The suspect in the murder of MP David Amess received broad support under the government’s Channel anti-terror program before his case was closed, The Guardian has learned.
Ali Harbi Ali was first referred to Prevent, the early intervention scheme designed to move people away from the risk of supporting violence, as a teenager in 2014.
Each year, a small proportion of the thousands referred to Prevent are referred to the Canal program for more intensive support, overseen by a panel with experience in de-radicalization and helping those deemed vulnerable to be drawn into terrorism. Both programs are voluntary and do not carry criminal penalties.
Ali’s referral to Channel for months can raise questions for ministers, police and security services. Authorities say it was seven years between his time at Channel and his arrest on Friday on suspicion of murder, and they believe his engagement to Channel was handled properly.
Ali was referred to the scheme while attending an educational establishment in London in 2014 out of concerns that he might be drawn toward an Islamist ideology. A source with knowledge of the case said: “He went through the process and was discharged.”
He was among the highest cohort of people referred to Prevent. He voluntarily accepted the referral to the scheme and went through its processes. This involved assessing his vulnerability and accepting support, the source said, adding: “It was not thought to pose a threat of terrorist violence and the case was closed.”
Official guidance says that people with a “vulnerability to terrorism” should receive help from Channel, while those believed to pose a “terrorism risk” require police to take action. The source said: “If we can prevent people at a young age from becoming criminals, that is good for society and for them.”
In the year to March 2020, there were 6,287 references to Prevent and 1,424 references to a Canal panel, 697 of which were adopted due to concerns that a person was at risk of radicalization.
Friends and former colleagues say Ali’s father was an outspoken critic of terrorism during his time as a top Somali government official. That has compounded the family’s shock after Ali’s arrest at the site where Amess was repeatedly stabbed while performing voter surgery at a church.
Amess was a Conservative MP in Essex for 38 years. His murder has been declared a suspected terrorist incident by the police.
The ministers have commissioned a review of the Prevent and Channel programs, led by William Shawcross, former director of the Charity Commission. Monday’s leaks suggested it would accelerate in light of Amess’s death, with proposals to make it more security-oriented, giving police a bigger role in panels that come up with intervention schemes, and expanding the agency’s role. intelligence MI5.
But several members of the police and intelligence community expressed skepticism about that approach. Sir Peter Fahy, the former Greater Manchester Police Chief of Police who was Prevent’s national leader, said he was concerned that it could deter families and institutions from reporting their concerns if involvement in security was more explicit.
“The danger is that increased police involvement damages the confidence of families, friends and education professionals to make referrals, if they believe the police and intelligence route is more likely to be followed,” he said. .
“We’ve been trying to emphasize that Prevent is about safeguarding. If there is more involvement of the police, it becomes less as protection and closer to intelligence gathering or the research base for the program. “
MI5 has been willing to operate at a distance from Prevent. One person who has worked closely with intelligence agencies in the past said that if sharing information about individuals with the security service became the norm, “it’s not easy to see why people should cooperate with it.”
Muslim communities have made a series of criticisms of Prevent, arguing that it unjustly attacks them and has encouraged trivial references, including against children. In June it emerged that an 11-year-old primary school student was referred to Prevent after a teacher confused the word “alms” with “weapons” when the boy said he wanted to give “alms to the oppressed.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism