The Blog

Jihadi John, Jihadi Brides and The UK's 'Chocolate Teapot' Border Controls

With counter terrorist units at airports struggling to cope with workloads that have doubled, they also have to attempt to fill the gaps left by the absence of outbound border controls. Too few officers and too many flights make this a near hopeless task.

News that three British girls, Shamima Begum, Kadiza Sultana, and Amira Abase, had travelled with such apparent ease to Turkey in order to join ISIL forces in Syria will come as no surprise to despairing counter terrorist police and UK Border Force officers working at UK air and sea ports.

Of equal interest will be the identification of Jihadi John as Mohammed Emwazi and the circumstances of his departure from the UK that eventually led him to his murderous tasks in Syria. Given the fact that Emwazi had clearly been on the radar of the security services since 2006, it begs the question as to how eventually he too was able to pass unnoticed through our borders.

The contempt the jihadists hold for UK border controls was clearly illustrated by the fact that those organising the travel plans of the three prospective brides didn't even feel it necessary to arrange for the girls to travel to Turkey via another airport hub. Instead they chose the direct route to Turkey knowing that the virtually non-existent border controls in respect of departing passengers would guarantee the successful completion of their journey,

It is of course through these non-existent controls that hundreds of jihadists, including Jihadi John, have travelled over the last few years, not just to Syria but to other troubled countries such as Somalia and Yemen. Such is the porous nature of UK borders that even jihadists on bail managed to escape to Syria with consummate ease and are now mocking the UK from ISIL controlled territory.

Few police or border force officers will be concerned at the fall from grace of Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw. Malcolm Rifkind's Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) paid scant attention to the lamentable state of our borders during the time of this parliament while Jack Straw incurred the wrath of the security services, police and UK immigration together with numerous social agencies when he abolished departure (embarkation) controls in 1998.

The decision to scrap departure controls was and indeed still is, manna from heaven for potential terrorists together with others escaping justice or intending to engage in nefarious activities abroad.

The Home Office has tried to stave off criticism as an election looms by disingenuously stating that 'exit checks' would be reintroduced in April 2015. These checks however, will not involve properly constituted controls but would be computerised using the troubled eBorders system in order to detect those who are termed 'overstayers.' It will do nothing to stem the flow of travelling jihadists and potential jihadi brides.

Whilst the police have briefed airport check-in and security staff to watch out for 'suspicious' passengers who may be travelling to conflict areas, it is clearly unfair to expect them to act as 'stand in' border control officers when they themselves have their own duties and pressures to deal with.

The Turkish ambassador and Turkish Airlines officials who have been summoned to a hearing of the Home Affairs Select Committee in March could well be forgiven for asking Chairman Keith Vaz, why the UK hasn't put its own house in order in respect of its chaotic borders.

It is likely that these airline officials will be well aware that all airline manifests in relation to Turkish flights will be in the possession of the UK law enforcement officers at the National Border Targeting Centre within minutes of take off. The question is whether there are sufficient resources to subject such manifests to 'real time' scrutiny that would have prompted concerns in respect of the three girls.

With counter terrorist units at airports struggling to cope with workloads that have doubled, they also have to attempt to fill the gaps left by the absence of outbound border controls. Too few officers and too many flights make this a near hopeless task.

UK law enforcement officers have previously been posted to foreign airports and there is bewilderment as to why British police officers were not deployed to Turkish airports when it was realised that Turkey was being used a gateway to Syria by jihadists. Such assistance would clearly have been welcomed by the Turkish authorities.

Failures at our borders were frequently exposed in a series of damning reports by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, John Vine. Such was the resultant embarrassment to the government that Theresa May began both redacting sections of his reports and manipulating their release dates. Little wonder that John Vine resigned in December and with his resignation went the hopes of border force and police officers for more effective controls.

Sadly however, many would argue that the damage has been done with hundreds of trained jihadists back in the UK and unknown numbers of females enslaved in ISIL controlled areas of Syria and Iraq. The failure of UK borders to prevent the three teenagers from travelling to Syria and its lamentable record in terms of travelling jihadists would surely, in previous generations, have resulted in calls for the resignation of the Home Secretary. It perhaps a sign of the times that Theresa May is instead being seriously considered as a future Conservative Party leader.