12 attacks were disrupted in the past three years.

The UK separately assesses the Northern Ireland-related terrorism threat level for Northern Ireland and for Great Britain (England, Scotland, and Wales). While the threat level in Northern Ireland from Northern Ireland-related terrorism remained severe, the UK raised the threat level for Northern Ireland-related terrorism in Great Britain to substantial (from moderate). According to a 2015 assessment of paramilitary groups, the most serious terrorist threat was posed by dissident republican groups who oppose the peace process. Dissident republicans continued to target police officers primarily, but prison officers and members of the armed forces have also been targeted. The November 2015 Fresh Start Agreement established a three-member panel on the disbandment of paramilitary groups, which released a strategy in May to help eliminate paramilitary activities and organized crime in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Executive incorporated the report’s recommendations into an action plan in July. A new four-member Independent Reporting Commission appointed in December will oversee implementation of the action plan and provide annual reports noting progress. Tension and in-fighting within republican and loyalist organizations persisted.

2016 Terrorist Incidents: UK law enforcement agencies have not announced the number of terrorist attacks disrupted in 2016, saying only that 12 attacks were disrupted in the past three years. The majority of domestic terrorist attacks occurred in Northern Ireland. As of December, the UK’s Northern Ireland Office recorded four national security attacks by dissident republicans. They included:

  • In March, a Northern Ireland prison officer Adrian Ismay was injured by an IED that detonated under his vehicle, an attack later claimed by the New IRA. He later died as a result of his injuries.
  • In August, UK police detained Ciaran Maxwell, a 30-year-old Royal Marine, in connection with dissident republican paramilitaries. His arrest led to the recovery of a significant amount of terrorist material in England linked to Northern Ireland-related terrorism. Maxwell pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges, including bomb-making and storing stolen military weapons, and awaits sentencing. In October, London police arrested 19-year-old Damon Smith under the UK Terrorism Act 2000 for allegedly planting a viable IED on the London subway.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: UK law enforcement officials continued to make use of reinforced counterterrorism legislation permitting the government to surveil, interdict, and control the movements of suspected terrorists. In November, Parliament passed the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, the most significant update of British surveillance laws in 15 years.

The Metropolitan Police Service (Met) led the UK’s national counterterrorism law enforcement effort. The Met’s Counter Terrorism Command operates against the threat of terrorism at a local, national, and international level and supports the national Counter Terrorism Network and the Senior National Coordinator of Counter Terrorism. The Met works closely with other UK police constabularies, MI5, and other agencies in all matters related to terrorism, to include investigation, prosecution, prevention, and protection. UK counterterrorism agencies conducted advanced international investigations, managed crisis response, and provided border security.

The UK is committed to implementing fully UN Security Council resolutions (UNSCR) 2178 and 2199, and is an important partner in urging other nations to do the same, especially within the EU. The UK issues machine-readable passports with an imbedded electronic chip. The UK continued to issue some non-electronic passports through 2008. As of April 2016, the UK required persons with unexpired non-electronic passports to obtain new electronic passports for travel to the United States. UK travel documents and visas contain a number of security features to prevent tampering and fraud. The UK has advanced biometric screening capabilities at some points of entry, but at others, such as ferry ports, there is no screening at all. The UK requires international airlines to collect Advance Passenger Information and demonstrated strong leadership in successfully encouraging the Council of the EU to approve a directive regulating the use of Passenger Name Records (PNR) data in April.

The U.S. and UK law enforcement communities have excellent information sharing and collaboration in counterterrorism. Several UK and U.S. law enforcement agencies embed personnel in each other’s organizations to improve communication, information sharing, and joint response. U.S. law enforcement agencies routinely coordinate their investigations with their UK counterparts, resulting in numerous arrests and convictions.

In Northern Ireland, the Crime Operations Department is responsible for conducting terrorism investigations and works closely with MI5 and An Garda Síochána (Ireland’s police force) on a range of issues. The Police Service of Northern Ireland reported an increase in security-related deaths, casualties of paramilitary style assaults, confiscation of firearms and ammunition, and charges for terrorist-related offenses in 2016. There was a decrease in shooting and bombing incidents, casualties of paramilitary style shootings, explosives confiscated, and terrorism-related arrests. Law enforcement actions in Northern Ireland during 2016 led to the recovery of firearms, high explosives, chemicals, and a range of IEDs.

