English city pledges new approach to tackle extremism

Manchester mayor says cities scarred by terror cannot rely on security agencies alone

TOPSHOT - A pedestrian walks past a sign of support for Manchester set up in the wake of the Manchester Arena bombing in central Manchester on May 22, 2018, the one year anniversary of the deadly attack. Prime Minister Theresa May and Prince William will on May 22, 2018 join families of the victims of the Manchester Arena bombing at a commemoration ceremony in the city on the first anniversary of the tragedy. They will attend the service at Manchester Cathedral alongside first responders, civic leaders and some of the scores injured in the suicide attack on May 22 last year, which killed 22 people. Salman Abedi, a British man of Libyan heritage, blew himself up outside the venue, which had been hosting a concert by teen pop idol Ariana Grande.
 / AFP / Paul ELLIS
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An initiative launched in Manchester could result in British cities embracing a form of citizen-based anti-radicalisation reporting that acknowledges the security services and police are unable to monitor all terrorist threats.

Andy Burnham, the mayor, said his city would pilot a new “whole society” approach to gathering and handling information about suspected violent extremists.

The scheme emerged from a report that examined ways to tackle radicalisation and social exclusion following the suicide bomb attack by Salman Abedi on a concert venue in the city in May 2017. The Manchester Arena attack left 22 people dead and hundreds more wounded. Abedi, a Manchester resident, was identified as being a security risk but was not under investigation by officials at the time of the attack.

“If it was ever the case that the police and security services might be able to monitor every person who poses a risk to us, then it is certainly not possible now,” said Mr Burnham, who was a minister in former prime minister Gordon Brown's government.

“To take a whole-society approach to this means that there is an obligation upon us all to report behaviour which goes beyond the norms of acceptability.”

The report, researched by a panel including a senior prosecutor and a former right-wing extremist, found the majority of people were happy reporting ‘hate crimes’ but were less keen to tell agencies about worrying changes in behaviour among families and friends.

“We need to develop new ways for people to have difficult conversations about friends or family about whom they are worried,” said Mr Burnham.

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The report highlighted concerns among Manchester’s Asian residents about the government’s flagship anti-radicalisation programme, Prevent, which has been seen by sections of the community as unfairly targeting Muslims.

The report said that a lack of information about the programme was “exploited by those with an anti-Prevent or anti-Islam agenda” and had led to a fear of persecution among Muslim communities.

Hate crime targeting Muslims increased 500 per cent in Manchester after the 2017 attack, the report found. Other monitoring reports said those targeted included Muslim doctors and citizens travelling to hospitals to give blood in its aftermath. A survey carried out by the panel found that 65 per cent of respondents had been victims of “hateful behaviour”.

An intelligence review of four attacks on the UK in 2017 found that three of the six attackers were on the radar of MI5, the domestic security service. The review found that it was “conceivable” that the Manchester attack could have been averted “had the cards fallen differently”.

Although Abedi was not being actively reviewed, a case conference into his case was due to take place nine days after the attack on Manchester Arena.

Abedi, born in Britain of Libyan parents, filled a rucksack with metal and blew himself up in the foyer of the venue as families filed out of a concert by American pop star Ariana Grande. His younger brother Hashem remains detained in Libya while the UK seeks his extradition to face trial for his alleged role in the attacks.

“It is hoped that, should this work be introduced, it may prevent future acts of terrorism,” the report said.