We are in a war with Islamic State, says former head of counter terrorism

Article published in the Sunday Express, 28 June 2015. © Richard Kemp

THE VIRTUALLY concurrent attacks on Friday in Lyons, Tunisia and Kuwait may or may not have been directly ordered by Islamic State but all three were certainly inspired by it.
To dismiss these and earlier strikes such as the killings in Texas last month, in Paris earlier this year and in Sydney in 2014 as “lone wolf” attacks is self-deluding and dangerous.

The reality is that we have been at war with Islamist extremism since September 11, 2001, when Al-Qaeda attacked New York’s Twin Towers.

Al-Qaeda, with a range of other jihadists, including IS to which they gave birth, have been fighting that war against us ever since.

Friday’s attack in Lyon is a reminder of what lies ahead for the West.

These horrors have already visited our shores in the butchering of Drummer Lee Rigby in 2013 and the mass murder on London’s transport system in 2005.

Were it not for the skill of our intelligence services and police many more attacks would have been carried out here.

Since 2001, 27 major plots have been disrupted.

Many attacks have also failed due to the incompetence of the jihadists.

That is about to change. Large numbers of IS fighters have already returned to the UK from Iraq and Syria and more will follow.

This represents a step change in the threat we face. A terrorist becomes much more dangerous, willing and able to kill if he has already been involved in violence.

Many of those returning from Syria and Iraq are blooded.

They have taken part in fighting and slaughter. They have been trained and motivated and they have orders to attack.

How do we deal with this increasing danger? Not through the normal processes of law and order which are unfit for use in war.

If we multiply the budget of the security services 100 fold we will still not have enough resources to monitor their movements.


The attacker in Lyon, known to the police, was reportedly not monitored, as he was not high enough on the list of competing priorities.

The same applied to the July 2005 attackers and the murderers of Lee Rigby.

The only solution is to exclude all who travel to fight jihad overseas from ever returning to the UK. We need to be prepared to infringe the rights of the few to protect the lives of the many. Illegal immigrants into the UK represent a further danger.

Even while Gaddafi was in power AlQaeda used Libya as an effective means of transferring terrorists from North Africa into Europe.

Today with Libya out of control this route is an even more effective pipeline for IS.

We should follow the example of the Australian government whose navy has completely eliminated people trafficking by sea from Indonesia.

The massacre in Tunisia carries great risks for us as well as the Tunisian people. Tunisia’s economy is highly dependent on tourism. Further attacks will shut down the tourist trade and nudge Tunisia closer to becoming a failing state ripe for exploitation by jihadist groups.

The British Army has assisted the Tunisian government with counter-terrorist equipment and training in recent years.

MI6 share intelligence with their Tunisian counterparts. Our response to Friday’s attack must be to redouble these efforts, sending the message that we will stand by our friends in the region and will not allow our enemies to succeed.

None of this will be truly effective unless we also take the war to the enemy.

As in the First and Second World Wars we must use all military means necessary to defeat our enemies. Few want to see large-scale British and American ground forces deployed to fight yet again in the Middle East.

To avoid this we must be more serious. So far military operations against IS have been half-hearted.

The US has conducted special forces strikes but the main message has been, “No boots on the ground.”

This is a message of defeat. We should increase intelligence collection and surveillance to enable drone strikes and long-range desert group-style special forces raids to decapitate IS.

Our aim is not just to degrade and destroy this enemy but to shatter his will.

This policy has proved extremely effective against Al-Qaeda in Pakistan.

Heinkels may not be dropping firebombs on London but this is no less a war of survival for our country and its values.

We must recognise and fight it like a war.