In July, the UK convicted Anjem Choudary, along with co-defendant Mohammed Mizanur Rahman, of inviting support for a proscribed terrorist organization (ISIS) under the UK Terrorism Act 2000, which makes it a criminal offence to belong, or profess to belong, to a proscribed terrorist organization in the UK or overseas, or to invite support for such an organization.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: The UK is a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and has observer or cooperating status in the following FATF-style regional bodies: the Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group; the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force; Asia Pacific Group on Money Laundering; and the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force. The UK’s financial intelligence unit, part of the National Crime Agency, is a member of the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units. The UK is also an active participant of the Defeat-ISIS Coalition’s Counterterrorism Finance Working Group.

In October, new counterterrorist finance legislation came into force through the Charities and Social Investment Bill to enable the Charity Commission to more effectively deal with abuse of the charitable sector, including for terrorist purposes. The UK’s Criminal Finances Bill, which will implement the EU’s 4th Anti-Money Laundering Directive, is currently with Parliament.

The UK actively prosecutes those involved in terrorist finance. Since 2001, 62 individuals have been charged under sections 15-19 of the Terrorism Act 2000 (‘fundraising’); of those, 22 individuals were convicted. Additionally, individuals suspected of funding terrorism were convicted of related offenses (fraud, money laundering, etc.).

The UK freezes assets in accordance with UN Security Council resolution (UNSCR) 1373 and 2178 and the UN Security Council ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qa’ida sanctions regime. Like other members of the EU, the UK currently implements UN listings by way of EU regulation, which involves a delay between UN adoption and listings taking legal effect. Asset freezes under UN obligations are made as soon as corresponding EU regulations come into force. If aware of assets held in the UK, the government proactively notifies financial institutions, to compensate for any delay in legal effect of the UN decision. Parliament was reviewing at year’s end the Policing and Crime Bill, which, if adopted, would allow the UK to immediately implement UN sanctions decisions on a temporary basis until the EU regulations come into force. For domestic asset freezes under UNSCR 1373, action is taken immediately. As of March, the UK held approximately US $107,000 in frozen assets: US $19,000 under the Terrorist Asset‑Freezing Act 2010 (TAFA), US $13,800 under the EU terrorist asset freezing regime, and US $74,200 related to the UNSC ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qa’ida sanctions regime. Her Majesty’s Treasury licenses funds to individuals subject to asset freezes for daily living expenses and legal costs; therefore, the amount frozen fluctuates over time.

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) regulates money transfer and remittance services. HMRC requires remitters to understand to whom they are sending money and collect originator and recipient information. UK charities have a duty to report suspicions of terrorist financing offenses under section 19 of the Terrorism Act 2000. It is an offense to fail to make such a report. Such reports are filed directly with the police or with the National Crime Agency. Charities with an annual income of US $31,500 per year or more are obliged to file with the Charity Commission serious incident reports of fraud, theft, or other criminal behavior to include support for proscribed organizations or individuals. Charities with an annual income under US $31,500 per year “should” report such incidents to the commission, but failure to do so does not result in a criminal offense.

The UK electronically distributes a consolidated list of all UK designated terrorists and terrorist entities (to include UN targets, EU targets, and UK domestic targets under the TAFA) to 16,000 subscribers, mainly in the UK and its overseas territories.

For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2017 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes:

Countering Violent Extremism: The UK remained an important partner in the effort to counter violent extremism both internationally and domestically. The UK’s premiere countering violent extremism (CVE) programs, Prevent and Channel, identified and worked to de-radicalize at-risk individuals in a pre-law enforcement space, focusing increasingly on deterring would-be travelers to Syria. In addition, the UK funded an array of domestic and international counter‑messaging campaigns via its Research, Information, and Communications Unit. The UK broadened its counter-messaging approach to include extremist speech and announced US $80 million in new funding to provide direct and in‑kind practical support designed to expand the reach and scale of British counter-messaging efforts over the next three years.

International and Regional Cooperation: The UK continued to support counterterrorism efforts in regional and multilateral organizations. Early in the year, the UK established a counter-extremism hub in Brussels and sought to expand its bilateral working relationships on counter-extremist messaging. The UK remained one of the primary populators of key EU counterterrorism records systems and continued to advocate for consistent and accurate information gathering and sharing across the EU. The UK is a Global Counterterrorism Forum member and co-chaired the CVE Working Group with the UAE. It launched its Strategic Communications Cell, a cooperative effort as part of a government-wide Counter-ISIS task force, in conjunction with the CVE Working Group. The UK advocated for UN-based counterterrorism and CVE initiatives and introduced the aviation security-related resolution at the UN Security Council that was adopted as UNSCR 2309 in September.