Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Second Report

The continuing threat from international terrorist networks

Recent terrorist attacks

254. In addition to the attacks in Iraq, there have been a number of terrorist attacks, including on a United Kingdom Post, linked to al Qaeda since our last Report. On 8 November, three explosions in an affluent, heavily secured residential neighbourhood in Riyadh killed seventeen people. On 15 November, car bombs exploded at synagogues in Istanbul and on 20 November, terrorists attacked the British Consulate-General and the HSBC Bank in Istanbul. The two attacks killed at least 61 people, including British Consul-General Roger Short. The 20 November attack was the first fatal terrorist attack on a British embassy building. Evidence has also emerged of an al Qaeda plot against the British Embassy in Yemen, foiled by the Yemeni authorities.[271]

255. Following a fire at the Consulate-General in Istanbul three years ago, staff were moved to temporary accommodation at the front of the compound. On 2 December 2003, we heard from the Foreign Secretary that "in the light of each security problem that was faced in Istanbul, security was reviewed and measures taken to enhance it in what was thought to be an appropriate manner … A lot of work had been put into the safety and security of our staff."[272] Nevertheless, he admitted that "the buildings were less well protected than, by definition, was the building in the middle but what one has to do in all these situations is make the best judgments one can prospectively."[273] Following this, we wrote to the Foreign Secretary asking for clarification of the security situation in Istanbul as well as details of what the FCO is doing to ensure the future safety of United Kingdom posts and personnel. In his response to this letter, the Foreign Secretary did not add substantially to his comments of 2 December. However, on 10 December 2003, he announced to the House a review of the FCO's security strategy for posts abroad as well as of the FCO's travel advice.[274]

256. We note the setting up of the new FCO 24-hour response centre. We visited the centre in December and were impressed by what we saw. It should enable the FCO to respond swiftly to sudden events, such as the Istanbul bombing.

257. We commend the Government for its swift action in response to the Istanbul attack, and for the setting up of the FCO 24-hour response centre. However, we conclude that security measures at the Istanbul Consulate were clearly insufficient. We welcome the Government's review of the security of all overseas posts, which was announced by the Foreign Secretary on 2 December 2003, as well as the decision to review the FCO's security strategy. We look forward to being informed of the results of the review by the Foreign Secretary.

International co-operation in the war against terrorism

258. We noted in our last Report that no country can prevent terrorism in isolation: only governments working together can raise global counter-terrorism capacity.[275] Our previous three Reports on the war against terrorism have described the establishment of the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC), and its important role in the co-ordination of counter terrorism activities between UN member states.[276] We have also described important steps taken by the European Union and NATO in promoting co-operation against terrorist activities and noted the importance of co-operation between members of the United Nations Security Council, NATO and the European Union in contributing to the war against terrorism.[277]

259. We have commended the Government's "high level of commitment" towards the CTC and praised its former Chairman, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, for his skilful and sensitive chairmanship of the Committee. We also recommended that the Government consider carefully Sir Jeremy's suggestion that the Counter-Terrorism Committee develop into a full-time body of terrorism experts, capable of providing support to member states over an extended period of time.[278]

260. In its response to our last Report, the FCO informed us that it

is determined that the Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC) should maintain a continued high political profile for counter-terrorism work. It must also have the tools for the job. The CTC already has a team of experts supporting the Committee, but as the number of countries engaging with the CTC has grown, so has its workload. As its second anniversary approaches, we are considering how best to ensure that the CTC has the staff that it needs to perform the mandate set out in UNSCR 1373.[279]

The FCO also told us that staff resources in the Counter-Terrorism Policy Department and the Consular Directorate have increased further since our last Report and that "staffing of such 'front line' parts of the FCO is kept under constant review."[280]

261. We also note the continued pertinence of Sir Jeremy Greenstock's suggestion that the CTC develop into a full-time body of terrorism experts to ensure its long-term effectiveness. We recommend that in its response to this Report, the Government set out its plans for the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee and what bilateral assistance it is giving, for example to Commonwealth countries.

