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'Facebook could have halted murder'

A US web firm - reported to be Facebook - could have helped prevent soldier Lee Rigby's murder by flagging a "graphic and emotive" online chat between one of his killers and a foreign jihadist, a parliamentary watchdog has said.

In a long-awaited 192-page report, the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) labelled an unnamed in ternet company a "safe haven for terrorists" for failing to take action against suspected extremists after it emerged killer Michael Adebowale had vowed to slay a soldier in an exchange sent five months before he murdered Fusilier Rigby with his older accomplice Michael Adebolajo.

Social network Facebook is reportedly the firm at the centre of the allegations, which members of the ISC and Prime Minister David Cameron have refused to publicly name.

The group of MPs, chaired by Conservative Sir Malcolm Rifkind, said it was "highly unlikely" that the intelligence agencies would have seen the discussion, which came to light o nly after the barbaric murder near Woolwich barracks on May 22 last year, without the company's help.

The committee also concluded that the three intelligence agencies - MI5, MI6 and GCHQ - could not have prevented the murder of Fusilier Rigby despite a litany of errors and missed opportunities i n seven previous operations featuring Adebowale and Adebolajo.

Facebook is mentioned in the ISC report - but only as one of a number of communication service providers in the US from which UK agencies face "considerable difficulty" in accessing the content of communications. Apple, Google, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo are also named.

A Facebook spokesman said: "Like everyone else, we were horrified by the vicious murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby.

"We don't comment on individual cases but Facebook's policies are clear, we do not allow terrorist content on the site and take steps to prevent people from using our service for these purposes."

Human rights campaigners and civil liberties groups have raised concerns that the committee has "spun the facts" to shift blame on net firms and away from the intelligence agencies, while Adebolajo's brother said the report is a "distraction" from the UK's "continuing aggression against the faith and people of Islam".

But Fusilier Rigby's uncle Raymond Dutton, who lives in Greater Manchester, said he does not believe his nephew's brutal murder was preventable.

He said: "I honestly don't believe it could have been avoided. At the end of the day, the services are so stretched. It's easy with hindsight to proportion blame and to look at it as a whole.

"I'm a firm believer of the belief Lee was in the wrong place at the wrong time. If it hadn't been Lee it would have been someone else.

"I honestly don't believe it could have been averted but perhaps the learning from the report is what we can do with the information we've gleaned from this sad murder of my nephew."

Adebowale was in contact with an extremist now known to have links to al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (Aqap) in late 2012, the report said, however this was not revealed until an unidentified third party notified GCHQ after the attack.

In the exchange, he expressed his desire to murder a soldier in retaliation for UK military action in Iraq and Afghanistan, although he had not developed a plan as to how he might carry out an attack - but the extremist advised him on different methods of murder including using a knife.

It later emerged that a number of online accounts owned by Adebowale were automatically disabled due to association with terrorists and terrorism - but the web firm was unaware as it does not manually review such decisions.

Nor did the firm, which the ISC refuses to name, notify law enforcement agencies.

As well as announcing £130 million in funding to improve the agencies' capability to combat "self-starting" terrorists, Prime Minister David Cameron attacked internet firms for failing to help tackle the threat.

"Terrorists are using the internet to communicate with each other and we must not accept that these communications are beyond the reach of the authorities or the internet companies themselves," he said. "Their networks are being used to plot murder and mayhem. It is their social responsibility to act on this and we expect them to live up to that responsibility."

Addressing a press conference at Parliament, Sir Malcolm said the US firm "could have made a difference" by flagging the online exhange.

"This was highly significant. Had MI5 had access to this exchange at the time, Adebowale would have become a top priority," he said.

"There is, then, a significant possibility that MI5 would have been able to prevent the attack."

"However, this company does not regard themselves as under any obligation to ensure that they identify such threats, or to report them to the authorities," he added. "We find this unacceptable - however unintentionally, they are providing a safe haven for terrorists."

Muslim converts Adebolajo and Adebowale ran down Fusilier Rigby, who was dressed in a Help For Heroes hoodie, in a Vauxhall Tigra near Woolwich Barracks, in south east London, before savagely attacking the defenceless soldier as he lay in the road.

The ISC inspected hundreds of highly-classified documents and questioned ministers, the heads of the three agencies and senior officers from the Metropolitan Police for its inquiry - described as the most detailed report the group of MPs has ever published.

The fanatics appeared between them in seven different agency investigations, the ISC said, which contained "a number of errors", including processes not being followed, decisions not being recorded or delays.

But the group of MPs added: "We have also considered whether, taken together, these errors may have affected the outcome.

"We have concluded that, given what the agencies knew at the time, they were not in a position to prevent the murder of Fusilier Rigby."

Among mistakes flagged by the ISC are "unacceptable" delays in MI5 investigating Adebowale - it took three months to identify him as a person with extremist material and five months before action was taken.

In addition, during a 2011 investigation, MI5 did not seek the content of a communication sent in 2008 between Adebolajo and an individual of interest who later became a high profile and senior Aqap extremist.

The Security Service also failed to request retrospective billing data for the landline at Adebowale's home address when they were investigating him in January 2013, the report said.

This would have revealed telephone contact between Adebowale and a Yemen-based suspect with links to Aqap.

The Committee also called a failure by GCHQ to report contact between an unknown individual later identified as Adebowale and an Aqap extremist "significant".

MI6 also comes under fire for failing to take "substantive action" in response to Adebolajo's arrest in Kenya in 2010, when he was stopped under suspicion of attempting to travel into Somalia to join terror group Al Shabaab.

MI6 - also known as the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) - was notified of the arrest but did not seek to interview Adebolajo, ask to be involved in any interview by the Kenyans, or feed in any questions to be put to him.

The report said: "The Committee therefore finds SIS's apparent lack of interest in Adebolajo's arrest deeply unsatisfactory, on this occasion, SIS's role in countering 'jihadi tourism' does not appear to have extended to any practical action being taken."

Adebolajo's brother Jeremiah, who has moved to Saudi Arabia since his brother was condemned to die behind bars for the murder, said: "The recently released report acts as nothing short of a distraction from the true root of the problem: The United Kingdom's continuing aggression against the faith and people of Islam."

Human rights group Liberty said the ISC had "shamelessly" spun the facts in a bid to shift the blame on to communications companies and away from the intelligence agencies.

Isabella Sankey, director of policy for Liberty, said: "The ISC shamefully spins the facts seeking to blame the communications companies for not doing the agencies' work for them."

Executive director Jim Killock, of the Open Rights Group, said: "To pass the blame to internet companies is to use Fusilier Rigby's murder to make cheap political points."

Mr Dutton told Channel 4 he hoped the report would make a difference: " If we're going to safeguard our citizens on the streets of Great Britain then this report needs to be looked into in fine detail. Hopefully any learning from the report will be put to good use and then Lee's death wouldn't have been in vain."

Sir Malcolm said internet companies were already capable of identifying terrorism-related content and there was no reason for it not to be passed on to the authorities.

He told BBC2's Newsnight: "They know that terrorism is being discussed, they have the information, they have suspended the account. What ethical reason or privacy reason can stop them passing that information to the legal authorities?"

Sir Malcolm said "any responsible company" would inform the authorities if an account had been shut down because terrorism had been discussed.

"It is not beyond the wit of man that if they have devised a system that closes down a user's account because of references to child abuse or terrorism then the same system that has closed the account can send a signal to the company concerned that they should be informing the authorities as well if serious crime is involved," he said.

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