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Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con):
Although I welcome this short discussion about Yemen, we are only having it because of al-Qaeda. Would it not be instructive
if the Government were to produce a document about the international strategy against al-Qaeda, or hold a conference in London at which international partners could be invited to talk about that? That would be better than waiting for statements about other countries in which al-Qaeda is operating that may not be in the news at the moment.
David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, although I think that he would be one of the first to recognise that it is wrong to talk simply about al-Qaeda and not to distinguish between its senior leadership based in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or in the Maghreb. There are distinctive issues related to al-Qaeda's senior leadership on the one hand and its so-called franchises on the other. They are certainly worthy of study and debate, and the more the better, as far as I am concerned. However, the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) made the good point that there was a meeting with parliamentarians on the situation in Yemen before the Christmas incident. The fact that there is a thriving all-party parliamentary group, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East, speaks for the close links that exist between Britain and Yemen, and long may they continue.
Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): Given that a significant proportion of terror offenders turn out to have been radicalised towards extremism here in Britain rather than in Yemen or elsewhere, should not the Prime Minister also consider calling a summit on the radicalisation towards extremism and terror that takes place here?
David Miliband: That is exactly what the Prevent strategy has been founded on over a number of years. A large number of meetings-I do not know whether they qualify as "summits"-have been held within Government and around the country to address precisely this issue.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I agree with the Foreign Secretary about the importance of aid in removing what I call the "scourge" of the spots where terrorism can spring up, but my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary described the Government of Yemen as fragile. Will the Foreign Secretary tell the House just how widely supported the Government of Yemen are among all the people, bearing in mind the tribal conflicts in the north and the separatist movement in the south?
David Miliband: Far be it from me to be a lawyer for the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), but in his defence-or at least in explanation of his position-I think that he said that Yemen was fragile, and not its Government. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) will know that President Saleh is in his second term of office, and that the constitution prohibits him from running for a third term. Parliamentary elections in Yemen are due in 2011, and they will clearly be a massive challenge. One issue that will need to be addressed is precisely those democratic elections and people's ability to express their opinions in them. However, the number of Yemenis who are committed to violence-whether through the Houthi movement in the north or the secessionist movement in the south, and still less through links to al-Qaeda-are a very small minority.
Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): All over the world-in Afghanistan and Pakistan and next door in Somalia, for example-our armed forces and aid budgets are stretched. Why has Britain, or perhaps the Prime Minister, chosen to take a lead in Yemen, when our resources are so stretched? Might it not be time to let the US or our other allies take a lead with regard to Yemen? Is it perhaps not a country too far?
David Miliband: So much for an independent foreign policy. First of all, this country has a long-standing history with Yemen, and I think that that gives us an important role there. Secondly, we are in a group of pre-eminent donors that includes the United States, the Germans, the Dutch and the Saudis, and indeed I spoke to the German Foreign Minister today. In terms of the stretch, we have been careful to make sure that, in our funding in Yemen, we spend only what we know that we are able to spend properly there. The hon. Gentleman is right that there is a range of other problems. In my view, the situation in Somalia is best addressed through the security work of AMISOM-the African Union mission in Somalia-but, on a political level, through the UN Security Council. The meeting that has been called and the other forms of co-ordination that are being established befit the situation in the Yemen rather better. History in Somalia is rather different.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): The increase in international aid funding that Her Majesty's Government have promised pales into insignificance against what the oil-rich Arab countries on the peninsula could and should provide. Should not Her Majesty's Government make it clear to the countries on the Arabian peninsula that their priority should be dealing with potential problems from the Yemen, rather than spending millions of pounds on half-mile-high skyscrapers?
David Miliband: I am not sure whether it is the Government who are spending the money on the skyscrapers to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but he makes an important point. Some of the largest pledges at the 2006 conference were from Gulf countries, not western countries. It is important that those pledges are fulfilled. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East raised the question of which of those pledges had been paid, and that is a pertinent point.
The point of mentioning our aid programmes is not some vainglorious attempt to say that we have the biggest programme but to explain that there is a British commitment and it is proportionate to the sort of responsibility that we should bear. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that this is an issue that needs to be raised by countries of the region. I am pleased to say that in the past 18 months they have been doing so, and they have put us on alert about their needs.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Alan Johnson): With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the failed attempt to destroy a passenger plane at Detroit airport on Christmas day and its implications for national security. My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will make this statement in the other place.