262. We have noted in paragraphs 22-25 above the impact of the war in Iraq on recruitment for al Qaeda. In addition, there has been concern that the divisions that developed between Security Council members over the decision to go to war as well as the focus on the war and efforts to improve security in Iraq following the war have detracted from international co-operation on the war against terrorism.

263. We asked the FCO how the war in Iraq affected the fight against al Qaeda and associated terrorist groups. The FCO replied that "Coalition action in Iraq has not affected wider international co-operation on terrorism. Such co-operation remains at a high level, including from countries critical of military action in Iraq, and is increasing."[281] The FCO elaborated on this in its memorandum of 2 December 2003 in which it said "There continues to be an effective level of international and bilateral police, security and intelligence co-operation against Al Qa'ida and associated terrorist groups, although we and our partners are constantly exploring new ways of increasing that effectiveness."[282]

264. We are heartened by this response. It is supported by evidence given to us by Jonathan Stevenson, who told us that transatlantic counter-terrorism co-operation "did not suffer particularly seriously over the Iraq crisis."[283] Explaining why this was the case, Jonathan Stevenson wrote to us that

The Iraq war has only marginally drawn material resources from counter-terrorism…. While the opportunity for a Predator strike[284] may occasionally arise, military counter-terrorism is generally limited to technical intelligence gathering; precautionary special-operations deployments; first response and civil defence; and, exceptionally, counter-insurgency in Iraq. Counter-terrorism has become primarily a function of non-military efforts comprising homeland security and law-enforcement and intelligence co-operation. Given that the Iraq war was a military one, it did not compete sharply for existing government assets with post-Afghanistan counter-terrorism. Furthermore, in spite of the acute transatlantic political differences that arose over Iraq, bilateral counter-terrorism co-operation was not compromised before, during or after the war, on account of … mutual self-interest in co-operating.[285]

265. Against this rather positive picture, the second report of the monitoring group of the UN Taleban and al Qaeda Sanctions Committee, published on 1 December 2003, highlights the failure of many states fully to monitor and uphold the arms embargo and travel ban against al Qaeda and the Taliban. It notes that "Without a tougher and more comprehensive resolution—a resolution which obligates states to take the mandated measures—the role played by the United Nations in this important battle risks becoming marginalized."[286] The report further concludes that "despite the significant progress that has been made in the United Nations effort to combat al-Qaida, the Taliban and their associates, some serious problems and systemic weaknesses remain with regard to the resolutions."[287]

266. We conclude that although international co-operation on the war against terrorism has continued, there continue to be problems with regard to international co-operation on the measures against al Qaeda and the Taliban. We recommend that the Government encourage greater international co-operation on the UN mandated measures against al Qaeda and the Taliban. We further recommend that it consider how best to strengthen the UN Security Council resolutions relating to international terrorism.

Progress in dismantling terrorist infrastructure


267. In our last Report we detailed the Government's efforts to assist both states and charities to counter terrorist financing. We noted that progress has undoubtedly been made but that much work remains to be done in stopping terrorists' access to funds, in particular by means of the informal system of transfers in the Middle Eastern banking system and through organised crime.[288] We recommended that the Government continue to sponsor projects to assist other states in their efforts to prevent terrorists from transferring and accessing funds, through the banking system and through charities—especially with states in the Arab world.

268. On 4 November, we heard from Jonathan Stevenson about the importance of focusing on charities, which "remain attractive sources of financing in so far as they can give the group some political cover among certain types of donors."[289] However, he also wrote to us about the difficulties of making progress.

Informal hawala remittance systems involve transactions based on trust rather than a paper trail, and therefore are very difficult to regulate. … Perhaps the most important measure that Western governments and regulators can yet take is to further tighten controls on such charities by adding them to official lists of terrorist organisations and, correspondingly, freezing their assets.[290]

269. In its response to our last Report, the FCO informed us that it has funded seminars on charity regulation for countries in South and South East Asia and that the Charity Commission is following these up with more detailed discussions with these countries about charity regulation. The FCO also told us that a similar seminar in Southern Africa is planned. In addition the UK is running bilateral assistance programmes in this field for countries in Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia.[291]

270. We remain concerned that al Qaeda and other terrorist organisations retain access to significant levels of funds. We commend the Government's efforts to tackle sources of terrorist funding and in particular its projects to tighten charity regulation. We recommend that the Government expand its programme of assistance in this field. We further recommend that the Government, in its response to this Report, provide us with a further update of its action in this area.

