Analysis: who are the terrorists?

Analysis: who are the terrorists?


Written by: Harmit Athwal

Discussion of the UK’s tough anti-terrorist laws has focused on the low conviction rate for those arrested under their powers. What is ignored is that, of those who are convicted, many are not Muslim but are White Loyalists and/or racists.

According to Home Office figures, since 11 September 2001, 609 people have been arrested and 99 of them have been charged with offences under the Terrorism Act 2000. And, as of 30 June 2004, there had been fifteen convictions.

It is easy to assume that all of these convictions were of Muslims, given the recent high-profile arrests and the media coverage of them. For example, after the arrest of thirteen men on 3 August 2004, the Sunday Express headline of 8 August 2004 read, ‘Cyanide terror of cola bombs’. The News of the World‘s read, ‘9/11 on the tube’.

Cases dropped

The Institute of Race Relations has documented eleven of these fifteen convictions. According to the research, only three Muslims have actually been convicted under the 2000 Act and two of those have been given leave to appeal their convictions. Furthermore, the charges against at least twenty-one Muslims, whose cases were actually brought to court, have had the cases against them dropped or they were not proven. Countless others have been arrested in high-profile raids under anti-terrorism laws, charged with ‘terrorist’ offences and then quietly released without charge, or re-arrested by the immigration service or charged with other criminal offences.

But six of those convicted under the Terrorism Act 2000 are White and were convicted for offences such as wearing a ring or carrying a flag with the symbols of banned Loyalist organisations. The 2000 Act makes it illegal even to wear a T-shirt supporting a banned organisation. A further two non-Muslims have been convicted under the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001.

White convictions under the Terrorism Act 2000

Six White men have been convicted under the Terrorism Act 2000. They were all found to be involved in proscribed Loyalist groups: the Loyalist Volunteer Force, Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).

James Rankin was convicted for wearing a ring bearing the symbols of the UVF, which was ‘likely to arouse suspicion’ that he was a member or supporter of the group. The 42-year-old Scottish man appealed against his conviction in June 2004 and lost. Another man, 19-year-old Grant O’Donnell, was convicted of being a member of the UFF but he has successfully appealed against the conviction.

White convictions under the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001

Another two White people have been convicted under the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001 (ATCSA), one for a racist hate mail campaign. Ian MacIntosh and 17-year-old schoolboy Paul Smith both pleaded guilty in separate cases to charges of sending letters containing ‘substances claiming to be noxious’.

  • In October 2003, Ian MacIntosh pleaded guilty to a charge under the ATCSA and was sentenced to 150 hours community service after psychiatrists said he was suffering from a mental illness at the time of the offences. He admitted sending a letter to the office of Mohammad Sarwar MP containing white powder, ‘with the intention of inducing in the MP or a member of his staff a belief that it contained a noxious substance that would endanger life or create a serious heath risk’. The letter also contained racist threats. He also pleaded guilty to sending racist hate mail to four others between May 1999 and May 2003.
  • Paul Smith was sentenced to three years in a young offenders’ institute and a 12-month supervision order. He pleaded guilty to charges under the ATCSA – preparing and transmitting letters whereby the powder inside was deposited and inhaled by people opening them, all to their fear and alarm. He sent threatening letters with powdered ‘poison’ between 20 August 2001 and 7 February 2002 to prominent people. Smith, who was aged 15 when the offences took place, was recruited by an unnamed Scottish Republican group. He never met the older man who ‘groomed him’ on the internet but agreed to send letters to 44 people containing powder with claimed to be ricin or anthrax – in fact, it was harmless.
Convicted for wearing a shirt

Since 30 June 2004, another White man has been convicted of an offence under the Terrorism Act 2000. Earlier this month, 32-year-old Alexander Hood pleaded guilty to wearing a shirt bearing the logo of a banned organisation – the Ulster Volunteer Force. He was fined £250. He was arrested after going to the High Court in Kilmarnock where friends were on trial for arms and explosives offences.

Related links

Campaign Against Criminalising Communities

A full report on arrests and convictions under the anti-terror laws will be published shortly. The Institute of Race Relations is monitoring arrests under anti-terror laws and how they affect minority ethnic communities and especially asylum seekers in the UK. If you have been arrested, or know anyone who has, and want to tell us (in confidence) about your experiences, please email with details.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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