Jihadi threat requires move into ‘private space’ of UK Muslims, says police chief

The Guardian reports: Islamist propaganda is so potent it is influencing children as young as five and should be countered with intensified monitoring to detect the earliest signs of anti-western sentiment, Britain’s most senior Muslim police chief has warned.

Scotland Yard commander Mak Chishty said children aged five had voiced opposition to marking Christmas, branding it as “haram” – forbidden by Islam. He also warned that there was no end in sight to the parade of British Muslims, some 700 so far, being lured from their bedrooms to Syria by Islamic State (Isis) propaganda.

In an interview with the Guardian, Chishty said there was now a need for “a move into the private space” of Muslims to spot views that could show the beginning of radicalisation far earlier. He said this could be shown by subtle changes in behaviour, such as shunning certain shops, citing the example of Marks & Spencer, which could be because the store is sometimes mistakenly perceived to be Jewish-owned. [Continue reading…]

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Government appears helpless as hundreds of young Britons click through to jihad

By Natasha Underhill, Nottingham Trent University

We have been hearing for some time now that hundreds of mainly young people have left the UK and found their way to Iraq and Syria to join the Islamic State. Headlines about young schoolgirls with excellent exam results and bright prospects sneaking across the border from Turkey, or the cold brutality of “Jihadi John” as a representative of Britain’s IS executioners have made for chilling reading.

While the media obsesses about the individual stories behind these defections, the UK government – like those in Australia, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, United States, Spain, as well as a number of northern African states – are desperately seeking a strategy to combat the lure of recruitment to jihad.

Overall, the police have noted that more than 700 potential terrorist suspects have travelled to Syria over the past year.

Meanwhile Scotland Yard reported recently that a record 338 people were arrested for terror-related activities in the UK in the year to march 2015 – almost one per day. This represents a dramatic increase of 33% on the 254 who were arrested in 2013/14 – a shocking statistic. Close analysis of those 338 arrests, shows that more than half were arrested in relation to their activities in Syria. Almost eight in ten of these suspects arrested were British nationals.

[Read more…]

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Intelligence officers in UK given immunity from hacking laws, tribunal told

The Guardian reports: GCHQ staff, intelligence officers and police have been given immunity from prosecution for hacking into computers, laptops and mobile phones under legislative changes that were never fully debated by parliament, a tribunal has been told.

The unnoticed rewriting of a key clause of the Computer Misuse Act has exempted law enforcement officials from the prohibition on breaking into other people’s laptops, databases, mobile phones or digital systems. It came into force in May.

The amended clause 10, entitled somewhat misleadingly “Savings”, is designed to prevent officers from committing a crime when they remotely access computers of suspected criminals. It is not known what category of offences are covered.

The act is primarily deployed to provide legal cover for domestic investigations. It is thought that individual warrants are not being obtained to justify each inquiry. Different legislation – section 7 of the Intelligence Services Act, nicknamed the “James Bond clause” – is believed to permit activities abroad that would otherwise be illegal. [Continue reading…]

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GCHQ openly recruiting hackers as British government seeks more surveillance powers

Forbes: Now that the Conservative Party has secured a majority government in the UK, it’s pushing ahead with plans to expand the surveillance state with the Communications Data Bill, also known as Snooper’s Charter, which would require communications providers from BT to Facebook to maintain records of customers’ internet activity, text messages and voice calls for a year. This may have emboldened GCHQ, the British spy agency and chief NSA partner, which has, for the first time, openly called for applicants to fill the role of Computer Network Operations Specialists, also known as nation-state funded hackers.

According to a job ad for a Computer Network Operations Specialist, a student or graduate will have to have, or soon have, “a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree incorporating ethical hacking, digital forensics or information security”.

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Election may set U.K. on path to a split, isolation

The Washington Post reports: After unexpected political charisma and cunning propelled him to another term as Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron will now need every ounce of those skills to avoid going down in history with an altogether different title: founding father of Little England.

