New powers to tackle extremist groups are being looked at by the government, the home secretary has said.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Theresa May said what have been dubbed “Asbos for terrorists” could be introduced for those who try to radicalise others.
Groups believed to be inciting terrorism could also be banned under new orders, even if they “fall short of the legal threshold”, she said.
In response, Labour said more detail was needed on the specific powers.
Ministers have been urged to step up their response to extremism at home following the murder of US journalist James Foley by Islamic State militants operating in Iraq and Syria.
UK police and security services are trying to identify a jihadist with an English accent who appeared in the footage of Mr Foley’s killing.
Home Office minister James Brokenshire later said there would be no “knee-jerk reaction” to recent events, insisting the government’s approach would continue to be robust.
In particular, he said it would focus on making sure existing legislation was as effective as possible, and consider “measures attached to individuals” engaged in extremist activity – as well as organisations.
In her article, Mrs May acknowledged the “very deadly threat” to the UK from terrorism at home and abroad, and said officials must have all the legal powers they needed to tackle the problem.
Dealing with terrorism and extremism will require continued commitment and international collaboration”
Theresa MayHome Secretary
She said: “Dealing with terrorism and extremism will require continued commitment and international collaboration.
“Since I was made home secretary, I have constantly made the case for legislation to ensure the police and security services have access to the communications data they need, for example.”
She said she wanted to build on the work of the Extremism Task Forceset up by Prime Minister David Cameron after the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby in London last year.
The UK would also “make Prevent a statutory duty for public bodies”, she said. The programme – part of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy – aims to tackle radicalisation by working with a range of sectors, including faith, education and the justice system.
“I am looking again at the case for new banning orders for extremist groups that fall short of the legal threshold for terrorist proscription, as well as for new civil powers to target extremists who seek to radicalise others,” she added.
The Extremism Task Force report had suggested that new civil measures – akin to powers to tackle anti-social behaviour – could be introduced to target the “behaviours extremists use to radicalise others”. At the time, they were widely reported as terror Anti-social Behaviour Orders (Asbos).
Mrs May said that since 2010, more than 150 foreign individuals had been excluded from entering the UK, including “hate preachers”.
She added the UK had improved its ability to address the problem of extremism online – with 28,000 pieces of terrorist material removed from the internet so far this year.
Caroline Wyatt, religious affairs correspondent, BBC News
At least 500 British Muslims have travelled to Iraq or Syria to support Islamist extremists, many joining the fighters of Islamic State.
Some are as young as 16; the oldest known to have done so is 42. Others estimate the figures could be three times as high.
Some of the Islamic State recruits are active on social media, and keen to recruit others.
In east London, we met one British convert to Islam who says he can understand why they go.
Abu Rumaysah is careful to stay within the law, but what he says still has the power to shock after the violence meted out by Islamic State.
“The caliphate is something that is in the heart of every single practising Muslim, so I’m not surprised that many Muslims would wish to migrate there,” he tells me.
“There is not a single country in the world – whether it’s Saudi or Pakistan – that implements Islam fully.
“So now we’ve got this caliphate, people are going to flock there, and leave the insecurity they’re facing in many Muslim countries as well as the West, and live there peacefully there under the Sharia [law].”
Mrs May added that “people who insist on travelling to fight in Syria and Iraq will be investigated by the police and security services”.
The home secretary outlined some of the measures which are in place to tackle those that travel abroad to commit acts of terror. She said:
- The rules on the Royal Prerogative, which allows the removal of passports of British citizens who want to travel abroad to engage in terrorism, had been toughened. So far, 23 people planning to travel to Syria have had their passports withdrawn
- Those with dual nationality who want to fight in Syria or Iraq can be stripped of their citizenship and excluded from the UK
- The recent Immigration Act means naturalised Britons who are fighting overseas can be stripped of UK citizenship
- If approved, the Serious Crime Bill would make it illegal to travel overseas to prepare and train for terrorism
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said more action was needed to respond to the “serious problem” of people travelling abroad to fight.
“I remain concerned that the government is not addressing the gaps in the Prevent programme – especially the lack of support for community-led approaches to preventing radicalisation.
“And the home secretary also needs to respond to the concerns raised by the current and previous independent reviewer of terrorism legislation about the decision to weaken control orders, where they have advised that stronger measures should be put in place.”
Currently, TPims are used to restrict movement, the use of computers and mobile phones and meetings with others. They replaced the previous system of control orders – which were more restrictive – in 2011.
‘Ahead of curve’
The BBC’s political correspondent Alan Soady said it was not clear from the article whether the government and security services required changes in order to deal with specific individuals who were inciting people to take part in terrorism, or whether the measures were more general.
Rob Wainwright, director of the EU’s law enforcement agency Europol, said the UK was “ahead of the curve” with such legislation and was taking the right approach to dealing with extremism.
Elsewhere, the Muslim Council of Britain urged Muslims to play their part in countering radicalisation and report any wrongdoing to the police.
Mrs May said the UK was “in the middle of a generational struggle against a deadly extremist ideology”, adding it was “far removed from the peaceful beliefs held by one billion Muslims worldwide”.