Backlash over minister’s ‘hunt down and kill Brit IS fighters’ comments
CRITICS of Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson have said his suggestion that Islamist fighters should be hunted down and killed could put British soldiers at risk of prosecution.
Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Lord (Menzies) Campbell said the Defence Secretary appeared to be endorsing breaches of humanitarian law, while Labour MP and former paratrooper Dan Jarvis said his comments were “morally, legally and practically wrong” and a former Director of Public Prosecutions dismissed them as more fit for a Netflix series than Government policy.
In an interview with the Daily Mail, Mr Williamson said Britons who have fought for Islamic State should never be allowed to come back to this country.
And he said those who were intent on bringing “destruction, death and bloodshed” onto the streets of Britain were being “hunted down” and that threat “eliminated”.
He told the Daily Mail: “A dead terrorist can’t cause any harm to Britain.”
Downing Street used more measured language as it repeated the warning of Mr Williamson’s predecessor Sir Michael Fallon that Britons who fight alongside the UK’s enemies in Syria and Iraq make themselves a “legitimate target”.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s official spokesman said measures already existed to cancel IS fighters’ British passports and ensure that those who return to the UK face police investigation and possible prosecution.
And the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Max Hill QC, took to Twitter to say: “My only comment on the Defence Secretary’s views about UK citizens fighting for IS: criminal prosecution inevitable in most cases where UK citizens return, and where evidence of committing serious criminal offences.”
Mr Williamson told the Mail: “I do not believe that any terrorist, whether they come from this country or any other, should ever be allowed back into this country.”
And he added: “Our job in terms of eliminating will not stop this year, will not stop next year, it is something we have got to continue to pursue.”
Hundreds of British citizens are known to have travelled to Syria to fight with Islamist groups during the course of the six-year conflict.
Two years ago, the government sent a three-paragraph letter to the United Nations Security Council setting out the case for killing Cardiff extremist Reyaad Khan.
That strike was legal under the “inherent right of self-defence”, it said, because the 21-year-old had been directing “imminent armed attacks”.
Responding to the Defence Secretary’s interview, Mr Jarvis told the Guardian: “His statement implies a desire for extrajudicial killing to form part of the UK’s security policy. That is so radical a departure from all that we should value, and the way we should conduct ourselves, it is hard even to countenance.
“Such a policy would not only break the Geneva convention and UK law, but would undermine both our society and the way we defend it.”
Former DPP Lord Macdonald told BBC Radio 4’s World at One: “It simply will not be lawful in all circumstances to kill jihadis, as the secretary of state seems to be suggesting.
“A policy which says we will simply kill every individual who has travelled to Syria or to Iraq, even if they are surrendering, even if they have laid down their weapons, is really a policy that belongs in a Netflix series more seriously than it belongs in the range of policies that should be being applied by the UK government.
“We can’t simply say that everyone who has gone to Iraq will now be hunted down and killed. That’s a juvenile response. It’s not a serious, grown-up policy response for a senior British Government minister.”
Lord Campbell said Mr Williamson’s comments “are ill-considered and appear to endorse a clear breach of humanitarian law”.
“In present circumstances it is not difficult to see that any member of the military that followed his advice could be subjected to court martial and prosecution,” said Lord Campbell.
“The gung-ho opinions that he has expressed undermine the credibility of British armed forces in general and his office in particular.”
And Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Sir Ed Davey warned that “eliminating” IS foreign fighters would leave the UK with “zero understanding of why these people have decided to go and fight for the most evil group we have seen in modern times and with zero intelligence”.
> Cardiff IS fighter Reyaad Khan