A result that maintained the status quo at 10 Downing Street masked the dramatic transformations roiling Britain, ones that threaten to leave this country more isolated than at any time in its modern history.

Thursday’s election may become just the first in a trilogy of rapid-fire votes that set this island adrift from Europe, divide it in half along ancient lines of national identity and ultimately leave behind a rump state of ever-diminishing value to its American allies.

“Yesterday was V-E Day, when the United Kingdom was celebrating its finest hour. Seventy years later, it could be contemplating the beginning of its end in its current form,” said David Torrance, a British political analyst and author. “The next five years will be a twin debate about two unions — the European Union and the United Kingdom.”

The questions of whether Britain stays whole and whether it remains in Europe are deeply entangled, with the outcome of one expected to heavily influence the other. [Continue reading…]

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Democracy doesn’t stop at the election – and Britain’s is broken

By Colin Crouch, University of Warwick

It’s only after an election is over that real politics begins. The polls themselves are designed to preserve almost perfect equality among citizens in the electoral process.

But that’s just the formal side of democracy. Election campaigns have become almost liturgical, heavily choreographed events. And what takes place during the rest of the five years is the informal side – a much rougher affair, with no gestures towards equality at all.

The contrast between the two parts of politics has been stretched to breaking point as campaigns become ever more artificial, while inequalities of wealth and income grow more extreme and play an ever greater political role.

That rising inequality is creating economic and social problems is now widely understood, but there’s been far less discussion of the threats it poses to democracy. The issue really comes into focus when we recognise these differences between the formal and informal sides of democracy, and the very different ways in which they treat inequality.

In the electoral process, we quite rightly insist on important principles of perfect equality. We stick to one citizen, one vote and punish those who try to cheat, hold the parties’ broadcast presentations to strict fairness rules, ban party materials from polling stations, and closely limit individual candidates’ spending.

But democracy isn’t just about voting. It’s about campaigning, discussing, lobbying and imposing pressure – things that go on all the time, not just during elections. This is the informal part of the political system, and if it did not exist we could hardly say we lived in a democracy.

The problem is that these parts of our democracy offer no guarantee at all of equality among citizens.

[Read more…]

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David Cameron has become Benjamin Netanyahu’s most vocal international backer

Peter Oborne writes: Mr Cameron’s views on foreign policy, and in particular the Middle East, are completely different to those he used to hold 10 or 15 years ago.

Back then he was conservative in the old-fashioned sense of the term. He was sceptical of foreign adventures and pretty well immune to popular clamours.

He only voted with reluctance for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. During the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006, he permitted William Hague, his foreign affairs spokesman, to describe Israeli conduct as “disproportionate,” a sentiment which led to open revolt among some pro-Israeli supporters of the Conservative Party.

Today David Cameron is a neoconservative. Along with President Sarkozy of France, he led the way in the Western intervention in Libya four years ago. Eighteen months ago he wanted to intervene militarily against President Assad, and was only deterred by a parliamentary vote.

One mark of neoconservatism is uncritical support for the state of Israel. Mr Cameron has become the most vocal international backer of Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr Cameron has gone out of his way to repeatedly defend the conduct of Israeli forces during the Israeli invasion of Gaza last year.

Mr Cameron regularly seeks advice from Tony Blair. Mr Blair was one of the circle of advisors urging David Cameron to bomb Libya. In foreign policy terms, David Cameron should indeed be seen as a protege of the former prime minister. Both men have been steadfast supporters of the Gulf dictatorships and of Netanyahu’s Israel, and both men are unbendingly hostile to democratic movements within Islam, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood.

David Cameron has protected Tony Blair. Had Mr Cameron wanted, he could have insisted on the publication of the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War, which is expected to contain damning criticisms of Mr Blair.

