Ex-MI6 counterterror chief urges caution in tackling ISIS threat

Richard BarrettBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Britain should not hurriedly change its laws to counter the perceived danger posed by homegrown militants that have joined the Islamic State, according to the former head of counterterrorism for Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). Richard Barrett, a former diplomat, served as Director of Global Counter Terrorism Operations for MI6, Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, and is considered an international authority on counterterrorism. He told The Guardian newspaper that it would be wrong for the British government to introduce legislation effectively criminalizing travel to Iraq or Syria by British subjects. Barrett was responding to a newspaper article by London mayor Boris Johnson, who criticized Britain’s conservative government for not taking active steps to prevent British citizens form traveling to Syria and Iraq in order to join the Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS. Johnson said he supported calls for British members of the Islamic State to be stripped of their British citizenship, even if that meant they would be left stateless —a violation of United Nations law. The London mayor further suggested that all British citizens travelling to Syria and Iraq without first notifying the government, should be legally considered as having traveled there “for a terrorist purpose”. He added that the burden should be on them to prove that they were “acting innocently” while abroad. But Barrett dismissed Johnson’s proposals, saying that they would cancel age-old principles of British common law and could potentially criminalize British citizens who traveled to the Middle East for legitimate purposes. The former MI6 counterterrorism chief said that “fundamental tenets of British justice should not be changed even in a minor way” unless it was proven that British militants joining the Islamic State posed a clear and present danger for British national security. He added that “there should be some sort of effort to prove” that British travelers to war-torn areas of the Middle East “have broken the law […] rather than assume they have done so”. And he concluded by urging the British government to engage in an effort to “better understand the domestic threat posed” by the Islamic State before introducing new laws or changing current laws.

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