Following the adoption by the European Union of several Directives and measures on Terrorism, the UK adopted Terrorist Act 2000. The main purpose of the 2000 Act has been to define the meaning of Terrorism. Several other legislations have since been adopted dealing with terrorism, anti-terrorism, counter-terrorism and terrorist asset-freezing ending with Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015.
What concerns us here is the definition of terrorism given in section 1 Terrorism Act 2000 which reads as:
“(1) In this Act “terrorism” means the use or threat of action where—
(a) the action falls within subsection (2),
(b) the use or threat is designed to influence the government or an international governmental organisation or to intimidate the public or a section of the public, and
(c) the use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause.
(2) Action falls within this subsection if it—
(a) involves serious violence against a person,
(b) involves serious damage to property,
(c) endangers a person’s life, other than that of the person committing the action,
(d) creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public, or
(e) is designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system…”
This wide definition called for a proper interpretation. Soon the Courts were called upon to give one.
Mohammed Gul a British citizen of Libyan origin was arrested in 2009 for having downloaded on his computer videos glorifying Al Qaeda. He was prosecuted under section 2(1), of the 2006 Act; convicted and sentenced. During the trial, the jury asked the judge for instruction on the meaning of ‘terrorism’.
In the appeal process the Court of Appeal was asked to certify the following question:
“Does the definition of terrorism in section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2000 operate so as to include within its scope any or all military attacks by a non-state armed group against any or all state or intergovernmental organisation armed forces in the context of a non-international armed conflict?”
The Court of Appeal responded in the affirmative. The appellant applied to the Supreme Court.
In its decision the Supreme Court with great reluctance concluded the following:
“Terrorism is terrorism, whatever the motives of the perpetrators. … Terrorist action outside the United Kingdom which involves the use of firearms or explosives, resulting in danger to life or creating a serious risk to the health or safety to the public in that country, or involving (not producing) serious personal violence or damage to property, or designed seriously to interfere with an electronic system, ‘is terrorism’…”
“As a matter of ordinary language, the definition would seem to cover any violence or damage to property if it is carried out with a view to influencing a government or IGO in order to advance a very wide range of causes. Thus, it would appear to extend to military or quasi-military activity aimed at bringing down a foreign government, even where that activity is approved (officially or unofficially) by the UK government.”
The Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeal that action by a non-state armed group against the state is an act of terrorism. The Supreme Court indicated that the UK could not argument as it did, that some actions of its government supporting armed groups outside the UK could be excluded from the definition of support of terrorism.
It follows that the position of the UK Government as represented by its support of armed groups as supporting of the so-called ‘moderate opposition’ is a breach of UK law.
The UK representative’s statement in the Security Council that Al-Nusra makes up only 1% of the people of Eastern Ghouta of Syria is a failed attempt at avoiding the law of the UK as held by the Supreme Court, namely that all armed groups fighting a legitimate government are terrorist and that the UK support of these groups is a crime under Terrorism Act 2006.
Legitimacy of a state is not a matter to be decided by western powers but a matter settled by the UN membership.