Progress in dismantling al Qaeda

271. In our last Report we noted the capture of a number of senior al Qaeda figures. However, we concluded that those that remain at large retain the capacity to lead and guide the organisation towards further atrocities and that al Qaeda has demonstrated an alarming capacity to regenerate itself.[292] We also concluded that, in spite of some notable progress, al Qaeda continues to pose a substantial threat to British citizens in the United Kingdom and abroad."[293]

272. In its response, the FCO said that

We agree that al Qa'ida had demonstrated resilience and, to some extent, an ability to adapt. But we judge that this capacity will continue to be limited by the persistent pressure of the international effort which has inter alia led to the capture of a significant number of senior al Qa'ida figures and the disruption of terrorist operations, planning, financing and support. This has had, and continues to have, a substantial negative impact on the organisation.[294]

273. There have been further arrests of key al Qaeda figures (notably Riduan Isamuddin, known as Hambali, al Qaeda's liaison with Jemaah Islamiah of Indonesia). Jonathan Stevenson wrote to us that "As a result, al-Qaeda's operations have probably been compromised, and some valuable intelligence about al-Qaeda's global operations may have been gleaned through interrogation"[295] However, he added that the war against terrorism has forced al Qaeda to

relinquish greater operational initiative to local affiliates, and to concentrate temporarily on targets of opportunity (e.g., in Tunisia, Pakistan, Indonesia, Kenya, Saudi Arabia and Morocco) rather than the preferred target of the US (and, secondarily, Europe). But the number of al-Qaeda members or affiliates, killed, captured or detained is only a small percentage of the number of those who passed though al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, and recruiting has continued.[296]

This development has been accompanied by a shift in focus towards soft targets. The threat remains great. Al Qaeda is not a tightly-controlled organisation but a diverse and de-centralised group.

274. In its memorandum of 2 December 2003, the FCO conceded that although "Counter-terrorism operations are making it much harder for terrorists to operate and avoid capture… the determination of terrorists remains strong, and, as the attacks in Istanbul demonstrate, the threat remains significant and global."[297]

275. The second report of the monitoring group of the UN Taleban and al Qaeda Sanctions Committee, published on 1 December 2003, went further, saying that "The al-Qaida ideology has continued to spread, raising the spectre of further terrorist attacks and further threats to international peace and security."[298]

276. We conclude that al Qaeda remains a substantial threat to the United Kingdom and to British citizens and facilities overseas, and that addressing the threat from al Qaeda and associated networks must remain a key priority in the United Kingdom's foreign policy.

Afghanistan and the war against terrorism

277. In our last Report we noted the importance of stabilising Afghanistan to the success of the war against terrorism. Our witnesses were concerned that the measures taken since the end of the war in Afghanistan to remove the conditions in which terrorists thrive were insufficient. In particular, they were concerned at the lack of successful nation-building and the failure to extend security.[299] We also detailed the Government's decision to deploy a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) to Mazar-e Sharif with the aim of helping to extend the capacity of the Afghan Transitional Administration, the development of a stable and secure environment and reconstruction.[300]

278. In its response to our Report, the FCO outlined recent developments. The PRT

is already making an impact. … While not designed to impose stability, the PRT is beginning to have a positive effect upon security. The PRT has supported local disarmament initiatives brokered by UNAMA,[301] such as that around the Sholgareh valley. This demonstrated the value of the PRT's co-ordinated approach. The PRT was able to assist in arranging ceasefire negotiations between the factions and in monitoring agreements to withdraw forces or to disarm them, while the Department for International Development representative has been able to help cement this progress through instigating a number of small aid projects in the valley.[302]

The Government plans to develop this by encouraging multinational contributions to the PRT. A joint MoD, FCO and DfID conference was held in London on 11 September, which invited interested nations to provide assistance. We understand that the PRT in Mazar-e Sharif is considered a model for further PRTs.

