Britain’s counter-terrorism initiative, ‘Prevent’ is failing and is in need of reform according to terror experts. The call comes as Islamic extremist Ali Harbi Ali was jailed for the murder of English MP Sir David Amess, with the jury returning its verdict at Old Bailey after only 18 minutes of deliberations.
The much-loved MP, a vocal pro-life advocate who was also passionate about animal welfare, was stabbed to death during a constituency meeting in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, in October 2021. Ali booked an appointment at Sir David’s constituency surgery by using a false address and lying to his staff about being a local resident.
The 26-year-old stabbed the 69-year-old father of 5 more than 20 times with a foot-long carving knife on church grounds, in an attack that horrified Britain and was met with an outpouring of grief.
Although Sir David’s killer had been referred to the UK Government’s de-radicalisation programme, Ali, who is of Somali origin, deceived officials, and was left unchecked to carry out the brutal attack after attending just one meeting.
The beleaguered initiative has been described as a ‘parish council response to a national security problem’ and experts have urged that the programme must be overhauled in the wake of the Conservative MP’s murder.
The UK’s Telegraph conducted an analysis which showed that the scheme ‘has failed to stop numerous terrorists in the last five years, with six of the 11 most recent significant attacks carried out by individuals who had been referred to it’.
It is believed that Ali, a radicalised Muslim, targeted Sir David because he voted to bomb ISIS in Syria. Ali had been referred to Prevent in 2014, and it is reported that he boasted in his terror trial about how he was easily able to present himself as compliant when forced to engage with the British authorities, giving an insight into the ineffectiveness of the scheme.
Giving evidence from the witness stand last Thursday, Ali told the court: “I decided to do it because I felt that if I could kill someone who made decisions to kill Muslims, it could prevent further harm to those Muslims.”
Asked what difference killing Sir David would make, an unrepentant Ali said: “For one, he can’t vote again. If he had previous for doing votes like that he won’t do it in the future, and perhaps send a message to his colleagues.”
The court heard how Ali, who came from an influential Somali family, had become self-radicalised in 2014, prompting him to drop out of university even though he once had ambitions of studying medicine.
Ali had considered travelling to Syria to fight for ISIS but by 2019, decided he would carry out an attack in Britain.
The court heard how used the internet to research MPs including Dominic Raab, Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, the Deputy Prime Minister, and Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary.
In September 2021, he decided his victim would be Sir David, a devout Catholic, who he saw as an easy target after noticing he had a forthcoming surgery in Leigh-on-Sea via Twitter.
The harrowing killing and subsequent case has prompted fresh questions over whether Prevent is fit for purpose. Terror experts believe the programme is failing, warning that it has too often been taken advantage of by “sophisticated extremists concealing their intentions from a very naive and inexperienced group of people”.
An ongoing independent review of Prevent has been delayed, however is expected to report its findings later this year. But experts cautioned it will take “years and years before anything changes”.
Former chief Crown prosecutor for north-west England, Nazir Afzal, told the Telegraph: “The Prevent programme appears to be failing, so many people are known to the authorities, they are on the programme, and the programme is failing them.
“The review is now months, years old, we are still waiting for it. Even once it is published, the recommendations will have to be implemented – it will be years and years before anything changes. The perception is that it is a toxic brand, it is not properly resourced and not properly supported.
“We haven’t learned from Stephen Timms, he was stabbed at his surgery. There is a big question to be asked about the level of security around MPs, they need to be safe and secure. I don’t want to bring in those big metal arches, but random bag searches – that kind of thing, and of course being intelligence-led, carrying out some inquiries and background checks.”
‘PARISH COUNCIL RESPONSE’
Professor Ian Acheson, who led a government review of extremism in jails, warned that Prevent in its current forma is a “parish council response to a national security problem”.
He said: “We have sophisticated extremists concealing their intentions from a very naive and inexperienced group of people who are supposed to be deposed but are never trained for this sort of activity. We simply don’t have the right people in the right place.
“A lot of it is about skilling up people who are nice, middle class and a moral universe away from their subjects. They are being deceived and manipulated, often because there is a race disparity in it all. We don’t have the robust challenge we should have because everyone is so afraid of being racist.”
He also voiced concern that Prevent is placing an undue focus on far-right extremism, saying it is looked at as a “false equivalent” of Islamic extremism.
Prof Acheson, who is also a senior advisor to the Counter Extremism Project, said:
“There is a lazy and dangerous assumption between the threat that we face from the far-Right and that from Islamist extremism.”
Jurors in the case heard how Ali, from north-west London, was previously on the radar of police after a teacher raised suspicions. He was visited by two officers in 2014 whilst he was still at school after the teacher reported concerns that he might travel to Syria to fight for ISIS.
However, Ali never heard from the authorities again after attending a single meeting with a Home Office official as part of the deradicalization programme.
“There were supposed to be two meetings but they were happy enough on the first one so I did not hear from them again,” he told the court.
Prof Acheson said: “It’s absolutely another example of disguised compliance. Prevent is a parish council response to a national security problem.”
A Government spokesman said more can be done to protect people from being radicalised in the UK.
“It is the Government’s duty to protect the public and Prevent is a vital tool to stop people from being drawn into terrorism. Channel, Prevent’s early intervention programme, is voluntary and it does not constitute a criminal sanction. Over 3,000 people have been supported via the Channel programme.
“It is right that we continue to improve our approach. That is why an independent review led by William Shawcross is in progress to assess how effectively Prevent works, its impact and what further can be done to protect people from being radicalised.”