. Terrorist or not? The political organisations banned in Britain | Ceasefire Magazine

Terrorist or not? The political organisations banned in Britain

Since 2000, the British state has maintained a list of organisations which are officially banned. People are not supposed to be members of these organisations. We aren’t even supposed to support these organisations. Even wearing a T-shirt bearing their name or logo is a criminal offence. Such is the depth of political control today. The […]

Features - Posted on Tuesday, July 22, 2008 11:23 - 11 Comments

Since 2000, the British state has maintained a list of organisations which are officially banned. People are not supposed to be members of these organisations. We aren’t even supposed to support these organisations. Even wearing a T-shirt bearing their name or logo is a criminal offence. Such is the depth of political control today.

The Home Secretary can effectively add new organisations at whim – there is some parliamentary and judicial scrutiny but not much. Supposedly, the banned organisations are all “terrorist”. There are currently 44 “international” groups on the banned list, not including 14 groups active in Northern Ireland. Given the depth of the threat to basic liberties posed by this list, scrutiny is needed as to who is on it and why. This is what I aim to perform here.

I’ve covered some 15 of the 44 groups here. In each case, I pose the question of whether the group can really be called an international terrorist organisation posing a threat to Britain. The conclusions are disturbing to say the least.

These are the sections I’ve used:

This section discusses whether the group concerned can accurately be described as “terrorist” or not, using the standard that a group is terrorist if it carries out deliberate armed attacks on civilians, “the peacetime equivalent of war crimes”. The assessment is made in terms of the group’s actions – no judgement is implied for or against the causes of the various groups.

This section discusses whether the group is active internationally, or is simply taking part in a local insurgency or civil war.

Does the group concerned pose any threat in terms of carrying out attacks in Britain?

Why added?
This section suggests possible reasons for the selectiveness of the list, and why particular groups might have been added.

This section compares groups which have been proscribed with others which have not. Its main purpose is to expose the inconsistency and bias of the list – to suggest that the amount and extremity of violence committed by a group, the targeting of civilians, or the threat it poses has very little to do with whether it is listed or not. It is not necessarily meant to suggest that the other groups discussed should be banned – rather, that those which are banned have been unfairly treated.


Terrorist? Sort of – FARC has carried out massacres of civilians suspected of opposing it, as part of an ongoing “dirty war” between FARC and the Colombian state. But it is basically a guerrilla army. Earlier this year, a Danish court ruled that financing a FARC radio station did not constitute supporting terrorism.

International? No – apart from negotiators abroad, FARC is a domestic group involved in a civil war

Britain? No

Why added? Colombia is a US foreign policy “frontline” with a vicious neoliberal government

Oversights? The AUC, a far-right paramilitary group, has committed more, and more extreme, atrocities than FARC, and yet is not on the list. Around 100 trade unionists and other social movement activists are assassinated by right-wing terrorists every year. Such right-wing violence is the main reason the FARC came into existence. The US has added AUC to its terror list, but continues to aid AUC indirectly through resources given to the Colombian military under Plan Colombia, which are often funnelled to the AUC. The AUC is well-documented as being continuous with the Colombian military and used by it to carry out operations it doesn’t want to be caught handling. Similar groups in Venezuela have been involved in coup plots. In Cuba, American-backed terrorists have carried out a series of attacks on tourist resorts and air travel, most notoriously blowing up a plane full of foreign students in 1976. The self-professed anti-Castro terrorist, Luis Posada Carriles, is living freely in America. Posada claims to have been bankrolled by the Cuban-American National Foundation, a right-wing group which receives money from the US government and the company Bacardi. But don’t expect Bacardi to face terrorism charges any time soon.


Terrorist? ETA yes – though it mainly targets government figures, and has only recently expanded to civilian targets. Alleged supporters, included under EU and UK rules, no – these are civil society youth groups, political parties, non-violent direct action groups and so on, which Spain has rather dubiously classified as parts of ETA, and the British state has gone along with. For instance, an activist of the party Batasuna has been held in Britain pending deportation for being a “terrorist”.

