Tunisia killers have declared war on Britain, says David Cameron

Patrick Wintour — The Guardian June 29, 2015

David Cameron delivers his UN speech. Click to enlarge

David Cameron has pledged that Britain will not give up its way of life or cower in the face of terrorism as he urged the country to hold a minute’s silence at midday on Friday in memory of the UK citizens killed in Tunisia.

The minute’s silence will come exactly a week after the massacre in Sousse left up to 30 Britons dead, the biggest loss of British life to terrorism since the 7/7 bombings in London in 2005.

Cameron said the killers had declared war on Britain, adding the government would provide a “full spectrum” response including helping the injured return to the UK within 24 hours, assisting with security in Tunisia and tracking down any accomplices of the killers, as well as combating the narrative of Islamic fascism in the UK.

He spoke after Theresa May, the home secretary, visited the site of the killings, where she laid flowers at an impromptu memorial to the dead set up a few metres from the water, beside rows of empty sun loungers.

In a Commons statement lasting 100 minutes, Cameron said the Cobra emergency committee had decided not to change the travel advice to Tunisian coastal resorts, arguing the killers were trying to wipe out the Tunisian tourist industry which represents 15% of the country’s economy.

Acknowledging that it was a difficult judgment, he said this advice could change if the Tunisian authorities were unable to provide assurances about upgrading protection for tourists, including in hotels.

He repeatedly said he was determined to change the narrative so that those people drawn to Islamic extremism were combated more effectively. The government will publish a new counter-extremism strategy shortly that is likely to proscribe more organisations and clamp down on extremist messages through social media and satellite TV channels to mosques. On Wednesday, public authorities will be under a new statutory duty to combat extremism.

Cameron said he would look again at the partnership programmes to northern Africa so that it contained more to end radicalisation in schools.

He insisted the source of radicalisation was not poverty, pointing out that, in the UK, it was often “young people that have been to good schools, with a good strong family background that do not have deprived lives nonetheless have chosen a violent path”.
Explaining current government beliefs about the way extremist thinking acted as a gateway to extremism, he said: “There are a lot of extremists that buy into a lot of the narrative of the terrorists – that they want a caliphate, that Muslims and Christians cannot live peacefully together, or that they want to subjugate women.

“We have to say in our country that those views, while they fall short of condoning terrorism, are not acceptable either. This is something that can be fixed but it can take many, many years.”

Three times during the day the prime minister called on the BBC to rethink its editorial policy which refers to the terrorist group as Islamic State. He said it would be better if it was called Isil (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) or Daesh, the name used for the group around the Middle East. It is notable that MPs on all sides have started to refer to the terrorist group as Daesh. The BBC said it was keeping the issue under review.

Cameron revealed a major exercise would be carried out in London over the next two days – Tuesday and Wednesday – to test and refine the UK’s readiness for a terrorist attack.

A draft bill would also set out how Britain’s intelligence agencies could better track extremism online, he said. “Isil’s methods of murder may be barbaric but its methods of recruitment, of propaganda, of communication use the latest technology.”

Earlier on Monday, Cameron had conceded that Isis presented an “existential threat” to Britain. “We are a target,” Cameron told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “Frankly, we cannot hide from this thinking that if you step back you become less of a target. They are attacking our way of life and what we stand for, and so we have to stand united with those that share our values.”

Cameron urged Britain to show resolve and strength, saying it had to recognise it was in for a long haul in a battle to defeat Islamic extremism. He said it was vital to defeat the assailants’ poisonous narrative.

Government sources said ministers would press ahead with Conservative manifesto plans for restrictions on extremist views on social media, as well as banning extremist but not violent organisations such as Hizb ut-Tahrir. No timescale was given.

The prime minister defended the level of British commitment in Iraq, saying the aim was to crush Isis in Iraq as well as in Syria. He insisted Britain was the second largest contributor in air strikes in Iraq and claimed the level of UK commitment was higher than in previous British commitments in Iraq.

He was challenged over figures showing that Britain had launched 300 strikes in comparison with 600 by the US in Iraq, but he said Britain was investing heavily in air strikes that made a difference.

Cameron denied he was refusing to engage with the Muslim community as a whole but said the British government would not treat organisations that were at the gateway to terrorism as spokespeople for the Muslim community.

Scotland Yard said it was tightening security and protection at the Wimbledon tennis tournament and other “key sites, business and public places around the UK to help ensure they are safe for visitors and workers”.

The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, said “We need global action to stop Isil grooming terrorists across the world. This should now be put at the top of the agenda for the next G20 meeting in November, and we need more action against extremism through the UN, too.”

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