Report on Recent Terrorist Attacks

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:40 pm on 5th December 2017.

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Photo of Amber Rudd Amber Rudd The Secretary of State for the Home Department 1:40 pm, 5th December 2017

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on David Anderson’s report published today on recent terrorist attacks in London and Manchester. The attacks that took place this year shocked us all. Our thoughts remain with the victims of the attacks and all those affected by them. I am conscious that many will still be suffering acutely. However painful, it is essential that we examine what happened so that we can maximise the chances of preventing further attacks.

At the outset, I would like to remind hon. Members of the context. Andrew Parker, the director general of MI5, recently said that we were facing “a dramatic upshift” in terrorist threats. As the so-called caliphate in Syria and Iraq has weakened, so Daesh has increasingly turned its attention to encouraging people to launch attacks in their home countries. Indeed, there is more terrorist activity, partly inspired and also enabled by terrorist propaganda and instructional videos online. Plots are developing more quickly from radicalisation to attack and threats are becoming harder to detect, partly due to the challenge of accessing communications that are increasingly end-to-end encrypted.

MI5 and counter-terrorism policing are currently running well over 500 live operations—up one third since the beginning of the year—involving roughly 3,000 subjects of interest. In addition, over 20,000 further individuals —closed subjects of interest—have previously been investigated and may again pose a threat. I pay tribute to MI5 and the police, who work tirelessly to keep us safe. I can announce today that they have now disrupted 22 Islamist terrorist plots since the murder of Lee Rigby in May 2013, including nine since the Westminster attack this March.

I will now turn to the reviews. Counter-terrorism policing and MI5 have conducted a thorough review process, and I have received from them 10 highly classified documents that analyse the attacks and potential improvements to operational practices. In June, I commissioned David Anderson QC to provide independent assurance of, and external challenge to, the reviews. I am today placing a copy of his unclassified assessment of the reviews in the House of Commons Library. Copies will also be made available in the Vote Office.

David Anderson concludes that the reviews have been carried out in an “impressively thorough and fair” manner, and he endorses, so far as he feels qualified to do so, the conclusions and recommendations. Based on the MI5 and police reviews, David Anderson explains that, in the case of the Westminster attack, Khalid Masood was a closed subject of interest at the time of the attack and that neither MI5 nor the police had any reason to anticipate the attack. Regarding the Manchester Arena attack, Salman Abedi was also a closed subject of interest at the time of the attack and so not under active investigation. In early 2017, MI5 none the less received intelligence on him that was assessed as not being related to terrorism. In retrospect, the intelligence can be seen to have been highly relevant. It cannot be known whether, had an investigation been reopened at the time, Abedi’s plans could have been stopped. MI5 assesses that it would have been unlikely.

Across the attacks, including Manchester Arena, David Anderson notes that MI5 and counter-terrorism policing got a great deal right. In relation to Manchester, however, he also commented:

“It is conceivable that the…attack...might have been averted had the cards fallen differently”.

In the case of London Bridge, Khuram Butt was an active subject of interest who had been under investigation since mid-2015. A number of different investigative means were deployed against him, but they did not reveal his plans. His two conspirators had never been investigated by MI5 or counter-terrorism policing. In regards to Finsbury Park, neither MI5 nor the police had any intelligence about this attack.

Taken as a whole, MI5 and counter-terrorism policing conclude that they could not

“find any key moments where different decisions would have made it likely that they could have stopped any of the attacks”.

None the less, they go on to make a total of 126 recommendations. The recommendations made in the MI5 and police operational review fall into four broad categories. First, there needs to be a concerted effort to enhance the ability of MI5 and the police to use data to detect activity of concern and to test new approaches in the acquisition, sharing and analysis of data. Secondly, MI5 should share its intelligence more widely, and work with partners such as local authorities on how best to manage the risk posed by closed subjects of interest in particular. We are considering undertaking multi-agency pilots in a number of areas, including Greater Manchester, and I have already started discussing how to take this forward with Andy Burnham. Thirdly, there should be a new approach to managing domestic extremism, particularly extreme right-wing groups, where their activity meets the definition of terrorism. Fourthly, a large number of detailed and technical changes could be made to improve existing operational counter-terrorism processes.

David Anderson ends his report with several reflections. The first is that intelligence is imperfect and that investigators are making tough judgments based on incomplete information. This unfortunately means that not every attack can be stopped. As we do not live in a surveillance state, it will always be a challenge to law enforcement to stop determined attackers getting through. Despite this, we should remember that most attacks continue to be successfully disrupted. Lastly, David Anderson concludes that even marginal improvements are capable of paying dividends that could tip the balance in favour of the security forces in future cases.

I have discussed these reviews at length with David Anderson, and separately with Andrew Parker and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, as well as their senior teams. I am grateful for all their work and am confident that they have asked the right questions and drawn the right conclusions. I am clear, as are they, that the implementation of the recommendations is crucial. There will be those who seek to apportion blame for the attacks. We should be united in our clarity that it lies squarely with those whose cowardly acts killed 36 innocent people this year and with those who encouraged them. At the same time, we must learn all that we can from these attacks and make sure that our overall counter-terrorism response is equal to the shift we have seen in the threat.

I want to turn briefly now to the next steps. Bringing those responsible to justice is our priority. We must not do anything that jeopardises criminal prosecutions being pursued in relation to Manchester and Finsbury Park. The coroners’ investigations will probe the matter further and independently assess the circumstances of the deaths. Inquests have already been opened into the attacks and suspended where criminal investigations are continuing. It is right that those inquests proceed wherever they can. If the coroners consider that they cannot fully deal with the relevant issues, that is the point to decide whether an inquiry is needed. We are ruling nothing out.

I welcome the Intelligence and Security Committee’s intention to make these attacks its top priority, and I have already discussed this with my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve. As I have already outlined, implementation of the recommendations will be crucial. I have asked David Anderson to provide an independent stock-take of progress in a year’s time. Linked to implementation, however, are resources. We will shortly be announcing the budgets for policing for 2018-19, and I am clear that we must ensure that counter-terrorism policing has the resources needed to deal with the threats we face.

These recommendations need to fit into the broader Government review of our counter-terrorism strategy. That review reaches well beyond MI5 and counter-terrorism policing to look at the whole of government response and at how we can work better with communities, the private sector and international partners. I would like to conclude by thanking David Anderson for his independent assurance of these reviews, and I again pay tribute to the excellent work of the police and MI5. I end as I started. The thoughts of everyone in this House and the other place are with the victims, their families and all those affected by the attacks. I commend this statement to the House.