UK’s ‘half-baked reformation’ blamed for London attack

Updated 04 December 2019

UK’s ‘half-baked reformation’ blamed for London attack

  • Finger pointed at programs meant to help convicted terrorists rebuild crime-free lives
  • Nov. 29 attack sparks national debate on whether prisoners should serve their full sentence

LONDON: Jack Merritt died doing the job he loved. After completing a master’s degree in criminology at Cambridge University, he worked as a course coordinator for Learning Together, the department’s prison-based education program.

The initiative was designed to help reform prisoners, allowing them to rebuild their lives free from crime.

Merritt was killed last Friday by Usman Khan, a convicted terrorist who had been given “special permission” to travel to a Learning Together conference in Fishmonger’s Hall, London.

On Sunday, details of the second victim were released. Saskia Jones, another Cambridge criminology graduate, volunteered at the rehabilitation program that worked with Khan. 

Opinion

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Outrage erupted across the UK after it emerged that Khan had been freed from prison on license a year before the Nov. 29 attack.

The front page of The Times the morning after the attack led with the headline “Terrorist with a tag,” referring to the electronic monitoring bracelet and curfews that he was given as conditions of his release.

In 2012, Khan, a friend of notorious hate preacher Anjem Choudhary, was jailed for planning to carry out a bomb attack on the London Stock Exchange.

As every aspect of the attack is scoured over by police and media, one question keeps being asked: How could a terrorist convicted of planning a bomb attack be freed to walk the streets of London?

Details of Khan’s release and the perceived “soft touch” that gave him the freedom to strike in the capital has led to a national conversation on when a known terrorist can safely return to society.

On one hand, many academics and criminal justice campaigners believe that all criminals — even terrorists — should be offered resources to reform and return to their communities.

But their opponents, often from security think tanks, allege that convicted extremists are different to other criminals as their minds have been warped beyond repair and the risks of rehabilitation are not worth the costs.

FASTFACTS

● Attacker identified as Usman Khan, 28.

● Khan was born and raised in Stoke-on-Trent.

● Arrested in 2010 for London Stock Exchange attack plot.

● Previously sentenced in 2012 with minimum jail term of eight years.

● Released in 2018.

● Made to wear electronic tag, enter rehabilitation program.

Khan, the first freed convicted terrorist to carry out an attack in the UK, is at the center of this debate.

Following the attack, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced demands for convicted terrorists to be barred from early prison release.

He blamed changes to the law made under former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Labour government for Khan’s freedom, arguing that it was “ridiculous and repulsive” that he was automatically freed halfway through his sentence.




Terror victims: Cambridge University graduates Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, died in the London Bridge attack. (AFP)

Johnson revealed on Sunday that 74 other convicted terrorists had been released from prison since 2000.

But Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Party leader and Johnson’s opponent in the upcoming election, declared that it was “not necessarily” right that convicted extremists should have to serve their full sentence.

Merritt’s family said: “We know Jack would not want this terrible, isolated incident to be used as a pretext by the government for introducing even more draconian sentences on prisoners, or for detaining people in prison for longer than necessary.”

But in Khan’s case, security experts argue that he was not detained for as long as was necessary.

Kyle Orton, a British independent terrorism researcher, told Arab News that it is “impossible to argue that he shouldn’t have been in prison. He was so obviously a dangerous person.”

Orton believes that rehabilitation works “in some cases, especially for those who are dabbling in extremism. In those circumstances, early intervention can make a big difference. But I’m really skeptical of claims that they (rehabilitation programs) should be used more generally as a tool to counter extremism.”

He added: “Rehabilitation is a spongy concept. De-radicalization is too ambitious. Expecting the state to change ideas is asking too much.”

Khan, dubbed the “poster boy” of the rehabilitation scheme he went on to attack, even wrote a poem and a thank-you note to organizers of the Learning Together initiative after they provided him with a computer he could use without breaching his Internet ban.




Police surround Usman Khan after the convicted terrorist was wrestled to the ground by bystanders following his deadly knife attack. (AP)

This raises the question: How can we know when an extremist has been turned? Orton is adamant: “We can’t.”

He added: “It’s incredibly difficult to judge a jihadist’s state of mind. You’re incentivizing them to lie to you. You can’t prove their change of heart, and they know that enough goodwill might get them released.”

David Wilson, emeritus professor of criminology at Birmingham City University, told The Times that “people know what they have to say so that you can tick boxes to say you have done the course. It is not rigorous and nobody has confidence that it does what it says on the tin.”

Wilson, who has previously served as a police governor, added: “The prison service has no idea how to cope with terrorists. The only good thing that might come out of this terrible tragedy is there will be a proper look at how we are going to cope with people convicted of terrorist offences.”

The solution, according to Orton, lies in the tougher sentencing being touted by the prime minister.

“In the US, terrorists receive 20-30 years of prison for material support of an extremist group,” Orton said. “Keeping jihadists off the streets is preferable to trusting in half-baked reformation.”

The UK’s Ministry of Justice released a study this year claiming that a major challenge facing counter-extremism centers is that many of the inmates have “refused to engage in aspects of the centers, especially interventions to support disengagement from extremism.” 




Rehabilitation is a spongy concept. Expecting the state to change
ideas is asking too much. — Kyle Orton, British terrorism researcher

This has not deterred supporters of counter-radicalization efforts, such as former extremist Maajid Nawaz, founder of the London-based counter-extremism think tank Quilliam.

