On Nov. 29, 2019, two people were fatally stabbed and three injured by convicted terrorist Usman Khan. The attacker was shot dead by the City of London Police, after members of the public restrained him.
Khan was convicted in 2012 of planning a terrorist attack. He was released from prison in 2018 after serving six years of a minimum term of eight years.
This wasn’t a one-off. In 2017 on London Bridge, three attackers deliberately drove a van into pedestrians and stabbed six other people to death.
The perpetrator of the most recent attack was also a follower of Al-Muhajiroun, a terrorist organization led by Anjem Choudary – another convicted terrorist who was released early in 2018.
When a number of Islamist terrorists were released early that year, I ran a campaign to pressure the British government to lock Choudary back up. I said he and others were likely to offend again.
The Ministry of Justice wrote to me effectively saying there was nothing that could be done.
But since Khan took to the streets of London with a knife and showed us why he was locked up in the first place, Choudary’s licensing conditions are now under urgent review.
An urgent review, however, isn’t enough. In fact, the politicians are scrambling to come up with a solution.
United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to scrap early prison release for terrorists and proposes increasing sentences to 14 years. Will that solve the problem? Or are we putting a bandage over a festering wound?
The cost of terrorism is high. The cost of ignoring the causes of terrorism, in whatever form it might take, is even higher.
For decades, the British government has erred on the side of diversity and toed the line of the church of multiculturalism when dealing with the threat of Islamist terror.
And whenever they’ve tried to get tough, they’ve been attacked relentlessly by left-wing campaigners and politicians who claim their measures are discriminatory. Prevention, which is part of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy, is regularly blasted as Islamophobic because of its focus on preventing the radicalization of Muslims.
In 2017, a “racial equality organization” said the scheme was “built on Islamophobia and should be axed.”
Johnson’s Conservative government already faces backlash after pulling a proposed inquiry into Islamophobia in the party, so realistically how far can the prime minister go to tackle this problem at its source?
For him, the cost is likely just too high. He’ll face a backlash from the politically-correct mob in Parliament and the press that would be so bad that even the popular support of the electorate wouldn’t be worth it.
But it’s the electorate that really suffers from this lack of action on terrorism and ridiculous sentencing laws. In the U.K., the release (or early release) of prisoners is governed by the Criminal Justice Act 2003.
In October 2018, a letter from the Ministry of Justice, addressed to me, said that “offenders continue to serve their sentence subject to supervision by probation and must comply with licence conditions and restrictions.”
Those restrictions didn’t stop Khan stabbing two people to death.
In 2017, European Union officials also warned that the U.K. was home to as many as 25,000 Islamist extremists who may pose a threat. Despite this, no major British political party or senior politician has asked whether Britain should continue importing potential terrorists or whether measures should be taken to crack down on the threat of Islamist ideology in mosques all over the country.
Meanwhile, taxpayers face huge bills for anti-terror barriers in major cities and for prevention strategies that clearly don’t work. Khan passed through both the Healthy Identity Intervention Programme, the U.K.’s terrorism rehabilitation scheme, and the Desistance and Disengagement Programme, which is designed to address the root causes of terrorism. Neither scheme worked.
In a 2018 Impact Assessment for the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill, a best estimate of the costs of dealing with terrorism through the courts and other means was £49.3 million.
Terror attacks happen frequently in Europe, but sometimes all it takes is one attack (no matter its motivation) for taxpayers to face huge bills to keep them safe and minimize the impact of future attacks.
After the 2014 shootings at Parliament Hill in Ottawa, the British Columbia and Nova Scotia legislative assemblies were put under restricted access. Canadian military bases heightened their security measures and members were advised to avoid wearing uniforms in public.
These are more than just monetary costs. Just like how Western Europeans now live surrounded by concrete barriers, these are changes to the way regular people live. They’re the costs of ineffective counter-terrorism measures.
When will politicians consider the safety of the people to be more important than avoiding condemnation from the press or politically-correct critics?
At what point will they decide that taxpayers have paid enough for security measures that change the way they live?
At what point does the cost of ineffectively dealing with the sources of terrorism become too high?
Jack Buckby is a research associate with Frontier Centre for Public Policy.