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Slaughter of the innocent

For a suicide bomber to slaughter 22 harmless innocents and injure another 59 for any cause can only be described as an act of lunacy. Salman Abedi’s choice of targets beggars belief as most of them were too young to have any views on his jihadist beliefs and loyalties.

To slay them as a perverted expression of those beliefs makes his act one of unforgivable evil.  Respect for freedom of belief and religion is a precious human right but surely not for anyone whose beliefs and religion leads to acts like Abedi’s.

How do we respond to this massacre? Initially the response has to be for the security services to find and bring to justice Abedi’s co-conspirators. To obtain the materials and successfully make the bomb takes considerable skill and there is no evidence that he had it so there must still be people who made his weapon and supported his preparations. Finding and bringing them to justice is the job of MI5 whilst the police and army on our streets seek to prevent further terrorist acts.

That’s the easy part. Much more challenging is preventing the radicalisation of people like Abedi. That is the function of schools, local authorities, churches and other faith bodies who work locally to nurture community life and mutual understanding that discourage such acts of violent hatred. Beyond that the elimination of the global hub of jihadist terrorism is the ultimate challenge. So far Governments are using military means to drive the so-called Islamic State out of Iraq and Syria but that is proving a formidable task. Even if it was to be successful, there are still other jihadist organisations like Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and El Shebaab and their many offspring.

Nor should we forget that the trauma of Tuesday’s incident will linger long in the minds of those who lived. The children who fled in terror and the parents who lost a child will have been psychologically wounded and the scars may take many years to heal, whilst those who have lost a limb will live with the consequences for the rest of their lives.

It would be easy for most of us whose only involvement has been via the TV, radio or newspapers to file Tuesday in our memories as we did with 9/11 and 7/7 so that the Manchester incident becomes just another bad memory. How many of us, apart from those directly involved, still think about the incident in Westminster just a month ago? It matters that we do. First, it will make us vigilant whilst the security level remains high. Second it will encourage us to pray for the victims of these incidents and their grieving families. Third, it will help us to think carefully about Government measures to counter terrorism.

One example is how they tackle jihadist propaganda. The jihadist groups use the social media to send messages to their followers. Khalid Masood sent a final message on WhatsApp two minutes before he began his killer drive across Westminster Bridge in April. Some of these messages are encrypted and cannot be read by anyone who doesn’t have access. The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 gives the Government the power to demand access to them by issuing a warrant signed by the Home Secretary and approved by a senior judge. That will inevitably cause howls of outrage from those who want to protect the social media from Government interference but we have to consider which is the greater evil.

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