In the wake of the July 7 and July 21, 2005, attacks on the London Underground, British authorities have developed a new model for counter-terrorism, which aside from expanding the list of criminal offenses tied to terrorism and enhancing police powers, also emphasizes community-policing principles and partnerships with Muslim groups.

British security officials have announced their conclusion that Britain is now al-Qaeda's "number one" target. Over 1,000 individuals have been arrested on terrorism charges since September 11, 2001, and about two hundred individuals currently await trial. Twenty-three have been convicted on terrorism charges. In November 2006, MI5's head, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, estimated that there were 30 major plots under way, and that an attack in the UK was "highly likely."

In the wake of the July 7 and July 21, 2005, attacks on the London Underground, British authorities have developed a new model for counter-terrorism, which aside from expanding the list of criminal offenses tied to terrorism and enhancing police powers, also emphasizes community-policing principles and partnerships with Muslim groups.

This USIPeace Briefing was written by Jytte Klausen, professor in the Department of Politics at Brandeis University, under the auspices of the Muslim World Initiative, part of the Institute's Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention. It does not represent the views of the Institute, which does not advocate specific policies.

Community-policing principles aim to facilitate information sharing, to build trust in cases of arrests and operations, and to mitigate the negative impact of enforcement on the Muslim community at large. The UK's security agencies focus their efforts on those British Muslims who belong to what Sir Ian Blair, the chief of the Metropolitan Police (the Met), has described as the "tacit circle of support": a June 2006 poll indicated that 16 percent of British Muslims considered the bombers' cause just, 13 percent said they should be considered "martyrs," and 6 percent believed that they were acting in accordance with the principles of Islam. Seven percent of Muslims thought that suicide attacks on British targets were justifiable, 16 percent if the military was the target.

The counter-terrorism strategy is based upon a consensus that socio-economic deprivation does not drive terrorist recruitment. Known conspirators have come from all backgrounds. Nonetheless, evidence that recruitment now has shifted to prisons and to youths involved in gangs or street-crime suggests that it is necessary to address persistent problems of inequality and discrimination affecting Muslims. Partnerships with mosque groups have been developed for the purpose of providing religious "re-education" to prison inmates and to young people deemed likely to hold extremist sympathies. Integration policy and national security are thus over-lapping objectives.

A Retrospective View on New Approaches to Counter-Terrorism

The Intelligence and Security Committee, a parliamentary oversight committee that reports to the prime minister, concluded in its investigation into the failure to prevent the July attacks that the police and the security agencies had failed to adjust sufficiently quickly to the growth of domestic terrorism:

We remain concerned that across the whole of the counter-terrorism community the development of the home-grown threat and the radicalization of British citizens were not fully understood or applied to strategic thinking.

In mid-August 2005, several ministers took a "listening tour" through towns and cities with large Muslim communities and the government launched a consultation with Muslim community representatives. A task force consisting of seven working groups and involving over one hundred Muslim community leaders was created to make recommendations for combating political extremism. In November 2005, it produced a report, Preventing Extremism Together, with sixty-four recommendations, ranging from proposals to improve relations between the police and Muslim communities to the creation of accreditation procedures for mosques. The initiative signaled a shift from counterintelligence to prevention. Ian Blair described the partnership approach as an effort to "separate the extremists from the faith." The government also announced a twelve-point program to amend anti-terrorism legislation to include "the glorification of terrorism" as a criminal offense and extend police powers to detain terrorism suspects from 14 to 28 days. The revised Terrorism Act passed in April 2006.

A July 2006 report, Countering International Terrorism: The United Kingdom's Strategy, stressed the need to counter domestic radicalization among British Muslims. "The principal current terrorist threat is from radicalized individuals who are using a distorted and unrepresentative version of the Islamic faith to justify violence," it states at the outset. "Such people are referred to in this paper as Islamist terrorists." Four buzz words, always capitalized in official documents, summarize the government's approach: PREVENT, PURSUE, PROTECT, and PREPARE. The core elements of prevention include addressing "structural problems," such as inequality and discrimination; changing "the environment" to deter radicalization; and "engaging in the battle of ideas." This is no endorsement of the "clash of civilizations" thesis that the problem is Islam itself. The preventive war of ideas is to be carried out "primarily by helping Muslims who wish to dispute these ideas to do so."

