December 4, 2020

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21-Feb-17: Planning a trip got these British children arrested
No need to get overly concerned: it’s just a
“drama/documentary” [Image Source]

Today is another of those fleeting moments when a Western country is again presented with evidence of something deeply malevolent festering in its midst.

Is this news going to get serious attention? Will it be reported in vague terms that carefully step around salient aspects? Will reasonable consumers of current events reporting come away with an actionable sense of a process underway that is gathering momentum?

From a variety of British sources, it emerges that police in the UK yesterday made a cluster of arrests of children on what sound like serious charges. In summary:

  • Five teenagers were arrested by Met Police in London on Monday. 
  • The suspicion is they were planning a trip to join a banned terror group” [Daily Mail]. Their ages range from 15 to 19. All are males.
  • Prior to the Monday arrests, police had carried out raids at four different homes on January 14, 2017. It’s said that the raids were the prelude to yesterday’s arrests.
  • The police doing the arresting are all from the (London) Metropolitan Police Service Counter Terrorism Command. Internally, it’s known as SO15 and defined on the London Metropolitan police website in these not-so-very-clear terms: “The Operations Strand comprises of those units who directly deliver disruptions through both proactive and reactive operations, as well as direct engagements with communities and partners. The strand comprises of five sections: Investigations, Specialist Investigations, Local Operations, Ports and International Operations.”
  • It was formed in October 2006 with the merger of two predecessor units; the Anti-Terrorist Branch (SO13) and Special Branch (SO12) [source].
  • Quote: “Scotland Yard did not elaborate on which organisation the teenagers were attempting to join…” Naturally, the news reports we saw don’t engage in idle speculation. 
  • Those arrested are a 17-year-old male living in south London; a 16-year-old male living in a different south London location; a 17-year-old male living in west London; a 19-year-old male also living in west London but at a different address; and a 15-year-old male arrested in east London at a residence that, from the context, appears not to have been searched last month but which was searched yesterday. Another home, this one in Lambeth (a neighbourhood right in the middle of London) was also searched on Monday “in connection with the investigation“.
  • The five arrested individuals are said early this morning to have been detained under TACT, the name commonly given to the United Kingdom’s Terrorism Act 2000. All five were being held as of a few hours ago in “a central London police station pending further enquiries” into their alleged “plans to travel to join a proscribed organisation“. 

The BBC, which notoriously steps gingerly around the word “terror” in its news reports – unless it can quote someone authoritative using the word and then puts it between quotation marks – has a brief report on these events. Surprisingly, the current version of that BBC report [“London terror arrests: Metropolitan Police hold five teenagers”, BBC, February 20, 2017] uses the actual word terror in the headline. But don’t be surprised if that later gets removed by BBC editors (and note that we have it archived here just in case). It opens with this line:

“Five teenagers have been arrested in London on suspicion of the preparation of terrorist acts, the Metropolitan Police said.”

Another British news source which knows the facts at least as well as we do, including the ages of those arrested, describes the people arrested as “men”:

Five teenagers have been arrested on suspicion of terror offences in London. The five men, all aged under 20, were arrested on Monday on suspicion of the preparation of terrorist acts, the Metropolitan Police said… [Telegraph UK, February 20, 2017]

But at least four of them are not men. The average age of the five is 16.8. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child calls anyone under the age of 18 a child. And child offenders in the vague and ill-defined field in which the British arrestees allegedly engaged is not a British-only phenomenon as we tweeted a few days ago [here] in the wake of the arrest of a sixteen year-old girl in France.

How interesting it would be if we could find a common element, some shared belief or affiliation that ties her actions with the London Five? Come to that, what do the five Londoners have in common with each other, beyond being boys and residing in the British capital? Maybe something, maybe nothing, maybe a lust for travel. It’s hard to know from the reports.

Still, here’s a little context: according to a British news report from early this morning quoting a UK government source:

there were 255 terrorism-related arrests in Britain for the year ending 31 March 2016. The only age group to see a rise in the number of arrests was under-18-year-olds… 

So what might it mean for the UK if certain undefined groups of under 18s show an interest in the kind of travel that gets them arrested? Well, not being British, we wouldn’t know. But we can’t help noticing this report of a BBC television production that is going to be aired early next month:

The Attack: Terror in the UK | This World
With a mass-casualty terror attack in the UK seen as almost inevitable, this drama documentary dramatises what terrorism experts fear is the most likely scenario for Britain’s next major terror attack. Counterterrorism police believe that the greatest threat to our security comes from Marauding Terrorist Firearms Attack (MTFA), which can result in dozens of fatalities even if armed police respond within minutes. There are more than a thousand high-priority terrorism suspects in the UK, but there are only enough surveillance officers to monitor a fraction of these at any time. Based on extensive research, The Attack: Terror in the UK tells the story of an Islamic State-inspired terrorist group planning a firearms attack and follows the ongoing police investigation. It focuses on Joseph, a young man who, while in prison for drug and firearms charges, is recruited, converted and radicalised by Islamic extremists – highlighting the fear that links are being forged between Jihadists and street gangs with access to automatic weapons.

It’s scheduled to be screened on BBC Two television on Thursday March 2, 2017 at 9:00 pm, UK time. We hope there’s an opportunity to view it from outside the UK. Could be interesting, not least because it got the BBC to speak the word “terror” without hanging it around some other person’s neck. And as today’s news shows, it’s surely timely.

Though on reflection, wouldn’t it be better for the Brits if the BBC – masters of selectively-opaque reporting, circumlocution and wrong-headed political “correctness” – were take this kind of robust approach in its news content and not only in its docu-dramas?

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