Terror review: Trend towards 'less-organised plots'

David Anderson QC "Smaller and less organised plot is more difficult to detect"

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The terror threat facing the UK is now "more complicated" with the emergence of smaller and less-organised plots, the UK's reviewer of terror laws says.

David Anderson QC, whose annual report was published on Wednesday, said "we are not seeing the big spectaculars" of 9/11 or the 2006 airline liquid bomb plot.

But "lone actors" and "low-tech" plots were more difficult to detect, he said.

The threat resembled the situation in Northern Ireland - small-scale plots on national security targets, he added.

'Substantial' threat

Mr Anderson, who is a senior lawyer and independent of government, told the BBC the UK was not "out of the woods" with regards to large-scale threats. But he said there had been nothing comparable since the London attacks in July 2005.

"It was really a wake-up call in terms of intelligence - and intelligence has improved hugely since that time," he said.

"We have much better coverage of the threat than we once did and a consequence of that is that right through from 7/7 in 2005 up until May of this year, there was not been a single death in Great Britain as a result of terrorism."

Mr Anderson said the current threat level in Britain was "substantial" - meaning there was a strong possibility of an attack - and "severe" in Northern Ireland.

"What we are seeing is a trend towards lone actors - the couple in Manchester last year who went around looking for Jewish people to attack - and we're also seeing self-organised plots," he said.

"You've got things like the Birmingham rucksack bomb plot, you've got the people who are planning attacks on Territorial Army barracks in Luton, on Wootton Bassett and that sort of thing.

"But I wouldn't want you to think it's all getting lower tech. One interesting thing about all three of those plots is that the ring leaders had either trained in Pakistan or had been to Pakistan and had contact with al-Qaeda."

He also denied that the European Court of Human Rights, which has been criticised for some its controversial rulings in terror cases, was thwarting the UK's approach to terrorism.

"If you look at what the European Court actually says in terrorism cases it is good news because it has modified the more rigorous and objectionable aspects of our laws without decreasing our safety in any way," he said.

Report concerns

In his annual report, the watchdog said the coalition government's reforms of counter-terrorism laws had been essentially positive.

But he said he remained concerned about widely drawn powers that allowed police to stop people at ports and copy data from their mobile phones without suspicion of wrong-doing.

He also said police should be allowed to bail terror suspects who were not a threat to public safety, such as people who had been arrested because they may have withheld information about the plots of others, and that ministers should change the way they banned organisations, ensuring the power was only used against those with a link to terrorism who posed a threat.

Mr Anderson said there also needed to be a fresh debate about the complicated legal definition of terrorism, which, arguably, currently includes people who have taken up arms against tyrants and dictators.

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