Mark Pritchard is MP for the Wrekin.
The world is a less safe place. Six months ago, it had become less safe than it had been just two years before that. Six weeks on, and regional events in the Middle East pose a real challenge to the security services and to the legislative levers that underpin their vital work and operations.
With civil war in Syria, the ongoing turmoil in Egypt, and now the Sunni extremists, ISIS, trying to wreak havoc in Iraq, the likelihood of terror once again coming to the UK’s shores has increased considerably.
That is why I am calling on the Home Secretary, as I did in the House of Commons on Monday, to legislate to make it a criminal offence for “a family member failing to report another family member who they believe may have travelled abroad to train for acts of terror”.
There can be no excuse for non-reporting. Yet is clear from some recent broadcast interviews that some family members have most certainly been aware of other family members training as foreign fighters – and yet, as far as those examples are concerned, no family member has alerted the police.
As a matter of balance and fact, many families will be unaware that their sons or daughters, brothers or sisters, mothers or fathers, have gone abroad to fight in foreign battles. Further, not all of these fighters will return to the UK. Moreover, some will be killed or stay in country or in the region for life – or for a time.
For those that do return, not all will pose a terror threat. Some will travel to support their
fellow Muslim brothers in fight between religious sects, or fight side by side with past or
For others, their journeys will be joining a territorial civil war rather than ascribing to
any global jihad. Indeed, many will join with a not dis-similar motivation to many who have fought in Europe’s numerous and past civil wars.
Neverthelss, there will unquestionably be those who return to the UK radicalised, or further radicalised, and whatever their original motive for joining the legions of “foreign fighters”, will return to the UK as unpredictable and dangerous threats – seeking to kill and maim and bring terror UK towns and cities. It is this small minority that need to be stopped.
A “Reporting Law” would incentivise family members to do the right thing by their own communities, communities they live in themselves, and by the United Kingdom, their country of birth or acquired citizenship. A country they need to put first. Similarly, the same law would penalise those who fail to report. Custodial tariffs should apply.
Another option would be to look at refusing, withdrawing, or withholding visas for family
members with proven links to foreign fighters where there is “reasonable suspicion” they had enough knowledge to “report'”and where a minimum evidence threshold can be reached.
Current anti-terror laws, and wider aiding and abetting or being complicit in a crime laws, are just not sufficient.
It is true that terrorists should not be allowed to unsettle the delicate balance between
retaining our country’s freedoms and the need for security and resilience – but neither should these same fighters be allowed to travel to prepare for possible acts of terror against the UK without fearing their movements may be given up by those closest to them.
At a time of heightened security, the Government must continue to stay legislatively nimble and be prepared, as the Prime Minister has rightly suggested, to be prepared to respond to increased threats in a robust – but proportionate way.
Ultimately, the answer to countering violent extremism lies at the very heart of the communities from which many of these foreign fighters have come from.