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UK Leaders' London Bridge Attack Response Misses Underlying Causes of Terrorism

© REUTERS / Hannah McKayPedestrians walk past barriers on Westminster Bridge, in central London June 5, 2017.
Pedestrians walk past barriers on Westminster Bridge, in central London June 5, 2017. - Sputnik International
In what has become an inevitable post-terror attack staple, both UK Prime Minister Theresa May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn have both promised to beef up counterterror laws in the wake of the June 3 attacks. However, the questions of the real root of the threat, and the best means of addressing it, remain predictably unasked and unanswered.

A little over a week into the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a van careened into pedestrians on London Bridge, then disgorged three men who assailed passersby with knives, shouting "this is for Allah."

In all, seven were killed and 48 injured. The brutal assault marked the third Islamist terror attack on British soil in three months, following the March 22 Westminster attack and the May 22 Manchester bombing.

​Speaking the next day, Sunday June 4, outside 10 Downing Street, May pledged to tighten the UK's anti-terror laws.

In response, Corbyn promised to significantly boost police numbers, and appeared to reverse his previous opposition to "shoot-to-kill" policies, saying he backed giving police "full authority" to use whatever force necessary "to protect and save life."

Nonetheless, while Corbyn promisingly said it was incumbent to have "difficult conversations" with Saudi Arabia and other UK allies that have "funded and fueled" extremism, his undertakings barely suggested a Labour government would deal with the terror threat effectively.

For one, the UK is already heaving with stringent anti-terror laws, which very obviously failed to prevent any of the attacks from transpiring. Moreover, critics of this raft of legislation have suggested such laws actively play into the hands of terrorists, by curtailing freedoms and compromising the UK's core democratic principles.

"While some of these laws may be necessary, many are not. Much counterterrorism legislation is dangerously over-broad and has affected vast numbers of people, in particular peaceful protesters and ethnic minority groups, thereby undermining civil liberties and fundamental human rights. The worst excesses of counterterror law passed since 2000 include indefinite detention without charge of foreign nationals if suspected of involvement in terrorism, control orders imposing severe and intrusive prohibitions, including indefinite house arrest for up to 16 hours a day without charge, let alone conviction, pre-charge detention in terrorism cases, and allowing for 14-day detention without charge — the longest period of any comparable democracy," campaign group Liberty have observed.

Moreover, a focus on reactive legislation by definition ignores the root causes of Islamic fundamentalism in the UK.

Some observers have noted the country both directly and indirectly served as a key incubation chamber for modern Islamism from the 1970s onwards. In particular, following the 1988-89 withdrawal of Soviet Union forces from Afghanistan, legions of decommissioned yet still dangerous jihadists who had fought in the decade-long struggle were welcomed to British shores.

Many found upon returning to their home countries — such as Egypt, Iraq, Libya and Syria — their respective governments were not welcoming, and fled to the UK in response.

​Right-wing mainstream media figure Melanie Phillips in 2006 popularized the phrase "Londonistan" — allegedly originally coined by a French intelligence officer, frustrated by the UK's failure to crack down on extremists within its own borders — to describe this phenomenon. She stated in an eponymous book the country was bedeviled by the presence of "up to 16,000 Muslims…actively engaged in or supporting terrorist activity," enabled by a "covenant of security" between Islamists and British authorities. Furthermore, she noted London-based Islamic fundamentalists were central to many terror plots across the world.

One such example was Abu Hamza, the one-eyed, hook-armed imam who preached incendiary messages from Finsbury Park Mosque for years. The Egyptian cleric, who fought in both the Soviet-Afghan and Bosnian wars, is serving a life sentence in the US after a New York court found him guilty of multiple terrorism charges.

© AFP 2022 / Odd Andersen This file picture shows radical Imam Abu-Hamza al Masri leading prayers outside the closed Finsbury Park Mosque.
 This file picture shows radical Imam Abu-Hamza al Masri leading prayers outside the closed Finsbury Park Mosque. - Sputnik International
This file picture shows radical Imam Abu-Hamza al Masri leading prayers outside the closed Finsbury Park Mosque.
​The Manchester attack was arguably a palpable demonstration of the dangers inherent in offering shelter to extremists from overseas.

Bomber Salman Abedi was the son of Benghazi-born Ramadan Abedi, a former Mujahideen fighter in Afghanistan and a member of the Libyan Islamist Fighting Group (LIFG), who fled his home country for the UK in the mid-90s. There are strong suggestions the UK actively facilitated the transport of many exiled LIFG fighters to Libya in 2011, to assist in the violent toppling of then-leader Muammar Gaddafi — Ramadan was one such individual. 

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Since the May 22 atrocity, the Manchester Islamic Center — also known as "the Didsbury mosque" — has been the subject of much scrutiny. It has been suggested the institution was effectively run by the Muslim Brotherhood.

The infection of mainstream Islamic institutions in the UK by extremist ideology has long been known by authorities and the public alike, but it is typically only in the aftermath of major terrorist attacks that it is widely acknowledged — perhaps because the contagion is spread by Saudi Arabia, a key UK ally and the recipient of many British-made weaponry.

In 2010, a mainstream media investigation found around 40 Saudi-funded Islamic religious schools operating in Britain used anti-Semitic textbooks to teach children as young as six Jews descend from "monkeys" and "pigs" — and Zionists are plotting to take over the world. One textbook asked children to itemize the "reprehensible" qualities of Jews — another taught the penalty for sodomy is execution, and outlined differing perspectives as to whether death should be meted out via stoning, immolation or throwing offenders off a cliff.

Ultimately, Daesh may have largely fled portions of Iraq and Syria they once dominated, but the ideology underpinning the group — and other fundamentalist movements — evidently very much thrives in the UK.

While authorities may have once turned a blind eye to cities such as London and Manchester serving as informal bases for the launch of violent strikes elsewhere, little thought seems to have been paid to the prospect the forces they offered asylum to could turn against their newfound protectors in time.

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