This investigation was meant to publish its conclusions within 18 months of the British withdrawal from Iraq in 2007: it is disgraceful that eight years later, Sir John Chilcot is still at work.

Before the 2010 general election, David Cameron also promised an investigation into the very serious allegations that Britain was complicit in torture and extraordinary rendition during the Blair premiership. Instead the investigation has been suppressed.

So what happened to the foreign policy realist I used to talk to a decade and more ago? I believe that part of the explanation lies in David Cameron’s near total lack of knowledge of the world beyond Britain when he was elected prime minister. Beyond beach holidays in the Mediterranean it was negligible.

This ignorance created a vacuum which has been filled by the small, well-knit and very powerful clique of neoconservatives who surround the prime minister. [Continue reading…]

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Britain’s election quake has opened chasms David Cameron will struggle to bridge

Jonathan Freedland writes: In his victory speech outside Downing street, David Cameron reaffirmed his promise to stage a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. That will happen before the end of 2017, which means a two-year-long campaign to get Britain out of the EU is under way now.

Those who marvelled at the power of last year’s plebiscite on Scottish independence to stir the deepest questions of identity and belonging should brace themselves. Just such a debate is coming to the entire UK, one that will rouse profound and unresolved questions. What is Britain’s place in the world? Where do we really belong? Are we one of many – or do we stand alone?

The party that was set to lead the case for “in” has been crushed: the Liberal Democrats will not bring much firepower to this coming contest. It will require a huge effort of will for Labour to regroup and marshal its resources for such an epochal fight. Meanwhile, Ukip – heartened by the nearly 4m votes and 12.6% share it won on Thursday, even if that translated into just a single seat – will be hungry for the battle of its life.

There is no date on the calendar for the other union struggle, but it is coming too – a contest over the union that binds the four nations of these islands. A party committed to Scottish independence is now Westminster’s third-largest, a nationalist force in parliament unseen for a century. The success of the SNP is the transformative, historic event of the 2015 election. The question now is not so much whether Scotland will break away from the UK, but rather what would have to happen to make a country that has voted en masse for a nationalist party not leave the union. [Continue reading…]

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The biggest and most embarrassing failure British polling organizations have ever had

John Lanchester writes: Hands up if you saw that one coming. I confess that I didn’t. The first line of the BBC announcement, ‘Conservatives largest party’, was no shock. Then there was a pause a few seconds long, and the projection of 316 Tory seats came up. I nearly fell off my chair. From that point on, the surprises only got bigger.

Why was it so surprising, though? If you’d asked me six weeks ago what was going to happen, I’d have said, a little reluctantly, that the likeliest outcome was a Tory minority government. From that point to an outright majority is a step, but not a gigantic one. If I’d been granted a glimpse ahead to the result, I’d have said the Tories did better and Labour worse than expected, but not amazingly, bizarrely, unforeseeably so. The thing which turned this into such a blindsiding shock was the fact that the election campaign was so flat and eventless. For six weeks, nothing happened. The numbers refused to move. Then everything happened at once. The talk in politics these days is all about ‘narrative’ and ‘momentum’, but there was almost no sign of that in this election. There was little evidence that the electorate were paying any attention. The Tory campaign worked spectacularly, but did so in a new and peculiar way: it was like a pill that the patient refuses to swallow, and holds off swallowing, and then downs all at once.

First-past-the-post is not especially fair, but it is supposed to deliver clear outcomes. In 2010, it didn’t. This time, against all expectations, it did. Lots more detail will come in over the next weeks as the data are analysed and the political scientists do their thing, but for me, a couple of things really stand out. If Labour had retained all of their 41 Scottish seats, the Tories would still be the majority government. So that must mean Labour got creamed in England, yes? Actually, no. Labour’s share of the vote in England went up by 3.6 per cent. That’s more than the Tories: their share of the English vote only went up by 1.4 per cent. Labour could even claim that they won the English campaign, in the same sense that the British army could claim it won the Charge of the Light Brigade. [Continue reading…]

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Britain’s disproportionate representation

Much else can be said about yesterday’s elections in the UK, but these numbers are striking:

1,454,436 votes for the Scottish National Party (SNP) resulting in the election of 56 Members of Parliament;

1,139,682 votes for the Green Party of England and Wales resulting in the election of 1 Member of Parliament.