279. However, overall the security situation remains poor outside Kabul. In his 8 December report to the UN General Assembly on the situation in Afghanistan, Secretary-General Kofi Annan highlighted the deteriorating security situation as a major concern.

Unchecked criminality, outbreaks of factional fighting and activities surrounding the illegal narcotics trade have all had a negative impact on the Bonn process. During the reporting period, attacks on international and national staff of the assistance community have intensified. The main security threats continue to be terrorist attacks by suspected Al-Qaida, Taliban and supporters of Hekmatyar against Government forces, the United Nations and the humanitarian community.[303]

280. The report concludes that

the international community must decide whether to increase its level of involvement in Afghanistan or risk failure. The mandate set by Bonn can be accomplished only if the present deterioration in security is halted and reversed, and the programmes and staff of the United Nations, non-governmental organizations and others assisting the Afghans are provided adequate protection.

281. We commend the Government for the success of its Provincial Reconstruction Team in improving security in northern Afghanistan, and in particular in brokering a ceasefire between rival warlords.

282. There has been great concern about the poor security environment in the country as a whole, with some indications of resurgent Taliban activity, although we understand that the Taliban's efforts to re-group have been thwarted. Continued security in Afghanistan is crucial to prevent the country from once again providing a safe haven for terrorists.

283. We recommend that in its response to this Report the Government set out its plans to improve the security situation in Afghanistan, including through extending the provision of Provincial Reconstruction Teams.

271   'Yemen foils embassy terror plot', BBC, 13 December 2003, available at: Back

272   Q 93 Back

273   Q 94 Back

274   HC Deb, 10 December 2003, Col 87WS. Back

275   HC (2002-03) 405, para 190. Back

276   HC (2002-03) 405, paras 185-190. Back

277   HC (2002-03) 405, para 228; HC (2002-03) 196, paras 23-43; and HC (2001-02) 384, paras 47-60. Back

278   HC (2002-03) 405, paras 187-190; HC (2002-03) 196, paras 16-17; and HC (2001-02) 384, para 69. Back

279   Government Response to HC (2002-03) 405, Cm5968. Back

280   Government Response to HC (2002-03) 405, Cm5968. Back

281   Government Response to HC (2002-03) 405, Cm5968. Back

282   Ev 24 Back

283   Q 49 Back

284   Strikes by missiles launched from Predator drones. Back

285   Ev 1 Back

286   'Second Report of the Monitoring Group, pursuant to resolution 1363 (2001) and as extended by resolutions 1390(2002) and 1455(2003) on Sanctions against al-Qaida, the Taliban and their associates and associated entities', The Monitoring Group, 2 December 2003, p.4, available at: Back

287   'Second Report of the Monitoring Group, pursuant to resolution 1363 (2001) and as extended by resolutions 1390(2002) and 1455(2003) on Sanctions against al-Qaida, the Taliban and their associates and associated entities', The Monitoring Group, 2 December 2003, p.40, available at: Back

288   HC (2002-03) 405, paras 191-195. Back

289   Q 36 Back

290   Ev 1 Back

291   Government Response to HC (2002-03) 405, Cm5968. Back

292   HC (2002-03) 405, paras 168-172. Back

293   HC (2002-03) 405, paras 197. Back

294   Government Response to HC (2002-03) 405, Cm5968. Back

295   Ev 1 Back

296   Ev 1 Back

297   Ev 24 Back

298   'Second Report of the Monitoring Group, pursuant to resolution 1363 (2001) and as extended by resolutions 1390(2002) and 1455(2003) on Sanctions against al-Qaida, the Taliban and their associates and associated entities', The Monitoring Group, 2 December 2003, p.1, available at: Back

299   HC (2002-03) 405, paras 181-184. Back

300   HC (2002-03) 405, para 182. Back

301   United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. Back

302   Government Response to HC (2002-03) 405, Cm5968. Back

303   Remarks by Kofi Annan to the UN General Assembly, 8 December 2003, New York, available at: Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2004
Prepared 2 February 2004