When Tony Blair announces a war against terrorism he does so from the centre of a city that has long been a haven for terroristsby Nigel West / November 20, 2001 / Leave a comment
For more than a century London has been a safe haven for political activists seeking to overthrow the regimes in power in their home countries. Revolutionaries have gravitated to Britain, and London in particular, because it offers a lax legal framework and easily assimilates foreigners. Some of these groups have been welcomed as democrats or liberators: most of them are now an embarrassment for a government that is helping to lead the global campaign against terror.
Not only do many organisations operate with impunity, but some of them receive official protection. One of the tasks of the Special Branch is not only to monitor the activities of potentially dangerous militants, but also to offer protection to the staff of groups that have received threats or are considered to be potential targets of attack. Thus the PLO representative in London has always been accompanied by an armed personal protection officer from the Metropolitan Police Special Branch.
In comparison to the police forces of other European countries, the 43 uncoordinated forces in England possess very limited powers. Moreover, public and commercial life is far less bureaucratic and legalistic than in most of continental Europe. People can drive cars without any photo identity cards; property can be purchased by nominees, third parties, partnerships and limited companies; bank accounts can be opened with the minimum of formalities and fund-raising is almost completely unregulated; publications are uncontrolled and customs checks at frontiers are minimal.
The police only adopt a more active role when there is evidence of a crime being, or about to be, committed. Provided organisations do not bring their turf wars into Britain the police are obliged to remain at a discreet distance. Even when Omar Bakhri, the self-styled Muslim imam of Hendon, defended an attack on a school bus in Haifa, he could not be charged for incitement to murder. He was free to continue recruiting volunteers for “active service” in Yemen, thus ensuring that his activities never compromised his status as a refugee in receipt of state benefits. The accommodating approach taken to handling such activists, who often have little support among their own ?migr? communities, does have one advantage. It seems to have played a part in keeping London free of foreign battles. London has had no middle east-inspired incidents since a car bomb detonated outside the Israeli embassy in Kensington in July 1994.
The Security Service is responsible…