International? Not really – aside from some activity in France, the group is fighting a very local campaign

Britain? No

Why added? Spanish state pressure within the EU

Oversights? Acts of torture and repression by the Spanish state’s shadowy “anti-terrorism” apparatus could easily be used to proscribe cooperation with its security agencies, but at present do not even stop deportations to Spain. The death-squads of GAL, state-linked paramilitaries involved in murders of Basque separatists, are not included on the British list.

Balochistan Liberation Army

Terrorist? No – this group is involved in a standard guerrilla insurgency against the Pakistani state

International? No

Britain? No

Why added? Apparently as part of a deal with Pakistan to get a “terrorist suspect” deported to Britain, in exchange for Baloch human rights activists

Oversights? Pakistan has used state terrorism in border areas, such as collective punishment, and the Pakistani ISI has been connected to alleged terrorists in Kashmir and elsewhere. There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of nationalist and separatist insurgent groups around the world. Most of these are not on the list. Two, TPLF and EPLF?, are now the govts of Ethiopia and Eritrea (western allies). Others are operating in Darfur where the west is hostile to the govt. The KLA, formerly proscribed by the US and UN, is now central to the western-backed government of Kosovo. It seems nationalist insurgents only become terrorists when their enemy is an allied state.

CPP (Philippines)

Terrorist? Sort of – the group has carried out assassinations, but is primarily a guerrilla army

International? No – dissident leaders are in exile, but the group has not carried out attacks abroad. Alleged threats made against other Filipino exiles have not been acted on.

Britain? No

Why added? The Philippines is another key US ally in implementing neoliberalism

Oversights? Similar groups operate in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Burma and elsewhere. Clearly singling out the CPP is an act in support of the Filipino regime.


Terrorist? Not really – the PKK is a guerrilla insurgency involved in guerrilla warfare against occupying forces, though they’ve committed some human rights abuses (targeting teachers for example)

International? Not really – aside from alleged bases in Iraqi Kurdistan, and wider Kurdish support, the group carries on its war entirely within Turkey

Britain? No

Why added? Turkey is a NATO member and close US ally. Also, banning Turkish groups such as PKK and DHKP-C makes it much harder for Turkish dissidents – often wrongly accused of membership of such groups – to claim asylum in Britain.

Oversights? Turkey is a semi-democratic regime with a very strong and insidious “deep state” (see below). The Turkish state has committed far more extreme and extensive human rights violations than the PKK, such as saturation bombing of entire villages, systematic use of torture, and even periodic invasions of the border regions of Iraq. In addition, it seems dubious that only Turkish Kurds are targeted. If the PKK is on the list, Kurdish groups in Northern Iraq (KDP, PUK) should logically be included too, since they used similar tactics to fight for independence. Yet these groups now form the official local government of US-occupied Iraqi Kurdistan, and one of their leaders, Jalal Talabani of the PUK, is the President of Iraq.


Terrorist? Yes, with provisos – Hamas has carried out attacks on civilians in Israel, such as rocket attacks and suicide bombings. But it is also a mass social movement, and the democratically-elected government of the Gaza strip.

International? No

Britain? No

Why added? Britain and America basically support Israel against the Palestinians, and ban Palestinian groups as part of this policy of political support

Oversights? The Israeli government is a prime contender for the designation of “state terrorist”. Far more innocent Palestinians are killed by Israel than are Israelis by Palestinian groups. In addition, extreme groups strong among Jewish settlers have been involved in terrorism such as the massacre by Baruch Goldstein and the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. One of these groups, Kach/Kahane Chai, is banned in America and the EU – but not in Britain. Many leaders of the Israeli state have been former members of groups such as Haganah, Irgun and Stern, which carried out terrorist attacks during the Israeli war of independence, such as blowing up the King David Hotel

While people are locked up for planning to fight in Palestine or Iraq, pro-Israeli groups openly recruit for the Israeli Army’s Sar-El programme in Britain, which involves spending two weeks serving at an Israeli military base.


Terrorist? No – the group is banned because it “glorifies” terrorism; it is a formerly legal political party.

International? No

Britain? Not unless encouraging unpopular views is considered a “threat”. The government alleges that former members sometimes become terrorists, and that “glorification” indirectly causes terrorism. But by this standard, the government should be arrested for provoking people into terrorism by invading Iraq.

