Prospect of Isis obtaining nuclear weapons 'obviously a concern', says Defence Secretary

Comments come as Government considers its response to the deadly terror attacks in Brussels

Charlie Cooper
Whitehall Correspondent
Thursday 24 March 2016 01:02 GMT
Michael Fallon, Secretary of State for Defence
Michael Fallon, Secretary of State for Defence (AP)

The prospect of Isis or another terror group with the “technical know-how” obtaining nuclear weapons is “obviously a concern”, the Defence Secretary has said, as the Government considered its response to the deadly terror attacks in Brussels.

Michael Fallon stressed the importance of ensuring terror groups could not “get their hands on nuclear weapons” and said the UK was doing its part by maintaining strict export controls on the necessary technology.

Responding to questions following a speech on the UK’s Trident nuclear weapons system, Mr Fallon said: "It is obviously a concern that we will see non-state actors with the finance and perhaps some of the technical know-how seeking to get hold of nuclear weapons.

"That is why we maintain very strict export control criteria for the technologies involved and why we need to be on our guard."

World powers are set to meet in Washington DC later this month for talks on preventing nuclear terrorism – the fourth such summit since 2010. In its Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015, the Government said the risk of terrorists obtaining nuclear, chemical or biological weapons may increase in the coming years.

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, set out the steps the Government is taking to tighten security at home amid heightened terror fears at home and abroad. She said the UK Border Force had increased the number of officers at ports in Belgium and France and introduced “enhanced searches” of inbound tourist vehicles.

Facing questions from Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham, she confirmed that a £34m investment to increase the capacity of armed police units able to respond to a Paris-style attack in the UK would also see forces outside London benefit, following concerns about cuts to capacity in Greater Manchester and Merseyside.

Ms May said that the UK must also “do more to counter the poisonous and repugnant narrative peddled by Daesh [Isis] and expose it for what it is – a perversion of Islam, built on fear and lies.”

She criticised comments made by Donald Trump, who claimed on 23 March that Muslims were “absolutely not reporting” suspected terrorists and needed to “open up to society”.

Trump says British Muslims are “absolutely not reporting” suspected terrorists

Ms May said the Republican presidential front-runner was “just plain wrong” in his assessment.

“People in Muslim communities around the United Kingdom are as concerned as everybody else in the UK about both the attacks that have taken place and about the perversion of Islam underlying the ideology that has led to violence,” she said.

Deputy assistant commissioner Neil Basu, from the UK Counter Terrorism Policing Network, also condemned Mr Trump’s comments, made in an interview with ITV’s Piers Morgan show, warning that they risked “playing into the terrorists hands and making people feel hate”.

In a report published on 24 March, MPs on the influential Foreign Affairs Committee, said that the UK’s role in the fight against Isis should extend to facilitating successful peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition forces, to pave the way for a preliminary agreement that could see both sides turn their fire on the group’s strongholds in Syria.

Chair of the committee Crispin Blunt said it would be “completely counter to our interests” if the on-going peace talks in Geneva collapsed and warned that the UK “might bear a share of the responsibility” if the opposition groups it supports were to de-rail talks.

In their report, MPs also argue that Turkey’s actions against the Kurds is undermining the global fight against Isis, whom Kurdish forces are fighting in both Syria and Iraq, and called on the UK government to lobby the Turkish government to curtail its “destructive role in the political process”.

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