Written evidence submitted by the Handa Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence (CSTPV) at the University of St Andrews (CTE0009)

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


As UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said in 2013, ‘unless our foreign policy
addresses the circumstances in which terrorism thrives overseas, we will always
fight a rearguard action against it’. A decade later, terrorism still threatens British overseas interests and partner governments.

Afghanistan, under the Taliban, contends with terror attacks even as Western allies worry that the country could become ‘a base for terrorism’. In Somalia, al-Shabaab’s resurgence informed the UK’s decision to shift its counter-terrorism capability there. Despite a decade-long counter-insurgency informed by British military training, Boko Haram’s threat endures in Nigeria. Furthermore, al-Qaeda and Daesh (Islamic State) remain perennial threats to British domestic and foreign interests, despite the UK’s targeted sanctions regime. Both HMG’s Integrated Review (2021) and its Refresh (2023) recognise a need to counter these foreign threats.

With HMG’s limited resources, the Integrated Reviews prioritised threat themes and locations. Yet, where the UK has shifted military resources, such as in Africa in recent years, Russia, via the Kremlin-linked Wagner Group, has moved to win over regimes in Mali, Mozambique and the Central African Republic by offering support for military responses to Islamist terror groups. The Integrated Review refresh (2023) recognises Wagner’s ‘threat’. However, the extent of that threat remains understated.

In Libya, whereas the Kremlin has disavowed responsibility for Wagner’s actions,
security in Tripoli has been undermined. For instance, in 2019, Wagner deployed
troops supporting warlord Khalifa Hifter’s Tripoli assault. Elsewhere in Africa, not only does Wagner challenge British influence, there are growing concerns that Wagner is ‘fuelling terrorism in Africa’.

As evidenced in Libya and other fragile states with terror threats, British CT influence has shifted away from the ‘boots on the ground’ preferred post-9/11. A replacement approach since 2013 is the capacity-building of partner governments. Since 2015, the UK’s Conflict Stability and Security Fund (CSSF), led by the FCDO, has been at the approach’s fore. However, the CSSF reveals long-term challenges for UK foreign counter-terrorism despite its achievements.

Our evidence also identifies improvement areas within CT aspects of both Integrated Reviews. For instance, despite recognition of foreign terror threats and Britain’s response, both Integrated Reviews neglect implications of the fall of the so-called Islamic State Caliphate for British women with children in Northeast Syria camps. Such implications emerge in the case of Shamima Begum and other muhajirats – women who migrated to join Daesh and now seek to return home, arguing that they pose no terror threat and are ‘victims’. The UK’s designation of Begum as ‘a serious threat to national security’ has divided opinion and shut the door on returning muhajirats with children who pose no threat to Britain.
Implicitly and explicitly factoring in such salient issues, this CSTPV collaborative
evidence report addresses the Foreign Affairs Committee’s nine questions about the UK’s international CT policy.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherUK Parliament
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 14 Sept 2023


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