Why added? As part of a criminalisation of political Islamist ideology, and to satisfy press hysteria about rowdy demonstrations by the group.

Oversights? It has often been pointed out that rhetoric just as extreme can be heard any day from speakers in Hyde Park. Neo-Nazi groups such as the NSM and C18 are not proscribed, despite calling for and sometimes engaging in “race war”.


Terrorist? No – it’s a political party, similar to Sinn Fein, formed as an attempt by the PKK to move from “bullet to ballot”.

International? It is Turkey-focused but has global support.

Britain? No

Why added? To please Turkey, and as part of the policy of banning “terrorist” doctrines and “supporters” as well as actual terrorists

Oversights? The group is no different from Irish parties such as Sinn Fein, the Ulster Democratic Party and the Progressive Unionists, who are still legal today and were never banned during the Troubles. Had these groups been banned, it is inconceivable that the Good Friday Agreement could have happened – a lesson which seems to have been forgotten in the treatment of al-Muhajiroun, Kongra-Gel and Batasuna.

Hezb-E Islami Gulbuddin (HIG)

Terrorist? No – this is the political movement of supporters of former Afghan president and anti-Soviet guerrilla leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Like most Afghan warlords, Hekmatyar has been associated with war crimes, but not the kind of deliberate targeting of civilians usually associated with the label “terrorism”.

International? No

Britain? No, aside from British troops occupying Afghanistan

Why added? Because Hekmatyar sided with the Taleban after being expelled from the Northern Alliance at America’s behest. He was the Northern Alliance leader and pending Afghan president before the west shipped in Karzai

Oversights? Hekmatyar is no worse than dozens of other Afghan warlords, including some who are part of the official government. Rachid Dostum, a warlord based in northern Afghanistan, has a particularly bad reputation for rapes and massacres, was caught killing thousands of prisoners of war after the US invasion – and is a key figure in the occupation-backed government.


Terrorist group? If it exists, yes – but intelligence specialists have claimed that al-Qaeda has become an “idea” rather than a group. The leadership group around bin Laden, although mostly still at large, do not appear to be operating as an organising force and are only seen in occasional propaganda videos. So who counts as an al-Qaeda member? Dangerously, the government seems to consider anyone who sympathises with Islamist ideas or who has trained in Afghanistan to be in al-Qaeda; most of these people are not terrorists

International? Yes.

Why added? This is supposedly the whole point of the “war on terror” – this list wouldn’t be a list without it! Though actually, al-Qaeda was only added to the list after the 911 attacks.

Britain? Supposedly, although confirmed attacks and plots here have all been “home-grown”. Bin Laden has publicly stated that Britain is only at risk because of its involvement in foreign wars, and that countries such as Sweden are not at risk.

Oversights? Western intelligence services, along with those of countries such as Pakistan, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, built up the network of foreign fighters in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The Pakistani ISI and Indonesia’s Kopassus are widely suspected of continuing to use local Islamist groups to carry out operations too politically thorny for the spooks themselves. Security cooperation with these organisations has not been prohibited because of their links to “terrorism”. Rather, they have been given blank cheques. Kopassus, proscribed in the US after it was found to have been involved in an attack on Americans in Papua, was de-proscribed as part of the “war on terror”, despite its long-standing links to the Bali bombers.

Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), Algeria

Terrorist? Today, yes – before, no. In 2002 the BBC reported that it ‘focuses its attacks on military targets, and is not believed to be implicated in the killing of civilians’. Its recent switch to attacks on civilians and abductions of westerners is a classic example of the self-fulfilling prophecy – by criminalizing national insurgent groups, the west creates the threat it fears.

International? The group has recently adopted the al-Qaeda label, presumably to get attention, and attacks foreign targets within Algeria, such as western tourists.

Britain? No. The group does not operate outside Algeria.

Why added? The list includes virtually every political Islamist organization the government could find – these groups make up about half the 40-strong list. The government adheres to a conspiracy theory which views all these groups as offshoots of al-Qaeda, and has sought to criminalize political Islam in general, regardless of context

Oversights? Algeria’s secret police, the DRS, operate outside official control and are responsible for systematic torture. Of course, they are not proscribed – far from it. Western states hand suspects over to the DRS and use evidence obtained by it through torture. Algeria’s ruling regime is itself an outgrowth of an armed opposition group, the anti-colonial FLN, which carried out terrorist attacks.