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George Galloway loses his seat in Bradford West to Labour’s Naz Shah

News Statesman reports: George Galloway, the Respect party’s only MP, has lost his seat in Bradford West. He was trounced by Labour candidate Naz Shah, selected for the seat after the original candidate, Amina Ali, stood down after four days. Shah won by a majority of over 11,000, more than doubling Galloway’s result and bettering his majority in the constituency’s 2012 by-election.

Shah gained notoriety early in the campaign for an open letter explaining her motivations for standing. Shah’s mother was a victim of domestic violence who was imprisoned for murder after killing her husband, and in the letter the Labour candidate explained that her selection was “not really about me, it’s the dream of my mother”.

Shah also wrote about her own forecd marriage at age 15, which Galloway then called into question during his campaign. As Aisha Gill explained in a piece for us earlier this week:

Despite George Galloway’s success in courting female Muslim voters in Bradford in the 2012 election, he has failed to grasp the context and complexities of forced marriage, and has proven insensitive to Shah’s own history of abuse….

In many ways, the stories of Naz and Zoora Shah are reflected in the experiences of Muslim women in Britain, especially in terms of domestic violence and castigation of the victim rather than the perpetrator. I hope that the people of Bradford, including the women, will challenge the patriarchal structures deeply embedded in Bradford West and come out in droves to vote on 7 May.

Galloway is also accused of tweeting out his party’s exit poll before voting ended yesterday, which is against electoral laws, and was reported to police by Bradford Council’s returning officer. West Yorkshire Police is reviewing the incident.

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The EU’s de facto policy is to let migrants drown to stop others coming

Anders Lustgarten writes: In the desert, the smugglers lace their water with petrol so the smuggled won’t gulp it down and cost more. Sometimes the trucks they’re packed into stall crossing the Sahara; they have to jump out to push, and some are left behind when the trucks drive off again. In transit camps in Libya before the perilous venture across the Blue Desert, they play football, fight, and pool their scanty resources so an even poorer friend can pay his way. One man says his tiny wooden boat was flanked by dolphins as they made the journey, three on each side, like guardian angels, and this was what gave him hope.

These are the people we are allowing to die in the Mediterranean. The EU’s de facto policy is to let migrants drown to stop others coming. Last year nearly four thousand bodies were recovered from the Med. Those are just the ones we found. The total number of arrivals in Italy in 2014 went up over 300% from the year before, to more than 170,000. And the EU’s response, driven by the cruellest British government in living memory, was to cut the main rescue operation, Mare Nostrum.

The inevitable result is that 500 people have already died this year. The figure for the equivalent period in 2014 was 15. There are half a million people in Libya waiting to make the crossing. How many more deaths can we stomach?

Migration illustrates one of the signal features of modern life, which is malice by proxy. Like drones and derivatives, migration policy allows the powerful to inflict horrors on the powerless without getting their hands dirty. [Continue reading…]

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Jihad: How British Muslims have been drawn to Syria

Mary Anne Weaver writes: He was a dreamer, with Che Guevara looks — a jet-black beard and eyes — who built a new persona online, as a Muslim warrior riding into battle in the back of an open-bed truck, dressed in black, his long hair blowing in the breeze, with an AK-47 hanging from his shoulder, strapped to his back. He had just turned 22 — the product of British private schools, a computer aficionado working in customer service at Sky News — when he decided to turn his dream into reality.

