United Kingdom

British ship embarks on migrant rescue mission

A British warship sailing in the Mediterranean Sea launched a mission on June 7 to rescue over 500 migrants stranded at sea, the Ministry of Defense (MoD)  said in a statement. A Royal Navy helicopter has found four migrant vessels in need of assistance so far. It was also reported by the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) and the Italian coastguard that on June 6 over 2,000 migrants were rescued from five wooden boats in the Mediterranean, and there have been reports of seven or more similar boats still currently out at sea.

US sentences Muslim cleric to life imprisonment

The US District Court for the Southern District of New York on Jan. 9 sentenced Egyptian-born Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri (BBC profile) to life in prison for supporting terrorism. Hamza was convicted and found guilty of 11 criminal charges in May. The charges included planning to establish a jihad training camp in Oregon, conspiring to kidnap Americans in Yemen by enabling hostage-takers to speak on a satellite phone, and supplying the Taliban with goods and services. Judge Katherine B. Forrest characterized al-Masri's actions as "barbaric," and said she could not imagine a time in which his release would be safe. 

Bahrain: protests against British base deal

Protests held in the Bahraini island city of Sitra Dec. 6 against an agreement signed between the kingdom and Great Britain to establish a new military base in the Persian Gulf state. Bahraini opposition figures, including members of the main Shi'ite party, al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, also expressed outrage over the deal. (Tasnim, Iran, Dec. 7) The base, at Mina Salman Port in Bahrain, will host Royal Navy vessels including destroyers and aircraft carriers. It is to be Britain's first permanent base in the Middle East in over 40 years. UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the new base shows Britain's commitment to a "sustained presence east of Suez"—referring to the wording of a 1968 decision to close bases east of Suez by 1971. (BBC News, Dec. 6)

Scotland to have more independent powers

The UK's body on strengthening devolution, the Smith Commission, concluded Nov. 27 that Scotland's parliament should have more independence in certain matters. The commission, set up by Prime Minister David Cameron, recommended that Scotland's parliament have the power to set income tax rates, voting age, welfare payments; and a consultative role in reviewing the BBC Charter. The announcement follows Scotland's vote against independence in September. While Scotland's government welcomed the announcement, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon found the commission's decision disappointing as the Scottish parliament would still be responsible for less than half of the money the country will spend.

UK announces sweeping anti-terrorism bill

UK Home Secretary Theresa May on Nov. 24 outlined the new Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill to combat ongoing national security threats. The bill will expand the power of authorities to suspend outgoing and incoming international travel of persons that are reasonably believed to be traveling to commit terrorism. The legislation will also broaden the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIMs) to allow authorities to force terrorist suspects to relocate within the country and will raise the burden of proof for TPIMs from a "reasonable belief" to a "balance of probabilities." May stressed the importance of bridging the "capabilities gap" that authorities must confront when dealing with communications data and announced that the bill will require Internet providers to retain IP addresses "to identify individual users of internet services," with some limitations. May urged the need for this legislation in response to new threats from the Islamic State (IS) and other established terrorist groups abroad.

UK court says Libyan can sue over rendition

A British court ruled (PDF) Oct. 30 that a former Libyan rebel commander can sue the British government for its alleged role in his detention and rendition. In 2004, Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his wife were arrested in Bangkok, Thailand, and returned to Muammar Qaddafi's Libya, where he spent years in prison. Belhaj first filed the lawsuit in 2012. Last year the British High Court threw out the claim, saying it was not a matter for the British courts and barred by the Acts of State doctrine. However, the Court of Appeal has now found that the claim is not barred because "it falls within a limitation on grounds of public policy in cases of violations of international law and fundamental human rights." The court went on to state that "[u]nless the English courts were able to exercise jurisdiction in this case, these very grave allegations would go uninvestigated and the appellants would be left without any legal recourse or remedy." Along with the British government, Belhaj is attempting to sue former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and the former head of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), known as M16, for alleged complicity with US intelligence over his treatment.

Europe's fascist resurgence: East and West

The May 24 shooting at the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels, that left three dead, is greeted by the usual ridiculous bet-hedging. CNN typically writes: "The circumstances of the shooting have raised suspicions that it may have been an anti-Semitic attack, but no motive has been determined." Once an anti-Semitic motive is finally conceded, we will next be assured that it was the work of a lone nut with no organizational ties. How many commentators will tie the attack to the terrifyingly good showing that far-right "anti-Europe" paties made in the next day's EU parliamentary election? In France, Front National leader Marine Le Pen, daughter of xenophobic party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, boasted as the exit polls rolled in: "What has happened tonight is a massive rejection of the EU." In Britain, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) is on course to win, displacing Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives and burying their coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats. (Globe & Mail, CBC) And think there's a wide gap between the "anti-Europe" ideologies of the Front National and UKIP and the anti-Semitic doctrines of classical fascism? Think again...

UK: ex-Gitmo detainee in Syria terror bust

British police counter-terrorism forces announced on Feb. 25 the arrest of Moazzam Begg in his hometown of Birmingham, England, along with three other individuals on suspicion of terrorism offenses related to the war in Syria. Begg was a detainee at Guantánamo Bay, and he was one of the last detainees from the UK to be returned. British authorities have expressed concern about their citizens fighting in jihadist groups in Syria, and Begg is the most high profile arrestee in connection with the UK's attempt to minimize influence in the Syrian conflict. The police reported Begg is suspected of attending a terrorist training camp and facilitating terrorism overseas. According to British counter-terrorism laws, the police are authorized to detain Begg for up to 14 days, and police will conduct a search of the arrestee's vehicles and electronic devices.

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