Hizbollah (Lebanon)

Terrorist? The armed wing, yes – Hizbollah has carried out shellings against civilians, suicide bombings and other attacks. But the organisation also runs social services, media and political activities which are not terrorist; these are implicitly covered by the ban. Hizbollah’s TV station – a legitimate source of alternative, if biased, news – has officially been shut down in Europe.

International? Not really – the group is not known for operating outside Lebanon.

Britain? No.

Why banned? Hezbollah is anti-Israel, anti-western and allied to Iran.

Oversights? Almost all the various sectarian factions in Lebanon have their own militias, but only Hizbollah is banned. The semi-fascist Falange movement, associated with the Maronite Christian community, perpetrated a number of atrocities against civilians during Lebanon’s civil wars, such as the notorious Shabra and Shatilla massacres. Surprise surprise – it is not on the list.

November 17 (Greece)

Terrorist? Probably fair comment – the group has carried out assassinations, bombings and bank robberies, although the targets are usually government-connected.

International? No

Britain? No, except for the British embassy within Greece

Why added? Probably because Greece is an EU member and political ally. The Turkish leftist DHKP-C is also banned, and about half the EU proscribed organisations list is made up of leftist and anarchist groups from southern Europe (though most of these have not made it onto the British list).

Oversight? Like ETA, November 17 was set up to resist an American-backed fascist regime. Armed opposition in southern Europe is deeply connected to the political context in which the army and secret service colluded with right-wing parties to criminalise social movements, keep the left from power and push their societies towards fascism. The persistence of some of these groups after “transitions to democracy” is due to the incompleteness of the transition and unfinished business which was never addressed. In fact the major perpetrator of massacres and attacks in southern Europe are the deep-state and far-right networks connected to the Gladio project, Nato’s undercover plan to sabotage the European left. The Bologna bombing, used as a pretext for a mass roundup of activists, was later revealed to be the work of Gladio, working with the Italian secret service and a neo-Nazi group, Ordine Nuovo. Needless to say, none of these groups is proscribed – not Gladio, and not the far-right groups linked to it. In Turkey, activities of the deep state – “shadowy forces in the army, the judiciary and the bureaucracy long suspected of working with the mafia to advance their ultra-nationalist agenda” – have long been alleged, and recently brought to the surface by the exposure of a cell plotting bombings and assassinations. The cell, referred to as Ergenekon, included several army officers and a senior prosecutor. Surprise surprise, Ergenekon is not on any of the terror lists.

International Sikh Youth Federation

Terrorist? No. The group is accused of supporting militancy in the Punjab, but is mainly active in the west. It appears to have been targeted mainly for its beliefs and indirect support. It exists mainly in Britain, Canada, Germany and the US, but has been forced to officially dissolve due to criminalisation. The other proscribed Sikh group, Babbar Khalsa, carried out attacks in the past, but has not committed a majot attack for some time.

International? Yes – this is primarily a Sikh diasporic group.

Britain? No

Why added? Presumably under pressure from India to shut down groups operating out of the west.

Oversight? ISYF was legal in India until 2002 when it was banned by the far-right BJP which was then in power. The BJP is linked to the RSS, an extreme group involved in pogroms against non-Hindus in India. In 2002, RSS supporters in BJP-controlled Gujarat state carried out large-scale attacks on Muslims in which 2000 were killed and hundreds of thousands left homeless. Like Sikh and Muslim groups, the RSS receives financial and moral support from some Hindus abroad. Unlike them, it is not on any of the terror lists. Instead, the BJP regime was courted as an ally in the “war on terror” owing to its anti-Muslim rhetoric and support for neoliberalism.

Mujaheddin-e-Khalq (People’s Mujahideen, Iran)

Terrorist? No – this was formerly an armed opposition group in exile, seeking to overthrow the Iranian regime. In 2007 a special court ordered the British government to de-proscribe the group, and last month the ruling was upheld on appeal. Despite this, the group still appears on the list as of June 2008.

