The Henry Jackson Society today released a new policy paper entitled British Jihadists: Preventing Travel Abroad and Stopping Attacks at Home, featured in today’s Evening Standard. Amid heightened awareness of the disturbing number of British fighters joining Islamic State, the report shows why they demonstrate a real threat to national security and offers practical policy instruments to meet the counter-terrorism objectives outlined by the Prime Minister earlier this month.
Furthermore, the paper measures the ‘blowback’ from previous jihadist conflicts, showing that the problem of returning fighters targeting the UK is not new. HJS analysis indicates that individuals with prior combat experience and/or terrorist training abroad were disproportionately involved in the most serious offences and attacks in the UK between 1999 and 2010. While one in five (19%) of all terrorists during this period had foreign training/combat experience, the figure rose to 41% of those directly involved in the eight major bomb plots, including 7/7, 21/7 and the 2006 airline bomb plot.
Hannah Stuart, HJS Research Fellow and author of the paper, commented:
The problem of returning fighters targeting the UK is not new. Terrorists who previously went abroad to fight or train have been involved in almost all of the UK’s serious terrorist bomb plots over the last fifteen years.”
Practical policy recommendations outlined in the paper include:
- Selective use of the treason law and the suspension of benefits provide alternative and high-profile mechanisms for deterring foreign fighters and send a strong message about the type of behaviour the British state will tolerate from its citizens.
- Modifications to the Prime Minister’s current proposals, such as legislating to allow passport confiscation without Royal Prerogative and with an independent oversight mechanism as well as a more widespread use of Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIMs) including on aspiring fighters.
- A standardised protocol for all returning fighters with a range of measures commensurate to the threat posed, ensuring a minimum standard of contact as well as a focus on prosecuting the online promotion of IS materials by UK-based extremists.
- Utilising graduates of the de-radicalisation programme ‘Channel’ in targeted settings, such as schools and universities, and the introduction of a national counselling service to help support the families of returning or aspiring foreign fighters.
HJS Research Fellow Hannah Stuart added:
“The government needs to build on Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent proposals in order to more effectively prevent foreign travel for terrorist purposes and protect against attacks from returning fighters and jihadist sympathisers. There also needs to be a focus on reintegrating low-risk returning fighters and a strengthening of counter-radicalisation efforts more broadly.”