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British plans to combat militancy meet scepticism

Source: Reuters - Wed, 4 Dec 2013 03:27 PM
Author: Reuters
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* Proposals follow murder of soldier Lee Rigby in London

* UK wants to target militant preachers, groups

* Experts says measure won't stop another Rigby death

By Michael Holden

LONDON, Dec 4 (Reuters) - Britain announced new proposals to tackle political militancy on Wednesday following the murder of a British soldier in London this year, but some experts said measures to tackle radical Islamism were vague and could be counter-productive.

Lee Rigby, 25, a veteran of the Afghan War, was hacked to death in broad daylight in the Woolwich district of London in May, a killing which prompted Prime Minister David Cameron to set up a taskforce on tackling 'radicalisation'.

Two Britons are currently on trial for the murder and the court has heard one of the suspects has described himself as a "Muslim extremist" and the killing as revenge for Britain's wars against Muslims - a reference to conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We have already put in place some of the toughest terrorism prevention controls in the democratic world, but we must work harder to defeat the radical views which lead some people to embrace violence," Cameron said in a statement.

"The taskforce I set up has proposed a broad range of measures to counter the extremist narrative and I will make sure they are taken forward."

The government said the measures were designed to target any terrorism but the greatest focus was on militant Islamists. Cameron said it was "not something we should be afraid to address for fear of cultural sensitivities".

In 2005, four militant Islamists set off suicide bombs on London's public transport network, killing 52 people.

Among proposals the government said it would consider were imposing orders, similar to ASBO restrictions used to control anti-social activity, on militants who tried to radicalise others and banning groups which use 'hate speech".

The taskforce also recommended new laws to strengthen the power of the charity regulatory body to prevent groups exploiting charitable status and its tax breaks, work with internet companies to restrict terrorism material online, and ensure prisoners who expressed militant views in jail went on specialist 'de-radicalisation' programmes on their release.

"AIRY-FAIRY"

Experts said the proposals would achieve little.

Ghaffar Hussain, head of research at counter-terrorism think-tank the Quilliam Foundation, said while the taskforce had identified areas of concern, most proposals were vague.

"I would have liked it to be a bit more practical and bit less airy-fairy," he told Reuters, while criticising the idea of restricting online material as neither possible nor helpful.

"You can't police the Internet," he said. "Overall we think it's impractical and potentially counter-productive.

"All you're doing is pushing them to the darker recesses of the internet where it's much more difficult to monitor and much more difficult to counter what's been said."

Hussain said there were already laws against inciting violence. Trying to shut down debate would achieve nothing.

Peter Neumann, Director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, said he doubted terrorism "ASBOs" would be effective or widely used.

"I want to be less cynical but I think it's basically what we've heard before," he told Reuters. "Maybe our expectations are too high. There's nothing the government can legislate for that would solve extremism in the UK."

Asked if he thought the proposals would prevent another Woolwich, Quilliam's Hussain said: "Not really, to be honest." (Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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