International? No

Britain? No

Why added? Nobody knows – probably as a bargaining chip in negotiations with Iran. The group was banned in America in 1997 as a goodwill gesture to an incoming reformist government in Iran; at the time, it was allied with Saddam Hussein.

Oversight? Bizarrely, although banned in both America and Britain, this group is based in occupied Iraq, and is actually receiving support from the American government! It has been reported that America intends to use this group to invade Iran should there be a war with the country. The paradox of the British and American organisations “harbouring” a group they themselves have declared to be terrorist has largely been ignored. This is also the group which supplied evidence on Iranian nuclear programmes which caused international controversy earlier this year. Although absurd, the situation is not new – the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA/UCK) had a similar status during the bombing of Yugoslavia.

The full list can be found at:


Statewatch’s coverage of the UK, EU and other “terror lists” can be found here:



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Andrew Turvey
Aug 3, 2008 16:31

“Does the group concerned pose any threat in terms of carrying out attacks in Britain?”

This criterion should not be relevant. It is deeply immoral for Britain to set itself up as a country where international terrorists can base themselves – so long as they didn’t attack British interests. We did this for a long long time for Islamist extremists.

It is profoundly naive to think that they won’t one day turn around and bite the hand that feeds them – as of course the Islamists did.

We should never make that mistake again. Terrorism is terrorism, regardless of where it takes place. Using Britain as a base to organise terrorist atacks in a foreign country should never, ever, be tolerated again.

Daniel Barnes
Aug 3, 2008 19:11

I have been thinking along these same lines for a while now. It is far from obvious who the terrists really are. Just an additional note about Hezbollah, though, for clarification.

Hezbollah has only recently been added to the official list. The reason for this that the government has given is that Hezbollah recieves funding from – and therefore is allied with – Iran and Hezbollah is active in promoting insurgency in Iraq thus operating as a threat to British [occupying] forces.

This is, of course, a lame excuse. But that’s the one they gave. Read it in The Guardian. The real reason is obviously to do with the government’s latent but ill-concealed Zionist leanings.

Jonny Blaze
Oct 4, 2008 2:52

Interesting article. However can you really consider Israeli citizens living in the occupied territories, innocent civillians when they are armed, have all been drafted under Israel’s policy of national service and when they live on settlements considered illegal under international law?

Oct 15, 2008 14:52

How do you (author) class a terrorist organisation? It should cover groups who’ve engaged in violence/kidnapping and the like, don’t you think? Or organisations who get their money from drug traffiking, don’t you think? Like FARC? Or November 17? Or PKK? Who’ve all been envolved is such activities?

I would like to make special comment to

“November 17 (Greece)

Terrorist? Probably fair comment—” I find it appaling that that’s the strongest judgement you come to when you are seemingly aware of their “terrorist-eque” actions-ie killing of innocent people. Regardless of the right behind any of these groups’ causes, nearly all you’ve mentioned have at somepoint expended the lifes of others during their history to try and further a goal that they see appropriate, that they see leads to the best outcome for them. I think a redifing of terrorist organisation is in order.

P.S The PMOI was legalised on the 24/6/08 in the UK.

P.P.S. Could you please explain what it is precisely that governments themselves have to gain by outlawing organisations such as these? Do you seriously believe that “they” do it for themselves and not for the safety of millions? Are they not in a better position to judge what or who is more like to pose a threat to our liberties than we?

Nov 6, 2008 2:54

Impressa:) or as a Portuguese, vpechatlilso!

Nov 7, 2008 5:35

why isnt combat 18 on there?, who happily describe themselves at terrorists & genocide supporters as well as the protection for BNP

Doug = n00b
Dec 10, 2008 4:03

Doug = n00b

Notice the spectacular hop from “may have killed someone at some point” to “safety of millions”. I wonder how a defunct Greek group of a few dozen people never active in Britain could be a threat to millions in Britain for example.

