Counter-terrorism depends on local knowledge
The UK woke up today to the news that twelve men had been arrested on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism. They were arrested in various locations across the UK: Cardiff, Stoke and London. Police have confirmed that this was a ‘pre-planned’, ‘intelligence-led’ operation as part of an ongoing investigation into al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism in Britain.
Current British counter-terrorism legislation, the review of which will be concluded in the New Year, has received a barrage of criticism over the past few years. As it stands, CONTEST, the current counter-terrorism strategy, incorporates four strands; Pursue, Protect, Prepare, and Prevent. The majority of this criticism has centred on Prevent, the section of the policy which aimed to prevent violent radicalisation. Critics argued that it specifically targeted and therefore alienated the Muslim community, and that it gave money to community-level projects seemingly completely unrelated to counter-radicalisation.
Yet today’s news highlights an oft-forgotten fact about Britain’s CONTEST strategy – it has actually been largely successful. Since 7/7, there has not been a terrorist attack in the UK, partly down to luck, but mainly due to the effectiveness of intelligence and police-led operations. There have been over a hundred convictions on terrorism-related charges, and numerous plots and cells have been exposed. These successes must not be forgotten when commenting on terrorism legislation since 2005.
This being said, successes in some areas of counter-terrorism policy are contrasted with emerging challenges, exhibited a week ago in Stockholm. The bomber, apparently working alone, had been confronted by members of his local Luton mosque for his advocacy of violence. They did not, however, convey their worries to security services. In the face of increasingly frequent ‘lone wolf’ attacks, the review of CONTEST needs to recognise that local knowledge is crucial to counter-terrorism efforts both in the UK and abroad.