17 March 2022

Counter terror police have seen rise in ‘lone actors’ carrying out attacks

17 March 2022

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Police have seen a rise in lone actors carrying out attacks and more young people being drawn into terrorism over the last five years.

Since the wave of terror attacks in the UK in 2017, Assistant Commissioner Matt Jukes, head of Counter Terrorism Policing, said “most significantly” officers have seen a rise in the threat from “self-initiated terrorists”, commonly described as lone actors, as opposed to cells of terrorists being directed to act.

There is also growing concern about the number of children being drawn into extreme right-wing terrorism.

Typically British nationals based in the UK, “self-initiated terrorists” are considered “unpredictable” due to being influenced by a variety of ideologies which makes the threat “harder to identify, to detect and to stop”.

While they carry out their attack alone, they “take a good deal of their inspiration from online content and are sometimes in contact with others” and often use “readily accessible” weapons such as vehicles or knives.

There is a picture here of young people who are spending a great deal of time discussing and sharing and exchanging material online. But we are absolutely seeing some of that shift to plans to carry out terrorist attacks

Speaking to reporters at a briefing on Thursday, Assistant Commissioner Jukes said: “The consequence of that for us is that they can move to action very quickly and therefore reduce the window where they might be spotted.”

He said he sees the opening of the new counter terror operations centre in London as “critical” to tackling such threats as “we will be able to spot the signals and signs with greater acuity” and better share intelligence to spot threats as they escalate.

Police have also sought to remove extremist material online, with an internet referral unit seeing more than 350,000 pieces of extremist and terrorist content taken down since 2015.

Anti-terror police are also “increasingly” seeing more examples of extreme right-wing threats, which can include anti-Semitic and Islamophobic rhetoric as well as featuring “violent misogyny”.

The perpetrators are “substantially younger” than before which is of “real concern”, Mr Jukes said.

Describing them as young people who spend “a great deal of time online” and build friendships in a digital world, he told reporters: “There is a picture here of young people who are spending a great deal of time discussing and sharing and exchanging material online. But we are absolutely seeing some of that shift to plans to carry out terrorist attacks.”

Children make up around one in eight of such arrests. Last year 20 children were arrested, 19 of whom were linked to extreme right-wing ideologies.

They are “almost exclusively” boys and the most common offending is possession of, or dissemination of, terrorist material.

In the last financial year one in four people who were referred to anti-terror scheme the Prevent programme was identified as having an extreme right-wing ideology, Mr Jukes said.

Up to the end of 2021, just over 40% of counter-terror arrests related to suspected extreme right-wing terrorism. In that year there were four late-stage terror plots which were disrupted, three of those related to extreme right-wing terrorism.

Mr Jukes said: “One of the features of this younger group of extreme right-wing subjects of interest is actually they are, in some cases, relatively well-educated. We see people whose grounds might be relatively middle class, relatively well-educated.”

He said a “replacement theory or narrative” was often prevalent in extreme right-wing ideology which “effectively says, as a white male, and often white, Christian male … you are being replaced in society by a set of people so I suppose their hatred knows no boundaries at that level, so homophobic, Islamophobic, misogynistic.”

He added: “But the one thing which is telling to me is that having looked at our referrals, into Prevent, that one in three of those referrals has some history of domestic abuse, either as victim or witness or for the most part as male perpetrator of domestic abuse. There is no question that domestic abuse is present in much of our casework and that in many senses terrorism is another form of male violence.”

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