In May 2013, Ifthekar Jaman left his comfortable home in Portsmouth, England, explaining to his parents, who emigrated years earlier from Bangladesh, that he wanted to learn Arabic in the Middle East. Instead, he booked a one-way ticket to Turkey. The next time his parents, Enu and Hena, heard from him, he had crossed the Turkish border into Syria and joined the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham — also known as ISIS or ISIL — the most brutal, and now the most powerful, of a dozen or so militant Sunni Islamist groups arrayed against President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and his equally brutal Alawite government.

Ifthekar was part of the first wave of foreign fighters, whose motives were primarily humanitarian. Everyone — not just Muslims — was outraged by the atrocities of the Assad regime. Both the U.S. and the British governments were calling for Assad to step down. So were France, and Turkey, and a number of nations in the Middle East.

The foreign fighters were arriving by the hundreds to join one of the various rebel groups challenging Assad’s military-backed dictatorship. Many were as naïve and inexperienced as Ifthekar was. Some recruits were fervent believers; others showed scant knowledge of Islam. Ifthekar was pious, though not doctrinaire. He embraced his Bengali traditions, but he appeared well integrated into British life and was popular among his classmates and his non-Muslim friends. As a boy, he spent hours immersed in the tales of “Harry Potter” and “The Lord of the Rings.” As a teenager, he played the guitar and was a member of the Portsmouth Dawah Team, which, on weekends, distributed free copies of the Quran. He had a cat, Bilai, that he adored and that, on occasion, would follow him to dawn prayers at the Portsmouth Jami mosque.

Dressed, as he’d planned, all in black, a long, Salafist beard framing his face, a black prayer cap on his head, Ifthekar set out for Syria alone — there were no established routes or support networks then, as there are now — following the dusty road from the Turkish border town Reyhanli to the Bab al-Hawa crossing into Syria. He was intent on joining Jabhat al-Nusra, Al Qaeda’s Syrian branch, which was the pre-eminent Islamist group in the early stages of the anti-Assad campaign. The only problem was, he didn’t know how.

A chance encounter with a bearded man would provide the key: As he boarded a bus near the Turkish border, Ifthekar, still lacking any plan, quickly scanned the faces of his companions. “Turkey is a pretty secular country,” he would later explain, “and I only spotted one man with a beard.” Ifthekar approached the man and, as the bus careered down the road, offered him a small bottle of attar, an alcohol-free musk oil popular with Muslims. The two began to talk. The bearded man, a Syrian from Aleppo, asked Ifthekar if he was en route to Syria to do jihad. Ifthekar responded that he was. When the bus stopped on the other side of the border, the bearded man drove him, in his waiting car, to the recruitment office of Jabhat — also known as the Nusra Front.

Ifthekar was devastated when the group turned him down. He didn’t have the required letters of recommendation.

“I got teary,” he later recalled. “This is what I’d come for!” He pleaded with the Tunisian jihadist manning the recruitment desk, even offering to be held prisoner by the Nusra Front while it did a background check on him. It was all to no avail. Finally the Tunisian offered to help him join another Islamist group, Ahrar al-Sham. Ifthekar refused. He knew that Ahrar permitted smoking, of which he most strenuously disapproved.

And so it was that Ifthekar, after being vetted for a fortnight by the group, joined ISIS.

His major complaint — which echoed the complaints of many of the foreigners who had come to these battlefields — was that of boredom. Weeks turned into months, and he and many of his fellow fighters had yet to wage jihad. Many manned roadblocks or checkpoints; others performed menial tasks. Ifthekar, whose father owned a takeout restaurant, had traveled to Syria, at considerable risk, to be drafted as a chef.

Then, in December 2013, seven months after he arrived, Ifthekar was finally sent into battle in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor.

He was killed almost immediately. [Continue reading…]

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Senior Muslim lawyer says British teenagers see ISIS as ‘pop idols’

The Guardian reports: Hundreds of British teenagers are in danger of being radicalised by Islamic State (Isis) because they see the terrorists as “pop idols”, the country’s leading Muslim prosecutor has said.

