Anti-terrorism police target 'extremist' internet files

By Sanjiv Buttoo
BBC Asian Network

  • Published
Terrorism graphic

In December 2007 Rizwan Ditta from Halifax in West Yorkshire was jailed for four years after he pleaded guilty to charges under two sections of the Terrorism Act 2000.

The evidence the police had found was kept on a computer hard drive in a wardrobe in his bedroom, including within it a video on how to make a bomb vest.

Speaking to the BBC in 2010, however, Mr Ditta claimed that he thought they were videos that many other people may have also viewed, without being arrested or sent to jail.

"The file content, a lot of it was American or British tanks being blown up in Afghanistan or Iraq and that kind of thing, and I've seen other people with this type of content on their PCs.

Rizwan believes the climate was different then and that the level of scrutiny was more intense than it is now, and that the police were arresting and charging people who would not face any similar prosecution today.

"I felt I did absolutely nothing wrong to deserve four years in jail."

Grey area

Two years ago the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) set up a nationwide trial project, the Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit (CTIU), which was tasked with shutting down or removing extremist content from the web.

The unit, run by the Metropolitan Police, has received over 2,000 referrals since it officially began its work 18 months ago.

The CTIU is headed by Supt Jayne Snelgrove.

"We are looking to take down material that is likely to radicalise or be used by a terrorist."

Supt Snelgrove says that if a domain is hosted in the UK they can act quickly with service providers to take it down or remove the offending content.

"We are looking at (UK) anti-terror legislation where sites may be either encouraging people to participate in acts of terrorism or help facilitate acts of terrorism."

Image caption,
Mr Ditta said a distrust of the police prevented some young people reporting suspicious content

There is a grey area for users of the internet as to when someone is classed as having simply looked at a site or when they are actually breaking the law.

Supt Snelgrove says it is a subjective assessment, but there are some basic guidelines to consider.

"If people are surfing the net and they come across material that might be encouraging terrorism or it might be even how to make a bomb, we hope they would refer that content to us, but just by looking at this means there's no offence."

"It's when individuals start to actively participate, so it could be by them putting the material onto the internet themselves or they take that material and email it to their friends, or they put a comment onto say a forum and endorse what's been said, that's when we would start to get worried."

Anonymous referrals

The unit wants to encourage more people to consider referring questionable content to them anonymously through the government's DirectGov website.

Steve Henderson is the CTIU's operations manager.

"We don't control anything around the captures or around the data. All we want is the actual website address and the details of the unlawful material. We have no interest whatsoever in the individuals who have sent the links through to us."

Mr Ditta does not think that young Muslims will come forward and report content they may think is suspicious, because they do not trust the police.

"Until the government change their attitudes and approach towards Muslims in the UK, the security forces are not going to be able to change anything," he said.

Potential evidence

Arshad Patel, the brother-in-law of the London bombing ringleader, Mohammed Siddique Khan, was questioned by the police after the 7 July 2005 attacks. Computers, cameras and a satnav were removed from his home as part of the investigation.

Mr Patel was released without charge, but says that many items were retained by the police for further scrutiny.

"They've had my stuff for six years now since we were raided and we're baffled, they've just returned a laptop but my camera is still with them. Does it take them longer to process a small camera over a computer?"

Supt Snelgrove explains that items taken during anti-terror raids are checked thoroughly, as the public would expect them to do.

"The memory held on the hard drive of a PC or in a mobile phone has to be carefully extracted and analysed and this can take time.

"They may contain information or references which all have to be checked and cross checked. It's not an easy task and we have teams of specialist technicians who work in different regions in the UK who carry out these duties.

"After these items have undergone this exacting process we may have to keep them for years as they could be used in criminal court cases, and therefore they have to be treated like any other piece of evidence.

"Once we've finished with them they are returned to their owners. We're sorry for the inconvenience, but it's a matter of safety."

You can hear more on this story onAsian Network Reportson theBBC Asian Network.

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