Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

Part of Deferred Divisions – in the House of Commons at 7:20 pm on 21st January 2015.

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Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 7:20 pm, 21st January 2015

I thank the Minister for his statement and I am grateful for the Home Secretary’s letter to my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary. On the basis of the Minister’s statement and that letter, the Opposition will support the Government’s motion.

We recognise, of course, that events in Syria, Iraq and northern Africa are fuelling a rapidly evolving network of inter-related terror groups who pose a real threat to the UK and our allies. It is absolutely right to use all legal measures to try to counter the spread of these groups and to ensure that they cannot establish themselves in the United Kingdom.

In this case, we have two groups with close links to other proscribed groups. Jund al Khalifa-Algeria is an Algerian-based Islamic militant group, linked to al-Qaeda and hoping to establish a caliphate in northern Africa. The group is affiliated to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Secondly, Jund al-Aqsa or Soldiers of al-Aqsa is a splinter group of the al-Nusra front, and it is just three months since we proscribed JKI—Army of the Islamic Caliphate, another splinter group of the al-Nusra front. In common with the al-Nusra front, the JAA is largely based in Syria, and as a group has attracted many jihadists from outside Syria. JAA started out as a campaign against the Syrian Government, but in recent attacks the group has seemed happy to target innocent civilians.

At this point in a proscription order, I normally have to conclude that we will take the assurances of the Home Secretary that she has sufficient evidence that the groups are conducting the activities described. This is obviously because the Opposition do not have access to the same intelligence as the Government. In this case, however, there is no need to see sensitive information to conclude that these are terrorist groups. Far from hiding their activities, they are actively boasting about them on social media, using YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to spread images of the most horrendous violence, alongside messages justifying it. These are not groups that want to hide; these are groups that are actively recruiting.

The JAA YouTube channel was opened on the 28 July 2014, apparently replacing a previous YouTube channel that had been closed down. The latest Twitter account opened in September in English, again replacing an account that had been closed down. The English Twitter account—we looked at it just yesterday—has 1,460 followers. Tweets declare fallen supporters to be martyrs, and there are links to YouTube videos and other Twitter pages run by JAA. One of these pages is the official JAA Twitter page in Arabic, which has some 17,500 followers.

The videos on the YouTube channel are even more disturbing. Let us take, for example, the video uploaded on to the official JAA channel on 21 September 2014.

This video depicts JAA fighters engaging with Government forces—kicking, hanging, abusing the bodies of the dead and taking part in training exercises. It seems quite clear that this video is intended to glorify grotesque violence as a form of extremist propaganda. This video has been viewed 13,000 times, attracted 40 comments and has been “liked” on the YouTube rating system 96 times.

I have met Google in the past to discuss YouTube’s hosting of terrorist propaganda, and it is supposed to be taking down extremist content when it comes across it. The Home Office’s counter-terrorism internet referral unit is also supposed to be identifying this content and getting it taken down. Here, however, is a whole YouTube channel run by, as we know, a known terrorist organisation and including sermons advocating terrorism and videos of violent terrorist acts attracting thousands of views.

At one level, there is an irony that these extremist terrorist groups, rallying against western consumerism, are happy to use these enormous western companies to spread their message of hate, but there is also a very serious point. As the Minister said in an earlier speech to the House, the

“effect is that a listed organisation is outlawed and is unable to operate in the UK. It is a criminal offence for a person to belong to…support…arrange a meeting in support of a proscribed organisation, or wear clothing or carry articles in public which arouse reasonable suspicion that an individual is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation.”—[Hansard, 2 April 2014; Vol. 578, c. 948.]

A very brief look at what was available on social media enabled me to come across deeply offensive and worrying videos and tweets. I am very pleased that we are proscribing the organisations that produced them, but I think that the Minister should bear in mind that social media companies are making such videos and tweets available for everyone to see, and consider what more can be done about those companies.