UK expands powers in new anti-terror legislation

The British government said Monday that it would introduce legislation giving the police the power to seize the passports of British and foreign citizens suspected of traveling to participate in terrorism-related activities and would make it easier for security services to track suspects online.
The home secretary, Theresa May, announced the legislation on Monday in London at the start of what the government calls “Counterterrorism Awareness Week.”
Officials would not provide further details of any terrorist plots, but on Sunday, the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Bernard Hogan-Howe, said that the London police had foiled “four or five” terrorist plots this year, compared with an average of about one per year “over the last few years.” Mr. Hogan-Howe did not specify whether the plots were related to the conflict
in Syria and Iraq. Some of the participants in the alleged plots this year have not yet been convicted, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police said.
A senior British official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that about half of all continuing counterterrorism investigations were related to people, mostly Muslim, who had traveled to fight in Iraq and Syria with radical jihadists or who were inspired by them.
Earlier this year, the terrorism threat level in Britain was raised from “substantial” to “severe,” the second highest, suggesting that an attack is “highly likely,” in response to the threats stemming from the Islamic State. Officials have said that at least 500 Britons — though the number is thought to be closer to 600 — have gone to the Middle East to fight, and about half are thought to have returned to Britain.
Ms. May first raised the possibility of increased police powers at the Conservative Party conference in September. The bill is expected to be put before Parliament on Wednesday, one day after the expected release of a report into the brutal murder last year of a young soldier, Lee Rigby, near his barracks in southeast London. He was killed by two men who said they were inspired by jihad and Britain’s wars against Muslims in Afghanistan and the Middle East.
Mr. Rowley said Monday that “the tragic murder of Lee Rigby last year was a stark warning to us all about how real and local the threat is.” The report is expected to clear the security services of significant blame but raise questions about why they did not follow up on evidence that one of Mr. Rigby’s murderers was becoming more extreme.
Any new security legislation will bring parliamentary scrutiny, with concerns that new police powers could diminish privacy and individual rights. The law would allow the government to cancel the passports of those suspects overseas, for instance, so they can return only on the government’s terms, and force companies to tell the police who was using a particular computer or cellphone at a particular time.
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary for the opposition Labour Party, was generally supportive of the legislation. “More should be done to disrupt the travel plans of those planning to go out to fight,” she said, “and those returning should face criminal investigations and prosecutions,” as well as participate in deradicalization programs.

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