THE UK must be ready for attacks by “opportunists”, but self-defence drone and military attacks will remain within the law, Attorney General Jeremy Wright said yesterday.
Speaking to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Wright gave the fullest account yet of the government’s legal basis for strikes against overseas targets.
Discussing the terror threat from groups like Daesh, he insisted intelligence must prove the existence of an imminent threat to the UK before the military is allowed to act, stating: “For the United Kingdom, our determination to keep our streets and our citizens safe does not diminish the commitment to a rules-based international order the world has come to expect of us.
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“However far outside the law our attackers may go, we must defend ourselves and defeat them within the law.”
The comments come more than one year after it emerged that an Aberdeen man was amongst two British citizens killed by the government in a drone strike in Syria.
Ruhul Amin, 26, died in an attack targeted at fellow Daesh fighter Reyaad Khan, from Cardiff.
The incident took place near Raqqa in October 2015 and was revealed to Parliament by David Cameron the following month.
It was the first of its kind on a British citizen and was said to have been carried out in an “act of self defence” to prevent a “major event” in the UK.
Then-Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said Westminster would “not hesitate” to repeat the offensive in order to avert potential terror plots aimed at the UK.
Yesterday Wright confirmed this was lawful, stating: “The UK is a world leader in promoting, defending and shaping international law and for the first time we are setting out how we determine whether an attack is imminent.
“We are a long way from being able to see troops massing on the horizon. The frontline has irretrievably altered. Technology has made it easier for terrorists to carry out attacks.
“The law has to keep up with the changing times. The government has a primary duty to protect the lives of its citizens.”
However, Wright said defensive action against targets abroad can only be ordered when it can be proven that using local law enforcement would not work, or when the host nation is unable or unwilling to act.
Wright described the decision to take such action as “one of the most serious any government can face”, saying all other preventative options must have first been exhausted.
Cameron stated the Raqqa attack had been carried after “meticulous planning”. After Amin’s death, childhood friend Stephen Marvin revealed he had “absolutely no fear of death”.
The international terrorism threat level in the UK has been set at “severe” for more than two years.