Press Releases

HISTORIC PRESS RELEASE : Vigilance key to tackling terrorist threat [January 2010]

The press release issued by 10 Downing Street on 1 January 2010.

The Prime Minister has said the UK must never be complacent about the threat of terrorism following the failed terror plot on a US-bound flight on Christmas day.

The UK will examine a range of new techniques to enhance airport security in response to the attempted attack, Gordon Brown said in an article published on 1 January 2010.

The new decade is starting as the last began – with al Qaeda creating a climate of fear.

In the past week, we have been exposed to an evolving terrorist threat and reminded of the importance of a major new base for terrorism.

These enemies of democracy and freedom – now trying to mastermind death and destruction from Yemen as well as other better-known homes of international terror such as Pakistan and Afghanistan – are concealing explosives in ways which are more difficult to detect.

So the failed attack in Detroit on Christmas Day reminds us of a deeper reality; that almost 10 years after September 11th international terrorism is still a very real threat.

Al Qaeda and their associates continue in their ambition to indoctrinate thousands of young people around the world with a deadly desire to kill and maim.

Our response in security, intelligence, policing and military action, is not just an act of choice but an act of necessity.

We have trebled our security budget; doubled the number of counter-terrorist police and other expert staff dealing with terrorism; and brought in new terrorism-related offences and security measures at airports, stations and shopping centres.

We have strengthened and adapted our response to changing terrorist techniques and developments in protective security.

And we have had operational success – a number of attacks have been prevented or disrupted over the last few years.

But we must never be complacent and remain always vigilant when examining the methods of al Qaeda and its associates, keeping our security measures under constant review.

We now know that the would-be bomber used a small quantity of explosive that went undetected by standard airport security equipment.

We need, therefore, to continually explore the most sophisticated devices capable of identifying explosives, guns, knives and other such items anywhere on the body.

So – in cooperation with President Obama and the Americans – we will examine a range of new techniques to enhance airport security systems beyond the traditional measures, such as pat-down searches and sniffer dogs.

These could include advancing our use of explosive trace technology, full body scanners and advanced x-ray technology.

Working alongside the U.S. and other partners, we will move things forward quickly.

But we must also all investigate how this individual flew from Nigeria to Amsterdam and then to Detroit and what more might have been done internationally to stop him.

In partnership with security agencies abroad, we are doing everything we can to improve the sharing of information about individuals of concern.

We work very closely with the Americans in this area.

And the UK has one of the toughest borders in the world and we are determined to ensure it stays that way.

We have already screened 135 million passenger movements in and out of the country against watchlists.

But in light of the Detroit incident we all urgently need to work together on how we might further tighten these arrangements – in particular, at what point suspects are added to the list and when they are deemed too risky to be allowed to fly, or leave or enter the country – and also into wider airport security.

That is why on Monday I ordered immediate reviews into existing measures – including for transit passengers – and asked for ways we can urgently tighten procedures.

I will be receiving the preliminary findings in the next few days and we will act on them as quickly as possible.

As always, vigilance is the key to our security.

The individual involved in this latest failed attack was prevented from returning to Britain because he was refused a further visa in 2009.

The fact that he was prevented from entering because he claimed he would be attending a bogus college that was not on our register of authorised institutions does not lead us to any complacency.

We must be ever more vigilant about maximising our protection against who we believe pose a threat.

Our watchlist system is matched by our checks on and regular refusal of visa applications.

More than 180 individuals have been banned from Britain on grounds of national security and more than 100 for unacceptable behaviour.

Since July 2005, eight individuals have been deported on grounds of national security and a further eight have made voluntary departures having withdrawn their appeals against the notice of intention to deport.

Fifteen individuals, meanwhile, are currently either detained or on bail pending deportation proceedings on grounds of national security.

It is because we cannot win through a fortress Britain strategy – exclusively protecting our borders – that we have to take on extremists wherever they are based: in Afghanistan, Pakistan and all around the world, including here in Britain.

We know in this case for example that the bomber – who had studied in the UK – had been in contact with an extremist in Yemen and within a few short months was trained to mount the operation in which he was to die.

Although we are increasingly clear that he linked up with al Qaeda in Yemen after leaving London, we nevertheless need to remain vigilant against people being radicalised here as well as abroad.

The UK’s counter terrorism strategy is one of the most comprehensive in the world. A key part of it is to ensure that our fellow citizens do not commit acts of terrorism.

It is very important, however, to recognise that the vast majority of young people and Muslims in Britain reject all forms of extremism, so the success of our strategy depends on support from all communities.

Like preventative work in other areas it seeks to support vulnerable people of any age, but if there are concerns that particular young people might be vulnerable to targeting by terrorist recruiters, it is the responsibility of all of us – families, local communities, teachers, youth workers and other young people themselves – to provide support to those vulnerable young people.

We already work closely with universities and colleges – and with bodies like the national union of students – to help manage and identify the risks posed by radicalisation in educational establishments.

Last year we issued guidance to help universities foster shared values and isolate and challenge the very small minority who promote violent extremism.

We must continue the struggle to win back those dislocated, discouraged and disaffected individuals by demonstrating not what divides us but what we have in common.

The Christmas Day plot also raises specific international issues for the UK too.

The combined force of allied intervention and the Northern Alliance largely removed al Qaeda from Afghanistan in 2001.

The ongoing efforts and sacrifices of our troops – and the work of civilian development teams – are now helping to ensure that al Qaeda is never again able to establish a safe haven there, while we also continue to work with the Pakistani government to dismantle and destroy the organisation’s senior leadership in the border areas of Pakistan.

Pushed out of Afghanistan and increasingly dispersed over the mountains of Pakistan, al Qaeda’s affiliates and allies – in ungoverned or under-governed areas like parts of Yemen, The Sahel and Somalia – have raised their profile.

I have said before that Yemen – as both an incubator and potential safe haven for terrorism – presents a regional and global threat.

We recognise the importance of preventing failed states because of the dangers they pose to regional and global stability and security.

To this end, we are already building further our support for the government of Yemen’s efforts to tackle the underlying causes of the terrorist threat through intelligence support, training of counter-terror units, capacity building and development programmes.

By 2011 our already announced commitment to Yemen will exceed £100million, making the UK one of its leading donors.

And we have already updated our counter-terrorism strategy to include further measures to disrupt al Qaeda’s leadership and to frustrate its attempts to recruit, train and direct a new generation of terrorists – or to find a new haven for those leaders displaced by the efforts of our Afghan and Pakistani allies.

It is right that we now also work more closely with allies in the region through a new ‘Friends of Yemen’ group, we will help establish to pool effort, resource and expertise.

The threat can only be met through enhanced cooperation.

The Detroit plot thankfully failed. But it has been another wake-up call for the ongoing battles we must wage not just for security against terror but for the hearts and minds of a generation.

I am determined to do everything I can to learn from events of this kind to continue to maintain the security and safety of everyone in Britain.