The UK’s flagship anti-terror strategy is being undermined by a politically correct emphasis on right-wing extremism over more dangerous Islamist radicalism, critics have said – as a review prepares to overhaul the ‘broken’ system.
Prevent has come under fresh scrutiny after it emerged Ali Harbi Ali, the suspected terrorist accused of murdering Tory MP David Amess, was referred to the programme but his case was not deemed enough of a risk to be passed on to MI5.
In recent years, much of its resources have been diverted to tracking suspected right-wing extremists, which made up 43% (302) of cases considered among the most serious last year compared to just 30% (210) concerning Islamism, official data shows.
By comparison, in 2015/16, 262 cases (69%) were for Muslim extremism and 98 (26%) for far right. The number of cases counted as serious far-right extremism has increased year on year since then, while Islamist ones have fluctuated.
‘They do not present the same risk as Islamists by any distance, by a factor of four or five to one,’ the source told the Telegraph. ‘Everyone was trying very hard to be politically correct and not Islamophobic. But the whole process has become unbalanced.
‘More time has been spent than appropriate on right-wing extremism and not Islamism. There needs to be some honest appraisal about where the threat is actually coming from.’
It comes amid fears of a growing threat from so-called ‘bedroom radicals’ who have soaked up extreme beliefs from the Internet over lockdown.
Intelligence agencies are struggling to monitor these people because of the difficulty of distinguishing between those spewing hate-filled propaganda and genuine terrorists, security sources told the Times.
The UK’s flagship anti-terror strategy is being undermined by a politically correct emphasis on right-wing extremism over more dangerous Islamist radicalism, critics have said – as a review prepares to overhaul the ‘broken’ system
In recent years, much of its resources have been diverted to tracking suspected right-wing extremists, which made up 43% (302) of cases considered among the most serious last year compared to just 30% (210) concerning Islamism, official data shows
Since 2015/16, there has been an 80% drop in the number of initial referrals over concerns of Islamic radicalisation and a steady increase in those concerning far-right beliefs
Prevent places a duty on local public servants including teachers, doctors and social workers to flag concerns about an individual being radicalised or drawn into terrorism.
Since 2015/16, there has been an 80% drop in the number of initial referrals over concerns of Islamic radicalisation and a steady increase in those concerning far-right beliefs.
How does the controversial Prevent scheme work?
Under the Prevent programme, local authority staff and other professionals such as doctors, teachers and social workers have a duty to flag concerns about an individual being radicalised or drawn into a terrorism.
This report is then be passed to a local official charged with deciding whether the tip-off merits a formal referral. This is typically a council worker, a police officer or someone directly employed by the Home Office.
Cases are then categorised depending on the nature of the individual’s alleged beliefs – based on evidence ranging from comments they have been overheard saying to their social media history. People who are not viewed as either far-right or Islamist are categorised as having a ‘mixed, unstable or unclear’ ideology.
Less serious reports may be sent to council services, which could include parenting support for families whose children have been watching inappropriate videos online.
Serious reports are forwarded on to Prevent’s Channel stage, at which a panel of local police, healthcare specialists and social workers meeting monthly will consider the case.
At this stage, counter-terror police will be involved and will receive information from counsellors, social workers or theological mentors working with the individual concerned.
It coincides with an increasing focus on far-right extremism following the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox by a white supremacist in 2016. Last year the Met’s anti-terror chief Neil Basu warned the far right is Britain’s fastest growing terror threat.
After the initial referral to Prevent, cases are categorised depending on the nature of the individual’s alleged beliefs – based on evidence ranging from comments they have been overheard making in public to their social media history.
People who are not viewed as either far-right or Islamist are categorised as having a ‘mixed, unstable or unclear’ ideology.
Reports judged to be serious are then referred onto the Channel process – which sees a panel of senior council officials, healthworkers and anti-terror police decide what action should be taken.
While alleged cases of Islamic extremism were slightly more common for initial Prevent referrals last year – at 24% (1,487 referrals) to 22% (1,387) for far-right cases – they were less common at the Channel phase.
At this point – after cases deemed to be less serious were filtered out – suspected right-wing extremists made up 43% (302) of cases versus just 30% (210) concerning Islamism, Home Office figures show.
The Henry Jackson Society argued that counter-extremism professionals had ‘lost sight of their duty to prevent terrorism’.
‘There has been an under-referral of Islamist cases and an over-referral of extreme Right-wing cases and we are now seeing the deadly consequences,’ the think tank said.
‘The Prevent review has been derailed by Left-wing groups trying to litigate every aspect of its work and yet a cold hard look at the number of cases in which Prevent has fallen short shows this is only the latest in a long line.’
