UK

Fears Britain faces new wave of attacks from ‘bedroom radicals’

Britain faces a new wave of terrorist attacks from ‘bedroom radicals’ bred during lockdown, the intelligence services have warned.

Officials believe there is an increased threat from ‘lone wolves’ who were radicalised online while spending months at home during lockdown.

It comes as police investigate whether a 25-year-old terror suspect arrested on suspicion of murdering Tory MP Sir David Amess was radicalised online over the pandemic.

Concerns have been raised about the threat from ‘bedroom radicals’ after Tory MP Sir David Amess was stabbed to death on Friday. He is pictured with his family at his daughter Flo’s wedding in August. Pictured:  Katie, wife Julia, Flo, Sir David, Sarah and Alex

One security source told The Telegraph: ‘Counter-terror police and MI5 have been concerned for some time that once we emerged out of lockdown there would be more people out on the streets and more targets for the terrorists.

‘Combined with the fact that lots of young people have been spending so much time online, it makes for a very worrying mix and there is a real concern about the possible rise of the bedroom radicals.’

It is now feared extremists around the world may seek to activate their recruits and encourage them to carry out terror strikes across the UK.

Peter Neumann, Professor of Security Studies at KCL, said spotting ‘lone wolves’ would require the security services to infiltrate online forums where they operate.

‘It is very rare that people are completely isolated,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

‘A lot of lone attackers are interacting with people, albeit online, so do have social relationships with others.

‘No terrorist is doing it for themselves – they want approval, and often this approval is going to be from the people they’ve met online who they imagine will be the audience for their action.’

‘I think that the security services should imagine the online world as a place, just like a radical mosque or a meeting place in the ‘real world’, although it is hard to distinguish between who is violent and who isn’t.’

The Met Police confirmed that Sir David's killing is being treated as a terror incident 'with links to Islamist extremism' as a British man with Somali heritage remains in police custody on suspicion of murder

The Met Police confirmed that Sir David’s killing is being treated as a terror incident ‘with links to Islamist extremism’ as a British man with Somali heritage remains in police custody on suspicion of murder

On Sunday, it emerged that Sir David’s suspected killer Ali Harbi Ali had been referred to anti-terror programme Prevent several years ago but his behaviour was not considered extreme enough to pass on to MI5.

Professor Neumann said police faced an ‘overload of information’.

‘Lots of people are being referred and only a few people are being kept an eye on, so there is an overload of information,’ he said.

The academic added that paying attention to posts on social media about planned attacks could help to foil future ones.

‘Attackers have the urge to let their friends on social media and elsewhere know about these attacks, so we need to pay more attention to that,’ he said.

Yesterday, Sir David’s family said their hearts had been ‘shattered’ by his ‘cruel and violent death’ at a constituency surgery in Essex.

They said they could not understand why the ‘patriot and a man of peace’ was targeted by a knifeman he had never met.

The 69-year-old father of five was ambushed at his Friday meeting with the public and stabbed 17 times in a frenzied attack.

Police officers erect a tent outside a house in north London, thought to be in relation to Sir David's death

Police officers erect a tent outside a house in north London, thought to be in relation to Sir David’s death 

In a heartbreaking statement his family called for people to ‘set aside hatred’, adding: ‘Nobody should die in that way. Nobody.

‘Whatever one’s race, religious or political beliefs, be tolerant and try to understand. We are absolutely broken, but we will survive and carry on for the sake of a wonderful and inspiring man.’

Detectives were last night still quizzing Ali who was arrested on suspicion of Sir David’s murder at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea on Friday.

The British-born Muslim, who is of Somalian descent, had been referred to the Prevent programme over radicalisation fears by a concerned member of the community.

It is understood that the referral was not made by a member of the police or the security services.

It is not known whether it was a friend or relative, or someone from healthcare, education, social services or a religious group.

It resulted in Ali taking part in a course, which is believed to have been a ‘Channel’ mentoring scheme. Despite this intervention, which is thought to have taken place several years ago, MI5 was apparently not alerted and Ali was not investigated as a potential terror threat by police.

Priti Patel said a review of Prevent would examine whether it was ‘fit for purpose’.

‘It’s right that we review what works, what doesn’t work, what needs bolstering if there are any gaps, all of that, because Prevent isn’t just about policing,’ the Home Secretary said. ‘Prevent is about how multi-agency partners come together.’

Yesterday critics questioned whether experts missed opportunities to stop a suspect described by investigators as a ‘lone wolf’ extremist.

Peter Neumann, Professor of Security Studies at KCL, said spotting 'lone wolves' would require the security services to infiltrate online forums where they operate. File photo

Peter Neumann, Professor of Security Studies at KCL, said spotting ‘lone wolves’ would require the security services to infiltrate online forums where they operate. File photo 

Sam Armstrong of the Henry Jackson Society think-tank said: ‘Questions must be asked about this case. Counter-extremism professionals seem to have lost sight of their duty which is 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 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.’

The Home Office scheme, which has an annual budget of around £40million, has been under scrutiny for years after a series of terrorists slipped through its net, including Reading attacker Khairi Saadallah.

The Government first promised scrutiny of Prevent in 2019, the year after parliament’s intelligence and security committee highlighted a series of shortcomings.

But the independent review did not start formally until earlier this year and has still not reported back to Miss Patel.

Former justice secretary Robert Buckland called for a shake-up of Prevent to ensure a more ‘joined-up’ approach. He said more co-operation between schools, the NHS and other public agencies was required to ensure security forces could intervene early and prevent attacks.

‘I very much hope that when it comes to community supervision and community involvement with people like this particular individual, that it is much more joined-up between health services, education, whatever it might be, who have had some involvement with that individual in the past,’ he told Times Radio.

‘And that element of being joined-up is what we really need to work on urgently.’

He added: ‘There may be records or information from schools or colleges or from the health service which can tell us much more about individuals and their activities. We need to join this up much more effectively because what we’re talking about here is community prevention.

‘We’ve got to make sure that every arm of the state is absolutely working together in order to understand as much as possible about these individuals, and then to intervene if we judge the risk to be so significant that an intervention could prevent the sort of appalling incident that we saw not just last week but also in the Jo Cox case and other examples.’

Mrs Cox, the Labour MP for Batley and Spen, was murdered by a far-Right fanatic in the street in 2016 as she was about to carry out a constituency surgery.


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