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World

Britain To Announce Sweeping Counterterrorism Legislation

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And one of the most controversial decisions a Western nation can make when faced with the kidnapping of its citizens by terrorists is whether to pay a ransom or allow a ransom to be paid. That's among the issues that will be addressed by the British government when it introduces sweeping new counterterrorism legislation tomorrow. From London, reporter Vicki Barker has the story.

VICKI BARKER, BYLINE: The proposed legislation will give British authorities more power to confiscate the passports of anyone they suspect of planning to travel to join or return from Islamist forces in Iraq and Syria. It will require more detailed reporting from airlines, phone companies and Internet service providers. And British Home Secretary Theresa May said the government will also step-up attempts to cut off a major source of funding for terror groups, like the self-declared Islamic State.

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THERESA MAY: The bill will amend existing law to make sure U.K.-based insurance firms do not provide cover for the payment of terrorist ransoms.

BARKER: May cited U.N. estimates that ISIS has raised nearly $44 million from ransom payments in the past 12 months alone. It's already a criminal offense here in Britain to finance terrorism. The new law clarifies that the payment of ransoms falls into that category. London is a major hub for the global insurance industry, but it's not clear whether the law would have much effect beyond Britain's borders. The U.S. and the U.K. are among the few Western governments that are on the record as refusing to ransom their citizens. Michael Winter is a Middle East expert at the Quilliam Foundation, a counterterrorism think tank. He says that in the absence of the Europe-wide ban on ransoms, ISIS leaders are almost certain to order more kidnappings.

MICHAEL WINTER: Their principal stream of income is from oil and gas, but as oil and gas is depleted by coalition airstrikes, there will be a rise in kidnapping for ransom if people do continue to pay money.

BARKER: The new legislation is being launched in the middle of a weeklong government campaign to educate members of the British public about the terror threat and to enlist their help. Three thousand police and security officers are visiting schools, shopping malls, airports and cinemas telling people how to spot if a friend or relative is being radicalized. Theresa May said about five terror plots have been foiled this year alone, 40 since the July 7 bombings in 2005. She also said 77 families have come forward in recent weeks to express fears that their children may have been radicalized. For NPR News, I'm Vicki Barker in London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.