Friday 21 July 2017

Communities are key to winning this brutal battle against terrorism

Thirteen-year-old Iqra Saied, who attended the Ariana Grande concert, looks at floral tributes and messages in Manchester yesterday. Picture: Getty
Thirteen-year-old Iqra Saied, who attended the Ariana Grande concert, looks at floral tributes and messages in Manchester yesterday. Picture: Getty

Emma Kelly

There are few types of fear worse than the fear of the unknown. Tragically, Great Britain is currently trying to come to terms with this being the reality its society faces in the aftermath of the Manchester terrorist attack which took place on Monday night.

On the advice of the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre and Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, the British government has declared the terrorism threat level has risen from 'severe' to 'critical'; this is indicative of the fact that intelligence is illustrating a sinister scenario whereby an attack of a similar vein to the atrocity witnessed by Manchester is imminent. In taking this action, the prime minister is declaring, as George Bush did in 2005, a 'war on terror'.

What we know about the perpetrator of this heinous crime is somewhat limited to date yet unsurprising in terms of several characteristics. Salman Abedi is reported to have been radicalised only recently, to have attended university for a time but withdrew from his course and was displaying significant changes in his behaviour.

With the luxury of hindsight, it is somewhat easy to question why these issues were not flagged as 'indicators' of the act Abedi went on to commit. They may well have been, but objectively and in isolation, a change of religion, wearing religious costume and praying in a public space are not uncommon occurrences and are not, more importantly, against the law.

Many people on British soil and beyond question the fact this individual was 'known to security services'; we would be wise to acknowledge this in itself does not warrant action from security services or police to take action other than whatever surveillance/action can be afforded to them by legislation such as the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, which gives the authorities the right to monitor and limit the movements, finances and communications of individuals for a period.

Read More: The heartbreaking image that hinted at attack horror

The improvised explosive device used in the Manchester attack was reported to be a highly sophisticated mechanism; it is unlikely Abedi would have played a part in constructing this device himself, which is a strong indication that he was a part of a bigger cell.

The age-old debate of 'state power vs civil liberties' has never been more prominent than when Operation Temperer was executed by British Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday. Claims the move to deploy armed soldiers on to the streets of Britain is the first step to becoming an authoritarian or 'police state' are, in my opinion at this stage, unhelpful. These soldiers are to be armed, to be under the supervision of the police and do not have policing powers.

If this move by Mrs May enables highly trained and skilled police officers to commit themselves further to tackling this latest reign of terror, it could be argued that it is a small price to pay for the safety of society.

Localised counter-terrorism units work in unison with national security services and contain some of the highest trained and capable officers in the world. It offers little solace to those directly impacted on by attacks such as Manchester, however, for every one attack that takes place, several others are detected and foiled by officers on a regular basis.

The importance of the vital role played by community policing simply cannot be emphasised in this narrative enough. Individuals who are most likely to be radicalised are those who are of a young age, who have for numerous reasons been sidelined by mainstream society and perhaps lack identity.

These individuals live in our midst; they have families, neighbours, a workplace - who better to ask help and advice from than the fellow community members of these individuals.

Police forces continue to invest time, money and strategic planning into strengthening relationships between 'the community' and the police. This does not come free from challenges and there is a distinct disjoint in some areas across Great Britain with the relationship between the public and the police.

A prime example of this is Project Champion: in 2010, West Midlands Police inserted CCTV cameras, or 'spy' cameras as they were largely referred to, into predominantly Muslim communities in areas within Birmingham such as Sparkbrook and Springfield. This not only backfired in terms of it being an infringement of people's privacy and human rights, but always was seen to be the police labelling entire communities and religious movements as a potential threat, which is not only offensive and worrying, but also fundamentally flawed and created a bigger fall out of mistrust.

This example highlights the complexities and sensitivity UK police forces are faced with when attempting to navigate issues of suspected terrorist tendencies; there is no one solution as with each of us as individuals, every one is different.

One of the biggest issues faced by police in England and Wales in embedding themselves cohesively into communities to begin with is their ethnic make-up; 95pc of police officers on the streets are white; it is understandable therefore that there is a significant and at times detrimental disjoint between officers and the communities they are policing. West Midlands Police, in particular, are strong advocates for greater diversity among new recruits and it appears the campaign is working; more young people from different ethnic backgrounds are engaging in the recruitment process for the police which is a positive.

However, what the police and security services do not currently possess is the luxury of time for such positive and progressive movements to take effect. The Metropolitan Police, being the UK's largest force, has 11.7pc of officers from minority-ethnic communities, according to figures from March this year, while the 2011 census found an overall minority-ethnic population in London of just over 40pc.

Police can only recruit from the pool of applicants they receive; perhaps education can play its part with regards to the employability aspirations of the next generation.

There are two types of terror felt by members of the British public and beyond in the aftermath of such an attack; that of imminent terrorist attacks but also the secondary fallout in the form of what is labelled as 'hate crime'; individuals going about their daily lives in the UK after such atrocities take place can and often do become the victims of verbal, cyber and physical abuse due to their ethnicity and/or religion.

Not only are these acts shameful and senseless in the first instance, they are ironically taking time from police forces who could be spending their time in search of the individuals who are behind these acts of terror.

There are countless battles being fought and won on terror. The message from police is to be vigilant - alert not alarmed. In the wake of Manchester, the threat level being critical and armed forces on the streets, this is no easy task; unity is key.

Emma Kelly, programme director and lecturer in criminology, policing & investigation and security studies, is a member of the West Midlands Independent Advisory Group for West Midlands Police

Irish Independent

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