Nazir Afzal believes that recent departures to Syria show that “many more children” are at risk of what he terms “jihadimania” than was previously thought.

“The boys want to be like them and the girls want to be with them,” he said. “That’s what they used to say about the Beatles and more recently One Direction and Justin Bieber. The propaganda the terrorists put out is akin to marketing, and too many of our teenagers are falling for the image.

“They see their own lives as poor by comparison, and don’t realise they are being used. The extremists treat them in a similar way to sexual groomers – they manipulate them, distance them from their friends and families, and then take them.” [Continue reading…]

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How MI5 collaborated with the Nazis

Frances Stonor Saunders writes: On 25 January 1933, the 16-year-old Eric Hobsbawm marched with thousands of comrades through central Berlin to the headquarters of the German Communist Party (KPD). When they arrived at Karl Liebknecht Haus, on the Bülowplatz, the temperature was –18°C. They shuffled and waited in the bone-numbing cold for four hours to hear the podium speeches of the party cadres. As Hobsbawm would recall much later, there was singing – ‘The Internationale’, peasant war songs, the ‘Soviet Airmen’s Song’ – with intervals of heavy silence. The red flags and banners could not dispel the greyness – of the shadowy buildings, the sky, the crowd – or the realisation that ‘the inevitability of world revolution’ had been postponed, that what faced the beleaguered movement in the short term was a reckoning: ‘danger, capture, resistance to interrogation, defiance in defeat’.​ Not the New Jerusalem, then, but a new circle of hell.

Five days later, on 30 January, Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany. On 24 February, the police, augmented by the newly enrolled ‘auxiliary police’ of stormtroopers grouped under such edifying names as the Robbers and the Pimp’s Brigade, raided Karl Liebknecht Haus. In anticipation of this, the KPD had been exfiltrating its records to private addresses. Its top officials were working out of anonymous premises scattered round the city, and secret post offices had been installed in a piano store and a coal business. But Hermann Göring, minister of the interior, was on to them – ‘My mission is only to destroy and exterminate, nothing more!’ – and few escaped the truckloads of SA and SS who roared through the streets and snatched them, one by one, from their hideouts. They were taken to improvised prisons, beaten up, tortured and killed.

The KPD chairman, Ernst Thälmann, was arrested on 3 March, and later managed to smuggle out details of his treatment:

They ordered me to take off my pants and then two men grabbed me by the back of the neck and placed me across a footstool. A uniformed [political police] officer with a whip of hippopotamus hide in his hand then beat my buttocks with measured strokes. Driven wild with pain I repeatedly screamed at the top of my voice. Then they held my mouth shut for a while and hit me in the face, and with a whip across chest and back. I then collapsed.​

‘Arrests upon arrests,’ Joseph Goebbels noted with satisfaction. ‘Now the Red pest is being thoroughly rooted out.’ By April, 25,000 communists were in ‘protective custody’. Dachau, the first official concentration camp, was set up to hold them.

Hobsbawm, whose parents had died within two years of each other, was living with his aunt in the Halensee district. He was not a member of the KPD, but of its dependency the Sozialistischer Schülerbund (Socialist Students Federation), specifically designed for secondary-school students. What now remained of its small, west Berlin cell contrived to hide its duplicating apparatus in the Halensee flat. ‘The comrades concluded that, since I was a British subject, I would be less at risk; or perhaps that the police would be less likely to raid our flat,’ Hobsbawm later wrote. He kept the rudimentary printing press under his bed for several weeks until someone came to take it away, presumably to put it to work for the printing of election leaflets.

