Some of Britain’s closest allies in the fight against terrorism have accused the Government of allowing banned terrorist organisations to operate openly in this country.
An investigation by The Times has revealed that at least six countries have complained about the failure of the Government to enforce the Terrorism Act 2000, which proscribes 46 foreign terrorist organisations.
The countries include Israel, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka and Turkey. Iran has also voiced criticism. America, Britain’s closest ally, is known to have serious reservations about the Government’s commitment to enforcing the law.
The Terrorism Act 2000, which was introduced by Jack Straw, now the Justice Minister, was supposed to prevent London becoming an important terrorist hub, where groups were able to raise funds, distribute propaganda and plan terrorist operations.
From the start, however, the law has been difficult to apply. Many groups simply changed their names, others concealed their operations and some simply seem to have been ignored by the authorities.
One of the most blatant cases is the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Kurdish separatist movement responsible for a recent spate of attacks in southern Turkey.
A Turkish official said that the group ran a multimillion-pound operation in North London, controlling businesses, running a political office and printing a newspaper.
“The British Government tolerates the PKK,” a Turkish official said. “if anything the group has increased its profile over the past decade.”
He said that where once the organisation extorted money from local businesses and ran human trafficking rings, now it owned supermarkets, jewellers, cafÃ©s and restaurants.
“We have complained so often about this to the British authorities that we are sick and tired of nothing being done,” he told The Times.
Pakistan, arguably Britain’s most important ally in fighting terrorism, also feels aggrieved. It has repeatedly helped the British authorities to track and apprehend terror suspects, yet it feels that its own problems have been ignored.
A Pakistani official said that Britain was “slow to respond” to the activities of the Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA), which is on the Home Office proscribed list. The Pakistanis are also frustrated that Hizb ut-Tahrir, an extremist Muslim group banned in Pakistan, has still not been proscribed in Britain despite promises from the Government.
Similar complaints have been made by the Sri Lankan High Commission over the activities of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, another banned group that continues to raise money and distribute propaganda in Britain among the expatriate Tamil community.
The Israeli Embassy in London has also had reason to complain over the activities of Hezbollah, the militant Shia Muslim group in Lebanon, and Hamas, the radical Palestinian group responsible for attacks against Israel.
“Hamas has been using the UK for the past few years as a major centre for publishing and distributing incitement-based material, whilst taking advantage of legal loopholes and lenient enforcement policy, an Israeli official said.
He added that a senior Hezbollah member, involved in the group’s al-Manar broadcasting service, was recently granted a visa to visit London. Al-Manar has been taken off the air in France and other countries for anti-Semitic programmes and glorifying terrorist attacks.
Saudi Arabia, another key partner in the anti-terror campaign, is also unhappy that Saudi exiles in Britain, some with connections to al-Qaeda, are able to operate openly.
“To be allowed to use Britain as a base to attack other governments and societies, to us this is puzzling,” Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf, the Saudi Ambassador to London, told The Times.
“We have no problem with people seeing Britain as a safe haven, but they should not use that generosity to attack other countries and to undermine relations between Britain and other countries,” he said. “And they should absolutely not use Britain as a platform from which they can preach an ideology of hatred and violence."
Part of the problem is the support that some groups enjoy from the British Establishment. Last week the banned Mujahidin-e-Khalq won a court appeal to have its name removed from the terrorist list, in a move supported by dozens of MPs.
The group, which currently operates under the name the National Council of Iranian Resistance, was armed and financed for years by Saddam Hussein and is responsible for attacks against targets in Iran.
Patrick Mercer MP, who sits on the Home Affairs Select Committee, urged the Government to enforce its own laws.
“An organisation is either proscribed or it is not. If it is proscribed then it must be given the pariah status that it deserves,” he said. “If the Government will not enforce these proscriptions, what is the point in doing it?”
The Home Office insisted that the proscription was an effective way of preventing terrorist groups operating in Britain.
“It is for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to take action where there is evidence of an offence being committed,” a Home Office spokesman said.
“Clearly, it is easier for the Police and Crown Prosecution Service to take action where they have firm evidence of illegal activities taking place. Any evidence that funds are being directed to a proscribed organisation from within the UK should be passed to the police.”
Richard Beeston, Diplomatic Editor of The Times, and Zahid Hussain, December 8, 2007