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Growing threat to the UK from far-right terrorism
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Growing threat to the UK from far-right terrorism
17 far right activists in prison for terrorist offences
A Report by the Commons Home Affairs Committee, published on 6th February 2012, after a nine-month investigation into the roots of radicalisation, warns of a growing threat to the UK from far-right terrorism. The Inquiry explored the threat from far-right extremism and heard from experts in the field and the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) that delivers the Government’s Prevent programme.
The Committee heard that far-right violence posed a threat not just in the UK but Europe-wide. The recent uncovering of an East German neo-Nazi group near Dresden, implicated in the killings of immigrants over the last 7 years highlights the growing menace. The German security agencies have been accused of taking their eyes off the ball since the 9/11 bombings and concentrating their resources on the ‘Islamist’ terror threat rather than the criminality of the far right.
In Britain, the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee launched an inquiry in May 2011 ahead of the Coalition government’s Prevent review to examine the root causes of violent radicalisation in the UK.
The Committee heard that Britain currently holds 17 far right activists in prison for terrorist offences which involved serious bomb plots, including preparation of a ricin bomb and discovery of one of the largest collections of firearms and explosives ever found. The latest figures show 123 terrorism-related prisoners were being held on 30 December 2010 in the UK’s eight high-security prisons. They include 96 convicted under terrorism legislation including those linked to al-Qaida or groups influenced by them. A further 22 are classified as domestic extremists or separatists and five are “historic cases” whose convictions date from the 1970s to the 1990s. In all instances the internet featured prominently as a route to radicalisation and sites such as Facebook were also implicated.
The pre-occupation with ‘Islamist’ terrorism rather than the Far Right was clear from the evidence given by the ACPO lead for Prevent, Sir Norman Bettison, who is also the Chief Constable for West Yorkshire Police. When asked by the Committee Chair, to clarify why he thought it would take 20 years to “prevent the infection (of terrorism) spreading”, his response was telling.
“My belief is that the Al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism has created an atmosphere. If I follow the sort of infection theme through, it has created a set of germs that spread and that morph into other things and infect the minds and the culture. What is required is not a new law enforcement effort to defeat those who represent the current threat but a sort of all-Government approach, including education, local authority, and youth outreach workers, to challenge the prevailing messages of hatred that might infect people for many more years to come”.
Sir Norman Bettison has been a strong advocate of the Channel scheme which puts young people deemed to be at risk through community-based intervention programmes. In the last three years there have been over 1,500 referrals to the Channel programme with 50% coming from police officers and about 40% from schools, youth outreach, health workers etc. There has been widespread criticisms by organizations such as the Institute of Race Relations and JUST West Yorkshire that Channel lacks transparency and accountability and people on these programmes do not have the skills to recognise extremism. The stop and search that young people have been subject to has also damaged relations between Muslim communities and the police. Sir Norman Bettison’s belief that the Prevent Programme “has been more positive than harmful” is therefore surprising.
The Committee’s conclusions, after taking evidence from a wide range of participants was more sophisticated in that it recognised the multifarious causes that contribute to radicaliasation. It acknowledged that “violent radicalisation is declining within the Muslim community” but acknowledged “growing support for nonviolent extremism”,
In relation to the root causes of violent radicalisation, the Committee concludes:
“One of the few clear conclusions we were able to draw about the drivers of radicalisation is that a sense of grievance is key to the process. Addressing perceptions of Islamophobia, and demonstrating that the British state is not antithetical to Islam, should constitute a main focus of the part of the Prevent Strategy which is designed to counter the ideology feeding violent radicalisation.
The Government notes in the Prevent Strategy that individuals “who distrust Parliament” are at particular risk of violent radicalisation. This appeared to be borne out in our inquiry, both in terms of Islamist and extreme far-right- radicalisation. Individuals are frustrated because they feel unable to participate in the political process and feel that mainstream parties do not recognise their concerns. This may not be true and we stress that we are talking about perceptions. Clearly there is much to be done by Parliamentarians and by the political parties to ensure that there is a nonviolent outlet for individuals throughout society, but we also consider that there is an insufficient focus within Prevent on building trust in democratic institutions at all levels. This should be emphasised more strongly, including how work currently being undertaken by the Government Equality Office to implement the 2010 recommendations of the Speaker’s Conference on Parliamentary Representation feeds into Prevent”. [Emphasis added.]
In relation to the individuals and groups particularly vulnerable to radicalisation, the Committee concludes:
“There also appears to be a growth in more extreme and violent forms of far-right ideology. Indeed it is clear that individuals from many different backgrounds are vulnerable, with no typical profile or pathway to radicalisation. However, there is a lack of objective data, much of the evidence inevitably being anecdotal. Only 250 people have been convicted in the UK of terrorism-related offences since 11 September 2001. However, there is a wealth of knowledge held by people working with individuals judged to be vulnerable to violent radicalisation at a local level that could better inform our understanding of why some of these individuals do become radicalised and, crucially, why some do not. One of the aims of the increased auditing demands to be placed on Channel providers should be the collection of a wider range of data to contribute to this evidence base. We recommend that the Government publish the methodology whereby this data will be collated and analysed, and make arrangements for suitably de-sensitised data to be made available to the wider research community”. [Emphasis added.]
JUST West Yorkshire believes that the attempts to counter radicalisation, particularly over the last 10 years, have focused primarily on Muslim communities and greatly on Al-Qaeda and the Prevent agenda. This has left a significant gap and something that needs to be addressed far more sufficiently than it is at present, the simple reason being that we have seen, not only in Norway but also in many cases the potential for severe violence within the far right.
Fact of Note
In 2010 there were 27 cases of officers from the security services and the Serious Organised Crime Agency tapping the wrong phones because they had written down the wrong numbers or wrong dates.