The Met has grown rapidly as the tasks have piled up. It is now up to 30,000 officers, which is as large as it has ever been. (There are 300 Muslims in the London Met, and 3,000 nationally.) Another 6,000 community officers are to be added. Action has not, however, been taken on many of the original recommendations made in the November 2005 report, and others have been much altered in application. Mosque oversight has been charged to a voluntary advisory board, MINAB (Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board), which was formed in June 2006. The new board was formed with the support of the all the main Muslim associations and a number of other smaller groups. John Reid, who replaced Clarke on May 5, 2006, has been less enthusiastic about the partnership approach to counter-terrorism, and he and other Labour ministers have criticized Muslim associations for being complacent about weeding out the extremists in their midst.

Principles of Community-Based Counter-Terrorism

A conference held at Wilton Park, in Sussex, England, in Spring 2006, brought together policymakers and community representatives to discuss community involvement in counter-terrorism. An official report is available at the conference center's website. (The author participated as an observer and the views expressed in this report are hers alone. Chatham House rules applied, which grant anonymity to the speakers.) The debate articulated widely differing expectations and understandings of the objectives of community-based approaches to counter-terrorism.

Community policing is a response to the "broken windows" thesis: namely, that most crime is the result of public disorder and best countered by a "tough love" approach, based upon a partnership between the police and community actors most affected by the crime. Advocates of community policing argue that improved community relations are essential for good police work and improved efficiency. "We listen and solve crime in the neighborhood. Terrorism is not so different," said a representative of the Met at the Wilton Park conference. "Terrorists live somewhere. They park their car and store their stuff somewhere. There are people who know about this. National security in the end will depend upon solving neighborhood crime." An integrated approach is required, he concluded, one that works with the Muslim community as "stakeholders." Improved relations between the police and the Muslim community are needed to enhance efficiency, to prevent radicalism, and to mitigate the damage done to families and communities when the police "get it wrong."

Muslim participants at the Wilton Park conference expressed strong concern about "fellow travelers" - terrorists' sympathizers in the community at large. These sympathizers are concentrated in London, Birmingham, Leeds, the Midlands, and Yorkshire. In the past, sympathizers with terrorism were primarily individuals who had recently arrived in Britain and wanted to continue the fight. In recent years, it is second- or third-generation British citizens who are reproducing the ideology. A significant minority are converts from non-Muslim background, who are selected, recruited, and taken away from their social circles at a very young age. One participant expert noted that the deliberate creation of a closed environment with strong international connections contributes to the cult-like environment of the network. The recruits form an isolated social group subjected to deviant internal ideas and values that come to be accepted as normal within the closed environment of the group.

Muslim representatives stressed the need to ameliorate the impact of strengthened counterterrorism enforcement on the Muslim community at large. Muslims are disproportionately impacted by terrorism and by counterterrorism policy because they live in inner cities, where attacks take place. They fear backlash when terrorism happens. And they fear counterterrorism operations and measures that may target them or their mosque. Complaints center in particular on "stop-and-search" procedures carried out under Section 44 of the 2000 Terrorism Act. The Muslim Council of Britain has described the procedures as "Islamophobic policing," and it has complained that they are damaging community relations and confidence in policing. The Section 44 search rules allow police officers to stop and search individuals suspected of carrying articles linked to terrorism. The procedures were created in the late 1990s to help the police tackle neighborhood crime, and were subsequently applied to terrorism prevention. The number of people stopped and searched under the anti-terror laws' emergency powers increased since the Act came into force in 2001, when 10,200 people were stopped. It rose to nearly 36,000 people in 2005. The arrest rates--the percentage of those stopped who are actually arrested--have remained steady for all ethnic groups, with a slight increase recorded for Asian arrest rate from 8.7 to 8.8 percent. The arrest rate for white persons is 10.5 percent and for black persons 11.7 percent. None of the arrests has so far resulted in terrorism charges being filed.

Several pilot programs are under development in collaboration between the Metropolitan Police and mosque groups. Individuals in prisons who are deemed at risk for involvement with extremist groups are identified prior to release and selected for remedial intervention. The mosque intervention group then attempts through intensive theological intervention to dissuade the individual from taking the path of radical Islam. In other cases, mosques assume responsibility for religious education in the prisons. The groups are humorously described as "theological fire brigades." The police liaison described the program's aim as fielding "good theology" against "bad theology."

