Back­lash over min­is­ter’s ‘hunt down and kill Brit IS fight­ers’ com­ments

Western Mail - - NEWS - An­drew Wood­cock and Ge­orgina Stubbs news­desk@waleson­

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

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