Fighting Terrorism in the U.K.

By Matthew Harwood

“I don’t have any confidence in the Metropolitan Police,” one Muslim youth told officials from London’s law enforcement community at a meeting of young Muslims. The meeting was an outreach effort in the wake of the July 2005 attacks in which four Muslim British citizens killed 52 people by becoming suicide bombers. In a series of community meetings throughout 2005 and 2006, other youths spoke of being angry about being stopped repeatedly by police and treated with suspicion. Many also expressed anger over a June 2006 incident in a London neighborhood called Forest Gate in which, acting on an intelligence tip about a dirty bomb, police raided a Muslim home at 4 a.m., using stun grenades to disorient the inhabitants and accidentally shooting one man. No dirty bomb was found, and the two men arrested were released without being charged.

Muslims were also incensed over the July 22, 2005, Jean Charles de Menezes incident in which the police, investigating attempted suicide bombings that occurred the day before, shot and killed Menezes as he entered the London Tube. Police said that he was a suspected suicide bomber, but Menezes turned out to be an electrician with no connection to terrorists. In November 2007, the police department was found guilty of endangering the public in the Menezes case.

London’s police commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, though sympathetic to Muslim concerns, has defended police tactics even when they result in mistakes like the Menezes incident and raids like Forest Gate. He told the Muslim youth at one meeting that it was simply the reality of what the terrorists had forced police to do to keep London safe. “There has to be an acceptance of robust techniques when the threat is very terrible,” he said. But he also acknowledged that police need to find a way to fight terrorism without stigmatizing whole communities.

The emotions voiced during the outreach meetings reveal the depth of anger among Muslims, which could impede intelligence collection or fuel radicalization. At the same time, the botched bomb attacks this summer against London’s club district and Glasgow International Airport show that the threat of terrorism is ever present. It is in this charged atmosphere that the U.K. is struggling to strike a balance between hard and soft tactics in its counterterrorism strategy. Here’s a look at the progress being made, with a special focus on efforts at the community level.



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