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Monday, 19 February, 2001, 13:00 GMT
Britain's 'safe haven' past
Many controversial international political groups have fundraisers in London
Many controversial groups have fundraisers in London
Britain's reputation as a safe haven for political extremists could be transformed by the new Terrorism Act, which comes into force on Monday.

The UK has been a favoured destination for political exiles since the 1970s, when left-wing activists fled from Turkey.

Then in 1979 the Islamic revolution in Iran saw many exiled radicals head for Britain, where they sought political refuge.

Today the country has become an established home to moderate and extremist political organisations.

Osama bin Laden
Saudi militant Osama bin Laden has UK supporters
But in recent years the British government has come under mounting international pressure to stop the more extreme elements fundraising or planning actions on behalf of foreign terrorists.

The government is also concerned about domestic terrorism, particularly from extreme animal rights activists who have sent letter bombs and planted car bombs targeting animal researchers.

David Capitanchik, an expert on terrorism based at Aberdeen's Robert Gordon University, said the new law had been discussed on the international stage for several years.

"There have been lots of complaints from countries like India about the freedom terrorists have to raise money, keep it in banks, and plan terrorist activity, here in London.


The sort of people who have refuge here tend to be the organisers, financiers and political polemicists, not the activists

David Capitanchik
"These are friendly governments which we do a lot of trade with and they do have a terrorist problem.

"And Britain wants to show it's not a safe haven."

He said the problem in this country were not the "bomb-throwers" but those working behind the scenes.

"The sort of people who have refuge here tend to be the organisers, financiers and political polemicists, not the activists."

He said a "helluva lot" of money was being raised for groups which could soon be outlawed under the new act.

Sympathisers

A Home Office spokesman said such a list of banned groups was now under "careful consideration" but he could not say when it would be released.

Among the controversial groups known to have sympathisers in Britain are:

  • Tamil Tigers: A Sri Lankan group fighting for the self-determination of Tamils. Its full name is the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

    The group is already banned in India and the United States, and Interpol recently named Tiger chief Velupillai Prabhakaran amongst its most wanted men.

  • The PKK: The rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party led by Abdullah Ocalan who remains in a Turkish prison after his capture two years ago.

    The PKK says it has abandoned violence and wants to become a political party, but this idea has been rejected by the Turkish authorities.

  • Committee for the Defence of Legitimate Rights in Saudi Arabia (CDLR): Led by Mohamed Al-Masari, an outspoken opponent of Saudi's ruling royal family. His presence in the UK is embarrassing for the government, which has close ties to the country.

    Omar Bakri Mohammed
    Omar Bakri Mohammed fears arrest
    He has recently drifted towards greater radicalism, and is thought to have links with the notorious Saudi militant Osama bin Laden.

  • The Islamic Jihad: Opposed to Egypt's ruling government, it is thought to be behind the murder of President Anwar Sadat in 1981. Also has close links with Osama bin Laden.

  • Gamaa Islamiyya (The Islamic Group): A network of Egyptian groups which was established in the 1920s. Thought to be responsible for the massacre of 58 tourists in Luxor in Egypt last November.

  • Hamas: Born out of the Palestinian Intifada in 1987, it has carried out a bloody struggle against the state of Israel ever since.

  • Armed Islamic Group (GIA): An umbrella group for the extremely violent factions that are seeking to overthrow Algeria's military-backed government. Emerged out of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS). which was on the cusp of ruling power in Algeria in 1992 when the military took over.

  • Al-Muhajiroun: Under exiled Syrian leader Omar Bakri Mohammed, who says he is planning a holiday abroad as he fears arrest under the new act.

    His group seeks to establish a "world Islamic state". Mr Mohammed says the group will simply go underground if it is banned.


An earlier version of this story inappropriately listed the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia (MIRA) as one of the "controversial groups known to have sympathisers in Britain".

BBC News Online accepts that neither MIRA nor its spokesman Dr Al-Fagih have ever been involved with or espoused terrorism. BBC News Online apologises to Dr Al-Fagih for any distress that he may have suffered as a result of its publication.

See also:

19 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Straw defends new terrorism powers
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