My Lords, your Lordships will want to be aware that on
The threat level in the UK, which is set by the independent Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, remains at severe. This means that a terrorist attack in our country is highly likely and could occur without warning. While we can never entirely eliminate the threat from terrorism, we are determined to do all that we can to minimise the threat to the UK and our interests abroad, and to disrupt those who would engage in it. We recognise that terrorism is a global threat that is best tackled in partnership, so it is also important that we demonstrate our support for other members of the international community in their efforts to tackle terrorism whenever and wherever it occurs.
Proscription is an important part of the Government’s strategy to tackle terrorist organisations and those who support them. The order before the House today would amend Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000 to extend the existing proscription of Hezbollah to cover the group in its entirety. It would also add two further groups to the list of proscribed terrorist organisations. The first is Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin or JNIM. This would include its aliases Nusrat al-Islam and Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimeen, or NIM, and its media arm az-Zallaqa. The second group is Ansaroul Islam, including its alias Ansaroul Islam Lil Irchad Wal Jihad.
This is the 23rd proscription order under the 2000 Act. Proscription sends a strong message that terrorist activity is not tolerated wherever it happens. Under Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000, the Home Secretary has the power to proscribe an organisation if he believes it is concerned in terrorism. If the statutory test is met, the Home Secretary may then exercise his discretion to proscribe the organisation. The Home Secretary takes into account a number of factors in considering whether to exercise this discretion, and these include: the nature and scale of the organisation’s activity; the extent of the organisation’s presence in the UK; and the need to support other members of the international community in tackling terrorism.
The effect of proscription is that a listed organisation is outlawed and is unable to operate in the UK, specifically as a result of a number of criminal offences applying to activity in support of it. It is a criminal offence for a person to be a member of a proscribed organisation, to invite, provide or recklessly express support for it, or to arrange a meeting in support of it. It is also an offence to wear or display in public, or to publish images of, clothing or articles such as flags in circumstances which arouse reasonable suspicion that an individual is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation.
The Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 recently updated these powers, adding the publication of images offence and extending extraterritorial jurisdiction, so that UK nationals and residents can be prosecuted in the UK courts for certain proscription offences committed overseas. This will ensure that we can take action where, for example, a foreign fighter located with a terrorist group in another country reaches back to individuals in the UK via the internet, seeking to build support for that organisation.
Proscription sends a strong message to deter fundraising and recruitment for proscribed organisations. The assets of a proscribed organisation can also become subject to seizure as terrorist assets. Proscription can also support other disruptions of terrorist activity—for example, the use of immigration powers such as exclusion from the UK, in a case where the excluded individual is linked to a proscribed organisation and their presence in the UK would not be in the public interest.
Given its wide-ranging impact, the Home Secretary will exercise the power to proscribe only after thoroughly reviewing the available evidence. This includes information taken from both open sources and sensitive intelligence, as well as advice that reflects consultation across Government, with the intelligence and law enforcement agencies, as well as relevant Whitehall departments. The cross-government proscription review group supports the Home Secretary in this decision-making process. The Home Secretary’s decision to proscribe is taken only after great care and consideration of each case but, given the impact that the power can have, it is appropriate that proscriptions must be approved by both Houses before they can come into force.
Having carefully considered all the evidence, the Home Secretary believes that Hezbollah in its entirety, JNIM and Ansaroul Islam are currently concerned in terrorism. Noble Lords will appreciate that I cannot comment on specific intelligence. However, I can provide a summary of each group’s activities in turn. First, this order extends the proscription of Hezbollah’s military wing to cover the group in its entirety.
I am sure noble Lords are aware that Hezbollah was established during the Lebanese civil war, following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. It is committed to armed resistance to the State of Israel, and aims to seize all Palestinian territories and Jerusalem from Israel. It supports terrorism in Iraq and the Palestinian territories, and has a lengthy history of involvement in terrorism elsewhere in the world including in Europe. Currently it is most active in Syria where, since 2012, it has helped to prolong the brutal conflict and the suffering of the Syrian people. In 2016, Hezbollah helped besiege Aleppo, stopping humanitarian aid reaching parts of the city for six months and putting thousands at risk of mass starvation. Its actions continue to destabilise the fragile Middle East.
Hezbollah, as a political entity in Lebanon, has won votes in legitimate elections and forms part of the Lebanese Government. It also has the largest non-state military force in the country. Successive UK Governments have long held the view that elements of Hezbollah have been involved in conducting and supporting terrorism, and, as a result, proscribed Hezbollah’s External Security Organisation in 2001. In 2008, the proscription was extended to include the whole of Hezbollah’s military apparatus—namely, the Jihad Council and all the units reporting to it. Hezbollah’s military wing is also designated in the UK under the Terrorist Asset-Freezing etc. Act 2010 and by our EU partners under the EU asset freezing regime. The US, Canada, the Netherlands and many partners in the region already designate Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organisation.
There have long been calls in this country to proscribe the whole of the group, and it has been argued that the distinction between the political and military wings is an artificial one. Indeed, the group itself has laughed off the suggestion that there is such a distinction. The Government have continued to call on Hezbollah to end its status as an armed group, in line with our commitment to strengthening Lebanon’s stability, security and prosperity. However, it has not listened, and indeed its behaviour has escalated.
In the light of Hezbollah’s increasingly destabilising behaviour in the region over recent years and the links between its political and military wings, we have concluded that the distinction between the two is now untenable. We assess that the group in its entirety is concerned in terrorism, and we now believe that it is right to proscribe the entire organisation.
The second group that this order proscribes is Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin, also known as Nusrat al-Islam and Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimeen. This includes its media arm, az-Zallaqa. JNIM, as it is called, was established in March 2017 as a federation of al-Qaeda-aligned groups in Mali, including the AQ-Maghreb Sahel branch, Ansar al-Dine, the Macina Liberation Front and al-Murabitun. JNIM’s area of operations includes northern and central Mali, northern Burkina Faso and western Niger. JNIM aims to eradicate state and western presence from these areas and to institute governance in accordance with a strict Salafist interpretation of sharia law.
The group has been responsible for attacks on western interests in the region and across wider west Africa, as well as the kidnap of western nationals for ransom. It is also designated by the US and the UN. JNIM attacks are typically claimed via az-Zallaqa, the group’s media foundation. Examples of attacks include, on
The final group to be proscribed, Ansaroul Islam, is also known as Ansaroul Islam Lil Irchad Wal Jihad. Its overarching aim is to establish dominance over the historic Fulani kingdom of Djelgoodji, situated in northern Burkina Faso and central Mali, and to implement its own strict interpretation of sharia. The group announced its existence on
In conclusion, it is right that we proscribe Hezbollah in its entirety, and that we add these two further groups—JNIM and Ansaroul Islam, as well as their aliases—to the list of proscribed organisations. Subject to the agreement of this House and the House of Commons, the order will come into force tomorrow. I beg to move.