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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Tougher laws planned to tackle UK terrorism

Senior lawyer says conspirators who fail to speak out about attacks could spend longer in jail

Theresa May has said that Britain had been too tolerant of extremism and signalled tougher penalties for terror-linked offences (Photo by Mark Schiefelbein - Pool/Getty Images)
Theresa May has said that Britain had been too tolerant of extremism and signalled tougher penalties for terror-linked offences (Photo by Mark Schiefelbein - Pool/Getty Images)

The confidants of suicide bombers could face longer jail terms following a review of anti-terror laws prompted by a string of deadly attacks in the UK, MPs heard Wednesday.

Current laws mean that anyone who knew about potential plans to carry out a major attack but failed to raise the alarm would face less than five years behind bars, said Max Hill, a barrister who reviews the UK’s anti-terrorism laws.

The UK government announced its plans for a review in the aftermath of a suicide knife and vehicle attack on London Bridge in June last year that left seven people dead.

It was the third major terrorist attack to have hit the UK in 2017 with Theresa May, the prime minister, signalling a harder line saying that there had been “too much tolerance of extremism”.

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The planned new legislation is likely to appear “in the near future” which will update laws to deal with modern technology that has made it easier to plan, prepare and carry out terrorist attacks, said Mr Hill.

He expressed his concerns about the maximum jail term of five years for someone who failed to raise the alarm despite knowing a potential bomber could be about to launch an attack.

“I would beg to question whether that was sufficient,” said Mr Hill in evidence to lawmakers on the parliamentary human rights select committee. “I would not be surprised if government set out an intention to increase that.”

He cited the case of Anjem Choudary, a radical hate preacher who was jailed in 2016 for his activities to support ISIL, as an example of public concern over length of sentences.

Choudary was convicted after delivering a series of lectures on YouTube that urged Muslims to support ISIL. He was jailed for five-and-a-half years in prison but is likely to serve only two.

The conviction followed a long pursuit of Choudhary who was frequently cited as an inspiration to young Britons who travelled to Syria and Iraq on behalf of ISIL. His inflammatory messages remained just on the right side of the law for years before his arrest and conviction.

“I know some commentators were surprised at the sentence he received given the gravity of his offence,” said Mr Hill, a former prosecutor of terrorism cases.

The UK government has sought to bolster terrorist powers and cajole internet companies to do more to prevent safe spaces online to allow extremism to fester.

New guidelines for judges have already called for militants using cars and knives to kill to face stiffer sentences, along with those involved in more minor roles or in aborted attacks.

The spate of attacks in 2017 began in March when Khalid Masood killed five people after driving into pedestrians and then stabbing a police officer outside the Houses of Parliament.

Three men adopted similar tactics for the attack on London Bridge before they were shot dead by police. That attack was carried out just days after suicide bomber Salman Abedi killed 22 people when he detonated a rucksack bomb at the end of a pop concert in Manchester.