Incredibly, given the efficiency of Göring’s ‘iron fist’ in smashing up the KPD, there was still rump enough to organise a campaign for the general election of 5 March (on his first day in office, Hitler had manipulated Hindenberg into dissolving the Reichstag). Participation in this campaign was little short of suicidal, but Hobsbawm embarked on this, his ‘first piece of genuinely political work’, protected by the fantasy that it was like ‘playing in the Wild West’: ‘We would go into the apartment buildings and, starting on the top floor, push the leaflets into each flat until we came out of the front door, panting with the effort and looking for signs of danger.’ In his diary, he confessed to ‘a light, dry feeling of contraction, as when you stand before a man ready to punch you, waiting for the blow.’ The KPD polled 13 per cent of the vote, and was promptly proscribed by Hitler’s ascendant party. Less than a month after this, in early April, an uncle arrived in Berlin to remove Hobsbawm to the safety of London, where his paternal grandfather had settled in the 1870s.

The week Hobsbawm left Berlin, Guy Liddell, MI5’s German-speaking deputy head of counter-espionage, arrived from London. The fearful symmetry in this – history throwing us a stray bone of coincidence – will become clear. [Continue reading…]

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Britain’s surveillance state

An editorial in the New York Times says: Edward Snowden exposed the extent of mass surveillance conducted not just by the United States but also by allies like Britain. Now, a committee of the British Parliament has proposed legal reforms to Britain’s intelligence agencies that are mostly cosmetic and would do little to protect individual privacy.

In a report published on March 12, the Intelligence and Security Committee acknowledged that agencies like MI5 collect, sift through and examine millions of communications. Most of this is legal, the committee said, and justified by national security. It proposed a new law that would tell people more about the kind of information the government collects about them but would not meaningfully limit mass surveillance. That is hardly sufficient for a system that needs strong new checks and balances.

Separately, a legal filing by the British government made public on Wednesday showed that its intelligence agencies maintain the right to hack into the computers, phones and other devices owned not just by suspected terrorists and criminals but also people who “are not intelligence targets in their own right.” The filing was published by Privacy International, one of several advocacy groups that have challenged government surveillance in court. [Continue reading…]

Infographic: The Countries Importing The Most Drones | Statista
You will find more statistics at Statista

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Nine British medics enter ISIS stronghold to work in hospitals

The Observer reports: Nine young British medical students have travelled illegally to Syria and are believed to be working in hospitals in Islamic State-controlled areas, the Observer can reveal. Their families were mounting a desperate effort on Saturday at the Turkish-Syrian border to persuade them to come home.

The group of four women and five men crossed the border last week, apparently keeping their plans secret from relatives until just before entering Syria, when one woman sent her sister a brief message and a smiling selfie.

“We all assume that they are in Tel Abyad now, which is under Isis control. The conflict out there is fierce, so medical help must be needed,” Turkish opposition politician Mehmet Ali Ediboglu told the Observer, shortly after meeting the families.

“They have been cheated, brainwashed. That is what I, and their relatives, think.”

Both he and the students’ parents were convinced that the young medics wanted to work with Isis, Ediboglu said, but they were also certain that the group did not plan to take up arms. “Let’s not forget about the fact that they are doctors; they went there to help, not to fight. So this case is a little bit different.”

The Home Office said that the medics would not automatically face prosecution under anti-terror laws if they tried to return to the UK, as long as they could prove they had not been fighting. [Continue reading…]

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UK energy minister backs divestment from ‘very risky’ coal assets

The Guardian reports: Pension and insurance funds should consider urgent divestment from “very risky” coal assets and then gradually retreat from oil and gas, Ed Davey, the UK energy and climate change secretary, has warned.

Throwing his weight behind the Guardian’s “Keep it in the ground” campaign, he said an analysis by the Carbon Tracker Initiative (CTI) which suggested 82% of coal reserves must remain untouched if temperature increases are to be kept below 2C – the widely accepted threshold for dangerous climate change – was “realistic”.

Davey said it was not up to an energy minister to tell fund managers how to run their businesses, but added that it was vital to introduce regulatory transparency that would drive investors from fossil fuels to renewables. [Continue reading…]

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