Cameron Seeks To Expand Terrorism Laws To Target British Fighters

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Prime Minister David Cameron said it was abhorrent that British citizens declared their allegiance to groups like ISIS. He said new rules would allow police to seize passports of suspected militants.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

As extremist groups continue to make gains in Iraq and Syria, there is concern about the large number of Westerners who are fighting alongside them. Western security officials are concerned they will bring the fight home. The U.K. in particular has reason to worry, with a long history of British citizens involved in Islamist extremism. Britain is now considering new laws to combat that threat. Rich Preston reports.

RICH PRESTON, BYLINE: Speaking in the British House of Commons, Prime Minister David Cameron said Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq pose a direct threat to everyone in Europe.

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PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON: We should be clear about the root cause of this threat - a poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism, which believes in using the most brutal forms of terrorism to force people to accept a warped worldview and to live in a medieval state.

PRESTON: Britain believes about 500 of its citizens have traveled to the region to fight with extremists. Cameron referenced the recent beheading of journalist James Foley. The voice in that video spoke English with a British accent.

Last Friday, the U.K. raised its terror threat status to severe, its second-highest level. Cameron's statement to Parliament said legislation would be aimed at disrupting terrorist activity. The government already has the power to seize passports, restrict travel and prosecute for terrorist activities overseas. But Cameron's legislation would give police the power to seize the person's passport at the border. Cameron said more needed to be done to prevent people traveling to terrorist areas and returning to U.K. soil.

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CAMERON: It is abhorrent that people who declare their allegiance elsewhere are able to return to the United Kingdom and pose a threat to our national security.

PRESTON: As part of the new measures, airlines will have to inform the government about passengers traveling to and from conflict zones. For suspected extremists within the U.K., police and intelligence agencies would be able to restrict people's movements. Cameron received wide cross-party support. But objections were raised over the legality and effectiveness of some of the new measures, in particular the ability to restrict a citizens' movement. Cameron said the country simply has no choice.

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CAMERON: It is a duty for all those who live in these islands. So we will stand up for our values, we will in the end defeat this extremism and we will secure our way of life for generations to come.

PRESTON: The next phase of the process is for the government to draft legislation to be presented to members of Parliament. Cameron said the proposed new powers are important measures to plug gaps in the British armory. For NPR News, I'm Rich Preston in London.

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