A participant in the program explained that Salafists have successfully fought back violent extremism for centuries, and it is counter-productive to ignore the groups who have the most experience with the issue. He and his colleagues have "engaged in dialogue with the extremists and tried to change their minds for a long time." Among those they have spoken with are Richard Reid and Zacarias Moussaoui. He expressed regret that it had not been possible to change Reid's mind. Saajid Muhammad Badat, who is sometimes described as Richard Reid's "twin," because he too was planning to blow up an aircraft with a shoe-bomb, was apparently persuaded on religious grounds to abort his mission. Badat was sentenced in April 2005 to thirteen years in prison. How one might measure the efficacy of such theological intervention programs is not exactly clear, but growing evidence that radical recruitment in prisons is a serious issue suggests that there will need to be more such programs.


Community-based counterterrorism aims to prevent alienation stemming from strengthened enforcement in the Muslim community. It is a method fraught with political risks. Government agencies worry about "entrapment" and the political consequences of embracing Muslims as "partners." Muslim groups have the same worry about authorities. The police have been put in the unenviable position of having to pick partners among competing Muslim community groups. Working with one group often excludes working with another. An official from the Met addressed this problem at the Wilton Park conference by way of explaining that the police had decided on a "small chip" over a "blue chip" strategy, implying that the police would eschew working with the national associations clamoring for exclusive representation rights for British Muslims. The decision is reflected in complaints from Muhammad Abdul Bari, Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain, that his organization is being sidelined. The government is trying to divide the Muslim community, he has said repeatedly.

The partnership approach raises questions about the definition of what constitutes a "moderate" Muslim. The term "moderate" is used indiscriminately by government agencies justifying their "partnering" with this or that group, and also by Muslim groups eager to distance themselves from "extremists." Secular or "modernist" Muslims complain that the government is siding with the Salafists and the conservatives. The Church of England has complained that the government is showing "favoritism to Muslims," and complains that tax money is being used to promote Islam.

It is widely agreed that successful prosecutions are the best public-relations material for the counter-terrorism effort. On a widely aired surveillance tape of three suspects on trial for plotting to blow up, among other destinations, the Ministry of Sound dance club in London, the suspects can be heard talking with pleasure about blowing up "those slags dancing around." By contrast, failed prosecutions, wrongful arrests, and the ever-growing time lag from the unraveling of a plot and arrests to the date of trial and conviction feeds denial and mistrust.

The police worry that growth creates its own problems. "There is a danger that if we are to do everything, we'll not be good at anything," a high-ranking official said. "The police are problem-oriented. You give us a problem, and we try to solve it, even if we are not the best people for it. There is no agency for which community-based counter-terrorism is the natural problem. The police have a very large role, but the role is not defined. We get huge benefits from the expansion of our remit in terms of community ties, witnesses, and testimonies. But does it make sense to broaden our remit this far? You ask us to solve problems, and we do it. But we have to be mindful not to neglect our core mission, namely policing."

Finally, questions persist about the fit between community policing as a means and the nature of current terrorism. How domestic is terrorism? Islamist terrorism is a global movement, and it is simplistic to say that recruitment to suicide terrorism is the product of "home-grown" disaffection or "good Muslims gone bad." Terrorists no longer hide in plain sight in the Muslim communities. Why worry about local imams if terrorist recruitment takes place in prisons and training camps abroad, rather than in local mosques and prayer halls? Reports that terrorist groups have become more adept at clandestine organization are in part a sign of the success of community policing. Part ideological warfare and part policing it is an adjunct to traditional counter-terrorism measures but should not be expected to play the main role.




This USIPeace Briefing was written by Jytte Klausen, professor in the Department of Politics, at Brandeis University. It does not represent the views of the Institute, which does not advocate specific policies.


The United States Institute of Peace is an independent, nonpartisan institution established and funded by Congress. Its goals are to help prevent and resolve violent international conflicts, promote post-conflict stability and development, and increase conflict management capacity, tools, and intellectual capital worldwide. The Institute does this by empowering others with knowledge, skills, and resources, as well as by directly engaging in peacebuilding efforts around the globe.

Related Publications

Obama Urges Choices for Peace in Northern Ireland and Beyond

Obama Urges Choices for Peace in Northern Ireland and Beyond

Monday, June 17, 2013

By: Viola Gienger

We got a good reminder today of how long it can take – and WHAT it takes -- to truly consolidate peace in a society after decades of conflict. U.S. President Barack Obama, speaking to 1,800 students and adults on his first stop in Europe, called for an end to segregated housing and education in Northern Ireland, and he appealed to the country’s youth to make the concrete choices needed to avoid backsliding on the peace agreement negotiated with American help 15 years ago.

Type: Blog

Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

View All Publications