Sir David Amess (pictured) was stabbed to death at a constituency surgery on Friday
Ali Harbi Ali – a British-born Muslim of Somali descent who police are continuing to question over the fatal stabbing of Sir David Amess at his constituency surgery on Friday – was referred to Prevent by a concerned member of the community in his late teens over an alleged interest in radical Islam.
A review of Prevent is set to recommend overhauling the panels that assess potential cases to refer to the strategy’s intervention phase – known as Channel – to prioritise MI5 and counter-terrorism police officers, who tend to be ‘more hawkish’ in their approach.
A security source told the Times: ‘Police and security-focused agencies are more likely to put people on to support programmes.
Sir David’s suspected killer, Ali Harbi Ali, 25, had been referred to prevent in his late teens
‘The NHS, schools, local authorities and other agencies are often much weaker at intervention because they don’t want to antagonise faith groups.’
Sources say the Prevent review, led by former Charity Commission chair William Shawcross, is also expected to recommend that ‘inconsistent, disorganised and unstructured’ panels of up to 20 people are slashed down to five.
Another likely recommendation will be to place suspected extremists on three-year deradicalisation programmes rather than the current one, it is claimed.
Another challenge facing intelligence agencies monitoring ‘bedroom radicals’ is extremists are also using anonymous chat sites on the dark web that are hard for spies to penetrate.
Spies believe that Covid restrictions meant a lot of terrorist activity was ‘suppressed’ as radicals appeared willing to abide by the rules.
Yesterday, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab questioned whether it would ever be possible to stop all so-called ‘lone wolf’ terrorists.
‘It is inherently difficult in a world that we find ourselves in, where you have lone wolf attackers, to have an entirely risk-free counterterrorism strategy,’ he told Times Radio.
TERROR AND IDEOLOGY: THE DATA
By Henry Martin for MailOnline
Prison data clearly paints Islamic extremism as the primary ideology behind terror in Britain – but the proportion of extreme right-wing terror has grown in recent years.
Figures from March 31 this year shows there were 157 individuals in prison classed as ‘Islamist extremists’, with a further 44 categorised as ‘extreme right-wing’.
On that same date, 98 (46%) of the 215 prisoners in custody for terrorism connected offences defined themselves as Asian or Asian British, 68 (32%) as White and 18 (8%) as Black or Black British.
The majority (73%) of prisoners in custody for terrorism-related offences on 31 March 2021 declared themselves as Muslim, and 25 prisoners (12%) were of a Christian denomination.
The figures come from ‘Terrorism in Great Britain: the statistics’ – a study published by the House of Commons Library last week.
The Home Office classifies terrorist prisoners by ‘ideology’ in relation to their membership to proscribed groups according to this criteria:
- Islamist extremist – This refers to individuals from Islamic proscribed groups who advocate, justify or glorify acts of violence (especially against civilians) or other illegal conduct to achieve fundamental changes to society.
- Extreme right-wing – This refers to individuals from politically extreme right-wing proscribed groups such as National Action which became the first extreme right-wing group to be proscribed as a terrorist organisation in December 2016.
- Other – This refers to individuals from proscribed groups not categorised as ‘Islamist extremist’ or ‘far right-wing’. For example, this includes Northern-Ireland related groups such as the Ulster Volunteers Force (UVF). This category also includes cases whereby the individual’s proscribed terrorist group is unclear meaning their ideological link is not known.
The National Offender Management Service (for England and Wales) and the Scottish Prison Service provided figures of the number of people in custody either convicted and sentenced for a terrorism-connected offence.
Data on terrorist and extremist prisoners is published on a quarterly basis and provides a point in time indication of the number of individuals in custody, not necessarily a flow.
The Ministry of Justice and Home Office formally adopted the definition ‘Terrorism-Connected Offender’ in September 2020, replacing the previously used term ‘Terrorism-Related Offender’.
For this reason, the House of Commons study says, figures for September 2020 onwards are ‘not directly comparable with previous years or quarters’.
‘Terrorism-Connected Offender’ refers to those who committed specified offences which the sentencing court has determined have a ‘terrorist connection’ in accordance with Part 3 of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008.
‘Terrorism-Related Offender’ refers to those who were convicted of a terrorism-related offence under both terrorism (Section 41 of the section 41 of the Terrorism Act 2000 and subsequent legislation) and non-terrorism legislation.
The latter includes prisoners who could be linked to prisoners who are charged with a terrorist offence ‘but they themselves are charged with a criminal offence such as providing false documentation’.