Media reports on the Manchester and London Bridge attacks left no one in doubt about the serious intent of terrorists. Ironically, the very prominence of the news coverage provides the terrorists with one of their stated aims, which is to undermine normal life and society.
The security and police responses have been equally determined to review, when or wherever possible, any gaps affecting the safety of the public, while the public in my experience still asks how and why the terrorists succeed despite all the efforts of the authorities to stop them.
First and foremost, it has to be stressed there are many attempted acts throughout the country which are foiled and therefore do not come to the public’s attention.
Secondly and most fundamental, the frequency of terrorist acts depends to a large extent on planning outside this country. The complex structure of funding enables the various groups to access monies from appeals purporting to alleviate hardships in the Middle East, with the cash often diverted to terrorist groups.
Now a report by King’s College London reveals Islamic State had a budget of $1.7 billion in 2015 yet only $60 million of terrorist assets were frozen.
The report says the “long checklist that has to be enforced by banks in the case of a suspicious transaction, the complex tracking of funds, the creation of special task forces: all this has cost billions but has failed to deter jihadists from mounting spectacular assaults”.
As Roger Boyes writes in The Times: “The fact is that terrorist funds rarely make it into conventional banking. Money is often passed through informal networks such as the hawala system in the Muslim world; it leaves no paper trail and does not require formal ID checks.”
Western governments need a much more robust examination procedure than so far. The King’s report is a useful wake-up call.
Concern with the financing of terrorist groups does not mean we should relax ways to confront them on the ground. Among several government initiatives is the use of a legal armoury. Here, the temporary exclusion order (TEO) is well regarded as a worthwhile tool, though the Opposition is often reluctant for political reasons to use it.
The TEO has much to commend it when trying to confront those young men and women returning from Syria and North Africa. There are also the terrorism and investigation measures ( TPIMS) which put in place travel bans and periodic police checks. The Prevent campaign, established after 9/11, has been greatly expanded to identify those youngsters more likely to drift towards extremism.
In the midst of gloom and despair at the loss of innocent life, the public gets a lift when learning of the many heroes who selflessly come forward. Remember police officers such as Wayne Marques who at the London Bridge attack was stabbed in the head, leg and hand yet charged and fought with three terrorists in order to save members of the public under threat.
There is no magic formula to beat terrorism, but a combination of exclusion orders, public vigilance and, above all, government action to analyse the financial overlap between the criminal world and terrorist organisations can work to grind down this modern-day plague.