Speaking the day after the attack, Nawaz said rehabilitation efforts are key to reducing extremist violence. “You have to release them from jail. The only thing you can do is ongoing de-radicalization efforts with them,” he added.

Nawaz argued that unless counter-radicalization is prioritized, “the only alternative that you leave people is a law-and-order, police-led state.”

He added: “We must start thinking seriously about long-term social cohesion efforts that are needed … to rehabilitate them (extremists) into society and to debunk these ideologies.”

Corbyn agrees. Opposed to indefinite jail sentences, on Sunday he reiterated his belief that prison needs to be a “place where rehabilitation takes place.”

While the debate on how to handle the growing extremist population advances, 74 convicted and freed terrorists will continue to roam British streets.


China scrambles to contain ‘strengthening’ virus

Updated 26 January 2020

China scrambles to contain ‘strengthening’ virus

  • Coronavirus’ transmission ability getting stronger
  • China confirms 1,975 people infected, 56 dead

BEIJING/SHANGHAI: The ability of the new coronavirus to spread is strengthening and infections could continue to rise, China’s National Health Commission said on Sunday, with more than 2,000 people in China infected and 56 killed by the disease.
Health authorities around the world are racing to prevent a pandemic after a handful of cases of infection were reported outside China, including in Thailand, Australia, the United States and France.
The mayor of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, said he expected another 1,000 new patients in the city, which was stepping up construction of special hospitals.
The newly identified coronavirus has created alarm because much about it is still unknown, such as how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads between people. It can cause pneumonia, which has been deadly in some cases.
China’s National Health Commission Minister Ma Xiaowei said the incubation period for the virus can range from one to 14 days, during which infection can occur, which was not the case with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
SARS was a coronavirus that originated in China and killed nearly 800 people globally in 2002 and 2003.
“According to recent clinical information, the virus’ ability to spread seems to be getting somewhat stronger,” Ma told reporters.
The Lunar New Year holiday, traditionally celebrated by hundreds of millions of Chinese traveling around the country and abroad to see family, began on Friday but has been severely disrupted by the outbreak.
Ma said China would intensify its containment efforts, which have so far included transportation and travel curbs and the cancelation of big events.
The country may extend the week-long Lunar New Year holiday, state broadcaster CCTV reported, citing a meeting hosted by Chinese premier Li Keqiang.
The virus, believed to have originated late last year in a seafood market in Wuhan that was illegally selling wildlife, has spread to cities including Beijing and Shanghai. Hong Kong has six confirmed cases.
The World Health Organization this week stopped short of calling the outbreak a global health emergency, but some health experts question whether China can contain the epidemic.
Chinese President Xi Jinping described the situation as “grave” on Saturday.
China confirmed 2,051 cases of infection as of 7 p.m. (1100 GMT) on Jan. 26, while the death toll from the virus remained at 56, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
Health officials in Orange County, California, reported that a third case had been registered in the United States in a traveler from Wuhan, who was in isolation and in good condition.
On Saturday, Canada declared a first “presumptive” confirmed case in a resident who had returned from Wuhan. Australia confirmed its first four cases.
No fatalities have been reported outside China.

WILDLIFE SALES BAN
On Sunday, China temporarily banned nationwide the sale of wildlife in markets, restaurants, and e-commerce platforms. Wild and often poached animals packed together in Chinese markets are blamed as incubators for viruses to evolve and jump the species barrier to humans.
Snakes, peacocks, crocodiles and other species can also be found for sale via Taobao, an e-commerce website run by Alibaba.
The New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society called on China to make the ban permanent.
The US State Department said it will relocate personnel at its Wuhan consulate to the United States, while Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his government was working with China to arrange a charter flight for Japanese nationals to return from Wuhan.
The outbreak has prompted widening curbs on movements within China, with Wuhan, a city of 11 million, on virtual lockdown and transport links all-but severed except for emergency vehicles.

CANCELLATIONS AND MISTRUST
Health authorities in Beijing urged people not to shake hands but instead salute using a traditional cupped-hand gesture. The advice was sent in a text message that went out to mobile phone users in the city on Sunday morning.
Beijing also postponed the reopening of the city’s schools and universities after the Lunar New Year holiday, state radio reported. Hong Kong had already delayed the reopening of schools to Feb. 17.
China has called for transparency in managing the crisis, after a cover-up of the spread of the SARS virus eroded public trust, but officials in Wuhan have been criticized for their handling of the current outbreak.
“People in my hometown all suspect the real infected patients number given by authorities,” said Violet Li, who lives in the Wuhan district where the seafood market is located.
Illustrating the extend of disruption to life in China, overall passenger travel declined by nearly 29% on Saturday, the first day of the Lunar New Year, from a year earlier, with air passengers down nearly 42%, a transportation ministry official said.
Many cinemas across China were closed with major film premieres postponed.
Cruise operators including Royal Caribbean Cruises, and Costa Cruises said they had canceled a combined 12 cruises that had been scheduled to embark from Chinese ports before Feb. 2.
Hong Kong Disneyland and the city’s Ocean Park were closed on Sunday. Shanghai Disneyland, which expected 100,000 visitors daily through the holiday period, has already closed.
Airports around the world have stepped up screening of passengers from China, although some health officials and experts have questioned the effectiveness of these efforts.