On 24 December, Umah Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian citizen, travelled from Lagos to Amsterdam, where he boarded Northwestern Airlines flight 253 to Detroit. As the flight was approaching Detroit on Christmas day, he detonated a device that was strapped to his upper thigh and groin area which resulted in a fire and a small explosion. He was restrained and subdued by passengers and flight crew and he remains in custody in the US.
Authorities in the US, the UK, the Netherlands, Nigeria and Yemen are now doing everything they can to piece together Abdulmutallab's movements shortly before this attack, and are considering what urgent steps need to be taken to prevent further attacks of this nature.
It is an issue of grave concern that the explosive device was not detected by airport security in either Lagos or Amsterdam. As has been widely reported, Abdulmutallab attended University college London between 2005 and 2008, where he completed a degree in engineering. During this time he was known to the Security Service but not as somebody engaged in violent extremism. His family and friends have stated their belief that he turned to this during his time in Yemen.
From the information we have currently, it is not possible to chart with absolute certainty Abdulmutallab's exact movements after he left the UK in 2008. He is known to have spent several months studying international business at a university in Dubai and in August 2009 he travelled to Yemen, where he is thought to have stayed until December before returning to west Africa. He came to the attention of UK authorities again on 28 April 2009 when he applied for a multi-entry student visitor visa to attend an eight-day course provided by Discovery Life Coaching based in east London. The UK Border Agency refused his visa application because Discovery did not hold a valid accreditation with a UKBA-approved body and was not eligible to sponsor international students.
Since March 2009, only institutions which are either tier 4 sponsors or hold valid accreditation are permitted to bring in short-term foreign students from outside the European economic area. Universities and colleges must be able to demonstrate that they are offering genuine courses that will benefit students seeking to study in the UK. This new regime has reduced the number of institutions able to bring students to the UK from over 4,000 to approximately 2,000. Following the refusal of his application, Abdulmutallab's name was added to the UKBA watch list.
In the light of the serious questions that this incident has raised, I want to set out today, first, the immediate steps that we are taking to tighten aviation security, secondly, what measures we are taking to prevent radicalisation in our universities, and thirdly the actions
we are taking to disrupt al-Qaeda in countries where it is known to be active, in order to prevent future terrorist attacks, and to improve co-operation with our international partners.
It is of great concern that Abdulmutallab was able to penetrate airport security at Amsterdam. The device he used had clearly been constructed with the precise aim of making detection by existing screening methods extremely difficult.
Abdulmutallab underwent a security check at Schipol airport in Amsterdam, as do all passengers transferring from Nigeria to another flight. Although Schipol airport is trialling body scanners, they were not in use for that flight. He passed through a metal detection gate, which would have detected objects such as explosive devices with metallic components, and knives and firearms. However, certain types of explosive, without metallic parts and which can also concealed next to the body, cannot be detected by that technology, which is the reason why airports also search passengers at random.
To defeat the terrorist threat requires constant vigilance and adaptability. A great deal of progress has been made in enhancing aviation and border security since 9/11; but terrorists are inventive, the scale and nature of the threat changes, and new technology needs to be harnessed to meet new threats, while minimising inconvenience to passengers.
Last year, we issued new public guidance to the industry on our technical requirements for screening and the detection of improvised explosive devices. The Prime Minister instigated an urgent review of airport security following the incident in Detroit. My noble friend the Secretary of State for Transport and I have been intensively engaged in the review, and we are today setting out our initial steps.
It is clear that no one measure will be enough to defeat inventive and determined terrorists, and there is no single technology that we can guarantee will be 100 per cent. effective against such attacks. Airport security is multifaceted and needs to adapt constantly to evolving threats. We therefore intend to make changes to our aviation security regime.
Air passengers are already used to being searched by hand, and having their baggage tested for traces of explosives. The Government will direct airports to increase the proportion of passengers searched in that way. There may be some additional delays as airports adapt, but I am sure the travelling public will appreciate the reasons behind this.
The Transport Secretary has brought into force new restrictions that tighten up security screening for transit passengers, and is reviewing the support we provide for security standards in airports operating direct flights to the UK. Passengers will see an increased presence of detection or sniffer dogs at airports to add to our explosives detection capability.
We also intend to introduce more body scanners. The first scanners will be deployed in around three weeks at Heathrow. Over time, they will be introduced more widely, and we will be requiring all UK airports to introduce explosive trace detection equipment by the end of the year. We are discussing urgently with the airport industry the best way of doing all this, which will include a code of practice dealing with the operational and privacy issues involved.
