10 Mar 2015

Foreign secretary hits out at ‘apologists’ for terror

Philip Hammond praises the “brilliance” of spies, amid suggestions Mohammed Emwazi – aka “Jihadi John” – may have been radicalised after attempted recruitment by MI5.

Philip Hammond has condemned critics who try to “excuse” terrorists by pointing the finger of blame at security agencies, hailing their efforts in the face of an unprecedented terror threat.

He criticised “apologists” for Islamist terrorism who tried to blame the UK’s intelligence agencies for radicalising Mohammed Emwazi, the Islamic State executioner known as “Jihadi John”. MI5 reportedly tried to recruit Emwazi, which advocacy group Cage says was one of the possible causes of his radicalisation.

“We are absolutely clear: the responsibility for acts of terror rests with those who commit them,” he said at the Royal United Services Institute think tank.

The responsibility for acts of terror rests with those who commit them. Philip Hammond

“But a huge burden of responsibility also lies with those who act as apologists for them.”

Intelligence agencies have faced further criticism over the fact that Emwazi was allowed to travel to Syria, where he is believed to have carried out the beheadings of several western hostages – even though he had been known to MI5 since 2008.

‘Unprecedented’ threat

Mr Hammond is responsible for MI6 and the UK’s surveillance headquarters GCHQ, and said the agencies are facing an “unprecedented” level of challenge in the face of a wide range threats from around the world.

“The sheer number and range of cases, old and new, amounts to the greatest challenge to our collective security for decades and places unprecedented demands on those charged with keeping us safe,” he said.

In the past the agencies were focused on “ideologically driven expansionist states”, but now had to deal with international terrorist groups and state-sponsored aggression as well as self-radicalised “lone wolf” terrorists.

“The emergence of groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria and [IS] in Syria, Iraq and Libya simply serves to underline the pace with which the threats to our safety and security from this source are evolving,” Mr Hammond said.

“It is only thanks to the dedication, and in many cases the brilliance, of our intelligence officers that we have succeeded to detect and contain these threats.”

‘Clandestine’ threats

But he said Russia also posed a renewed threat to the international order after years of engagement efforts by the west.

“We are now faced with a Russian leader bent not on joining the international rules-based system which keeps the peace between nations, but on subverting it,” he said.

President Putin‘s actions – illegally annexing Crimea and using Russian troops to destabilise eastern Ukraine – fundamentally undermine the security of sovereign nations of Eastern Europe.”

He said Britain needed to maintain a “highly effective, secret capability” to identify, monitor and act against the “clandestine nature” of current threats – from weapons systems developed in secret to covert plotting by terrorists.

“As the range of threats gets bigger, so the pace of technological change with which the agencies must keep up is getting faster, making their central task of keeping us safe ever more demanding,” he said.

“We must respond decisively and positively to the public and parliamentary debate about the powers required by our intelligence agencies to do their job in a changed technological environment – and in doing so draw a line under that debate so that the agencies can get on with the job of keeping this country safe.”