The threat of terrorist activity in Wales from groups such as al Qaeda is “very real”, according to a restricted counter-terrorism strategy document.
As a capital city and home to a devolved government, Cardiff may present a “softer alternative target to London” for terrorists, the Wales Contest Plan document says.
Among the dangers listed in the document are the “increased incidents of radicalisation in Cardiff” and the threat of “international terrorism from al Qaeda”.
However, Wales’ most senior anti-terror cop moved to reassure the city’s residents, saying that while there is a “small but ever-present risk”, officers are dealing robustly with threats with the help of the community.
And leading members of Cardiff’s Muslim community denied extremism was on the rise in the city.
Welsh Government ministers were briefed on the threat of terrorism by the Wales Extremism and Counter Terrorism Unit (Wectu) on January 29.
The meeting was held in private but WalesOnline has obtained a redacted copy of the presentation.
The document – marked “restricted” – shows ministers were told that Wales, like the rest of the UK, faces a range of terrorist threats.
These include al Qaeda, in particular its affiliates and like-minded organisations, as well as other terrorist groups and lone terrorists who have all tried to operate within the UK.
“Some have planned and recruited people in Wales for attacks in the UK and overseas, spread propaganda and raised funds,” the report states.
It goes on: “Recent events in Wales have demonstrated that the threat is very real to our local communities.”
South Wales Police Assistant Chief Constable Matt Jukes, who is also head of the Wectu, said that since a “very significant operation” in 2010 – which saw three Cardiff men jailed for planning to blow up the London Stock Exchange – the unit has identified “a small group of individuals” whom it is monitoring.
Assistant Chief Constable Jukes said: “Since (that operation) we’ve seen a number of other actions by the police and by other agencies.
“What we are seeing is the reality that there are individuals in our communities vulnerable to radicalisation and a very small number of those who are prepared to go one step further and get involve in terrorist planning.
“There’s a whole host of sources of radicalisation and some of those sit within the community, at times albeit at the margins.
“Some of them lie in events all over the world and now there’s a reality of people self-radicalising using the internet.”
As a result, he said, the unit is “ever-mindful of the need to protect our communities both from the threat of radicalisation and a direct threat”.
Assistant Chief Constable Jukes added that the improved relationship between police and the public is helping to combat the issue, citing examples of members of Cardiff’s Muslim community approaching police with concerns about particular individuals.
This led to the safe return of two teenage boys suspected of having links with Islamist group Al Sha-baab being returned home after travelling to Kenya and the disruption of a meeting in Canton Community Hall.
Mr Jukes said making those individuals who feel disillusioned or isolated feel part of the wider community is the key to reducing the number turning to extremism.
A Cardiff council spokeswoman said it was involved in a “multi-agency approach to tackling extremism in Cardiff”, in line with actions in the Wales plan.
The Welsh Government said it prioritised public safety and protection of civil liberties above all else.
Current threats listed in the document
- Increased incidences of radicalisation in Cardiff
- International terrorism from al Qaeda and affiliated groups
- Vulnerability from lone actors
- Threat of Northern Ireland related terrorism linked to dissident groups
- Domestic extremism from English/Welsh Defence Leagues and environmentalism activism
Vulnerabilities listed in the plan
- Wales has a number of crowded places, particularly in the capital city, which could present targets for terrorist attacks
- Wales has a capital city and a devolved government that may present a softer alternative target to London
- Large rural areas of rural landscape providing possible terrain for terrorist training
- A number of ports located along the coast of Wales
- Locations and services that are identified as critical to our critical national infrastructure
Cardiff’s Muslim community reacts
Leading members of Cardiff’s Muslim community said that while there were known extremists in the capital, their number and influence has diminished.
Muslim Council of Wales secretary general Saleem Kidwai said a group of about 12 to 15 men had been isolated by the community.
The group has gone by various names, is known to police and banned from preaching or handing out flyers at any of the city’s mosques, he said.
“The presence of these individuals does not mean there is any increase of radicalisation,” Mr Kidwai said.
“They lure other people in to do their dirty work for them, distributing leaflets and things like that. They do not face us whenever we try to talk to them because they know that they do not have the answers.”
Imams, Mr Kidwai said, have become “very vigilant” at tackling the threat of radicalisation, reaching out to vulnerable young people “so they do not have the chance to fall into the trap”.
A scheme aimed at supporting Muslims about to be released from Welsh prisons has also been a success. In the past year some 15 ex-offenders were offered help in adjusting, he said.
“The Muslim community in Cardiff are very well integrated. You always have individuals but as long as the majority are united in dealing with it they will not become successful,” he said.
Butetown’s Labour councillor Ali Ahmed said radicalisation was “definitely not” increasing.
“It has, in fact, decreased a lot. I do not see any threat at all,” he said.
“Obviously we are aware that there was a group, but I think that the group’s profile is very low. They have no access to any of the mosques and I do not see them gathering anywhere else.
“The police have done a wonderful job, as have the community.”
Examples of extremism in Cardiff
April 2010: Muslim leaders condemn the distribution of a leaflet urging a boycott of the general election, threatening “hellfire” for anyone who voted.
December 2010: Three would-be terrorists are arrested after police foil their plot to bomb the London Stock Exchange and even launch a “Mumbai-style” atrocity. Cardiff brothers Abdul Miah, 25, of Ninian Park Road, Riverside, and Gurukanth Desai, 30, of Albert Street, Riverside, along with Omar Sharif Latif, 28, of Albert Street, Riverside, planned their Al Qaeda-inspired attacks on walks around Roath Park. They were eventually jailed for a total of nearly 40 years.
October 2011: Two teenage boys from Cardiff suspected of having links with Islamist group Al Sha-baab are arrested on their return to the UK after being deported from Kenya. The 18-year-olds were detained by the Metropolitan Police under the Terrorism Act before being released without charge.
January 2012: Specialist anti-terror police swoop on Canton Community Hall on Leckwith Road after concerns were raised that local Muslims, claimed to be affiliated with a banned extremist group, were holding secret meetings. Mohammed Abdin, 21, of Clare Road, Grangetown, was later jailed for four months for telling police: “I’m going to chop your head off.”
July 2012: The sister of one of the would-be London Stock Exchange bombers, Ruksana Begum, 22, of Ninian Park Road, Riverside, is jailed for a year for having al-Qaeda terrorist material in her mobile phone.
July 2012: A Cardiff jihadist who applied to work at the Millennium Stadium during the Olympic Games is jailed for nine months. Norman Idris Faridi, 32, of Pen-y-Wain, Roath, was found to have a “terrorist’s manual”, 39 Ways To Serve And Proceed In Jihad, on his external hard drive.