BAA has started training airport security staff in behavioural analysis techniques, which will help them to spot passengers acting unusually and target them for additional search. Beyond that, we are examining carefully whether additional targeted passenger profiling might help to enhance airport security. We will be considering all the issues involved, mindful of civil liberties concerns, aware that identity-based profiling has its limitations, but conscious of our overriding obligations to protect people's life and liberty.
These measures build on the substantial progress we have made in recent years to strengthen our borders. The roll-out of e-Borders, which will check passengers, including those in transit, against the watch list, will be 95 per cent. complete by the end of this year, and makes us one of only a handful of countries to have the technology that can carry out advanced passenger data checks against our watch list before people travel to the UK. Those who apply for a visa-whether they do so from Bangkok, Lahore or Pretoria-have to provide fingerprints and their records are checked against our watch list, which holds over a million records of known criminals, terrorists, people who have tried to enter the country illegally or been deported, and those who agencies consider a threat to our security.
Through the e-Borders programme and through screening passengers against the watch list, we have since 2005 made 4,900 arrests for crimes including murder, rape and assault. In addition, UK Border Agency staff based overseas, working with airlines, prevented more than 65,000 inadequately documented passengers from travelling to the UK during 2009.
Abdulmutallab's failed attack highlights the importance of information sharing between the various agencies about people who pose a threat to our security. The UK watch list is managed by the UK Border Agency and incorporates intelligence from the law enforcement and the security and intelligence agencies into a single index. Nevertheless, although the integrated approach works very well, we want to see if we can further strengthen it. The Home Office will therefore be conducting an urgent review of the robustness of our watch list. The review will report to me in two weeks and, subject to security restrictions, I will report the findings to Parliament.
The House will no doubt be concerned about the possibility that Abdulmutallab's radicalisation may have begun or been fuelled during his time studying at University college London. It is important to remember that the values of openness, intellectual scrutiny and the freedom of debate and tolerance promoted in higher education are one of the most effective ways of challenging views which we may find abhorrent but that remain within the law.
However, we know that a small minority of people supporting violent extremism have actively sought to influence and recruit people through targeting learners in colleges and universities, and we must offer universities the best advice and guidance to help prevent extremism. As part of a measured and effective response to the threat, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has published guidance on managing the risk of violent extremism in universities, and is working closely with universities in priority areas to provide targeted support.
Alongside this, each university has a designated police security contact with which university management can discuss concerns. The Prevent strand of Contest, our
counter-terrorism strategy, works closely with the higher and further education sectors and funds a full-time Prevent officer at the National Union of Students. As I have said, Abdulmutallab's family believe he turned to violent extremism after leaving the UK, but we need to ensure that this close co-operation continues in our efforts to stop radicalisation of young people in our colleges and universities.
Finally, I want to say something about our work internationally and the steps that the Government are taking abroad to disrupt al-Qaeda wherever they are active. Our success in tackling the international terror threat depends on strong relationships with our international partnerships. In our efforts to thwart al-Qaeda, we have a long-standing, productive partnership with the US.
I am not prepared to go into detail on this particular case about what was shared with the US and when. It is an established and accepted principle that we do not routinely comment on intelligence matters. Moreover, some of these issues are still current and are highly sensitive. However, I would like to clarify that although we did, in line with standard working procedures, provide information to the US linked to the wider aspects of this case, none of the information that we held or shared indicated that Abdulmutallab was about to attempt a terrorist attack against the US.
This morning, I met Jane Lute, the US Deputy Secretary for Homeland Security. We discussed how over the coming months, in the light of this failed attack, we will work together with other international partners to maintain public confidence in aviation security and deepen our partnership to disrupt al-Qaeda's activities overseas. Pushed out of Afghanistan and under increasing pressure in the border areas of Pakistan, affiliates and allies of al-Qaeda-such as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group claiming responsibility for the Detroit bombing-have raised their profile. With the failed Detroit attack they have again demonstrated their intent to attack innocent people across the world.
Al-Qaeda will take any opportunity to exploit ungoverned space and instability. Whether the threat is in the Sahel, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, Iraq or Afghanistan, we must support Governments and work with partners to address both the threat of attack and the underlying causes of extremism and instability. We have been working with the Yemeni Government, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary just said, for a number of years, helping to improve their law-enforcement, intelligence and security apparatus, and to disrupt al-Qaeda and deny them a safe haven in Yemen for the future. We are also one of the leading donors on development in the country-our current commitment standing at £100 million by 2011.
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