More people die in road accidents than terrorist attacks, exponentially more, but nobody locks up members of motorists’ rights groups or journalists who oppose speed cameras to “protect millions” – it wouldn’t be fair, proportional or even useful. You’re more likely to be killed by your partner than by a terrorist. Actually more people are killed in Britain by police officers than by terrorists, though the state doesn’t want us to admit it. Terrorism is used as a disproportionate bugbear because of its conceptual looseness, its usefulness to the state and its association with connotatively defined mythological stereotypes drawn largely from popular film and fiction – the exaggerated risk of mass destruction for example. It’s impossible to estimate the risk of an attack killing “millions” but the it must be approaching zero – certainly less than the equally terrifying and doubtless larger risks of a reactor breach at Sellafield, a plane crash by a nuke-bearing American jet near Fairford or an accidental letoff of a stockpiled Russian ICBM – not to mention the truly overwhelming risks posed by global warming.

PMOI was removed because it successfully sued in the courts (first in Europe, then in Britain). The lists are thankfully not faring well in the European court system.

November 17th is not the strongest “yes”. There are several other qualified “yeses”. N17 is a borderline case because the civilian status of the people it targeted is questionable – they were not technically military but were always personally connected to pro-system violence.

Governments are NOT in a good position to assess who is “a threat to our liberties” since they are the biggest threat. Real terrorists threaten lives not liberty. Regular armed opposition groups threaten state armies and officials, not civilians (hence the state is protecting itself, not us). Bogus terrorists don’t threaten anything. The proof is in the list – most of those on it are no threat to anyone in Britain or to civilians anywhere.

A person who raises money by selling drugs is not a terrorist but merely a drug dealer (or a pharmaceutical company).

A person who uses violence is not necessarily a terrorist, they might be a soldier, a street fighter, a gangster, a police officer, a resistance fighter, a shopkeeper who fights off thieves, etc.

A group which kidnaps might be an extortion gang, not necessarily terrorist.

There’s a definition of terrorism at the top. I said a terrorist commits the equivalent of war crimes by killing civilians (“innocent people” is rather a subjective category in contrast – innocent by whose criteria of guilt?). Many of the organisations on the list are or were armed opposition groups which killed soldiers, paramilitary police or military-connected government officials, which is not “equivalent to a war crime”. It is only possible to logically say that a group is terrorist because it kills someone, if one logically takes the position of condemning war in all circumstances. If one accepts the idea of legitimate armed opposition in any circumstance (foreign occupation or tyranny for example), one has to distinguish legitimate armed oppositionists from terrorists. I actually think we should go further and reserve the term terrorist for groups who commit types of armed action which are never justified – we might disapprove of or condemn a group fighting an unjust or unnecessary guerrilla war but that doesn’t make them terrorists.

But if terrorism is defined to include all present or former armed opposition groups which have killed someone, then hundreds of groups – some of them British-backed – would be on the list, along with the current governments of most of the global South. Also, if a group is primarily a guerrilla army which has committed occasional abuses, then it should not simply be called terrorist because only a tiny portion of what it does is terrorist – otherwise it would again be necessary to include hundreds of groups including most state armies. The selectivity says it all – Palestinian groups but not Israeli groups, Marxists but not fascists, enemies of valued allies but not enemies of powerless or unpopular states.

Worse, not all the groups are even armed opposition groups. A few of the groups are not even armed opposition groups and have not killed anyone. Batasuna (treated as part of ETA) is a political party, al-Muhajiroun is a political advocacy group and ISYF is a pro-independence fundraising group. This is straightforward political persecution.

In short, the list is bogus, repressive, politically motivated, selective in discriminatory ways, and a thousand different kinds of wrong.

Such attacks on civil liberties are far more terrifying to me than all the terrorists in the world put together.

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Nov 5, 2010 21:14

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Sep 17, 2011 13:17

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[…]Terrorist or not? The political organisations banned in Britain – Ceasefire Magazine[…]…

Daniel Westbrook
Feb 13, 2016 21:30

“Far more Palestinians are killed by Israel than are Israelis by Palestinian groups.” Grossly misleading, as far more relevant to compare numbers of innocent citizens intentonally targeted. Also, those intentonally put in the line of Israeli defensive fire by Hamas are killed by Hamas, not by Israel.

Gerald Osmond
Feb 18, 2019 22:29

The Labour Party should be added to the list

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