UK

How Islamist terrorists behind four attacks were ALL referred to Prevent

Attacks by Islamist terrorists who had been referred to Prevent  

SOUTHEND – October 15, 2021: Tory MP Sir David Amess was fatally stabbed outside Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea near Southend while attending a constituency surgery. The Met declared it a terrorist incident. Suspect Ali Harbi Ali, 25, was referred to Prevent seven years ago. 

READING – June 20, 2020: Khairi Saadallah, 27, fatally stabbed friends James Furlong, 36, Dr David Wails, 49, and Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39, in a knife attack at a town centre park. He later admitted the murders and was sentenced to a whole life order in prison. The Reading Refugee Support Group warned Prevent officials he could carry out a ‘London Bridge-style attack’. However, he was found to not have a ‘fixed ideology, the Independent reported. 

STREATHAM – February 2, 2020: Sudesh Amman was shot dead by police after stabbing two people on a busy street in the south London area of Streatham while wearing a fake suicide vest. He was referred to Prevent but the panel decided his case did not require intervention. 

LONDON BRIDGE – November 29, 2019: Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, were stabbed to death by Usman Khan, 28, at a prisoner rehabilitation event. A man and two women were also injured before Khan, who was released from prison on licence in December 2018, was shot dead by armed officers on the bridge. An inquest heard his Prevent officers had ‘no specific training’ in handling terrorists. 

PARSONS GREEN – September 15, 2017: Ahmed Hassan’s homemade bomb partially exploded on a London Underground rush hour train, injuring more than 50 people. He was sentenced to life with a minimum jail term of 34 years. He was referred to Prevent 20 months before he planted the bomb.  

Prevent is being undermined by activists who are opposed to its very existence being allowed to decide if individuals need to be deradicalised, a review will find – as it emerged Islamists behind four recent attacks were all referred to the scheme.

The review – which will be handed to Priti Patel next month – found that Prevent was ineffective in some parts of the UK because councils were involving Muslim groups with a ‘divisive’ agenda. 

Some authorities in the southeast of England have even appointed Prevent co-ordinators who are against the strategy entirely, sources told the Times

The review of the government’s flagship anti-extremism scheme, by former Charity Commission chair William Shawcross, is set to call on the Home Office to appoint Prevent co-ordinators directly rather than leaving it down to local councils. 

Fiyaz Mughal, founder of anti-extremism charity Faith Matters, said the overhaul needed to stop opponents of the programme from undermining it. 

He said: ‘There is no point in bringing on deeply polarising groups who have no interest in seeing the positive in counterextremism programmes on to Prevent steering groups. This is totally counterproductive and needs to change.’ 

It comes as critics accused Prevent officials of diverting too many resources towards suspected far-right extremists despite Islamist radicals posing a ‘far greater threat’. 

Ian Acheson, a former prison governor and senior adviser at the Counter Extremism Project, said the official narrative that the far-right is the fastest growing threat is a ‘comfort blanket’ obscuring the ‘patently more potent threat of Islamist extremism’. 

‘The body count does not lie,’ he said. 

Ali Harbi Ali, 25, the suspected terrorist accused of murdering Tory MP David Amess on Friday, was referred to the programme seven years ago but his case was not deemed enough of a risk to be passed on to MI5. 

There have been reports that his case was elevated to Channel – a scheme that deals with the most dangerous cases referred to Prevent – but this has not been confirmed.  

In 2017, right-wing terrorist Darren Osborne drove a van into Finsbury Park Mosque in north London, killing one person. From the start of 2017 to today 36 people have been killed by Islamist terrorists. 

A significant number of these terrorists had been referred to Prevent before going on to commit atrocities.   

Khairi Saadallah, 27, fatally stabbed friends James Furlong, 36, Dr David Wails, 49, and Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39, in a Reading park in June 2020. 

Prevent officials were warned he could carry out a ‘London Bridge-style attack’, but he was assessed and found to have ‘no fixed ideology’, the Independent reported. 

Another terrorist referred to Prevent was Sudesh Amman, who stabbed two people in Streatham, south London, last February. However, a panel decided his case did not require intervention. 

Usman Khan, 28, who stabbed two young graduates to death after a prisoner rehabilitation event on London Bridge, had come into contact with Prevent officers who had ‘no specific training’ in handling terrorists, an inquest heard.  

Parsons Green bomber Ahmed Hassan was also referred to the anti-terror scheme 20 months before he planted a device on the Tube that injured 50 people during rush hour in 2017.   

In recent years, much of Prevent’s 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.     

In an article for Capex, Mr Acheson warned that allowing Prevent to be run by councils in partnership with local groups was allowing the scheme to be taken over by activists exploiting concerns about Islamophobia to challenge the whole concept of de-radicalisation. 

He called for the government to take more control over the programme and to orientate it away from a local ‘safeguarding’ referral system and towards providing a ‘narrower, more muscular security response’. 

The Home Office has been approached for comment.  

Ali Harbi Ali, 25, the suspected terrorist accused of murdering Tory MP David Amess on Friday, was referred to the programme seven years ago but his case was not deemed enough of a risk to be passed on to MI5

Khairi Saadallah, 27, fatally stabbed friends James Furlong, 36, Dr David Wails, 49, and Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39, in a Reading park in June 2020. Prevent officials were warned he could carry out a 'London Bridge-style attack', but he was assessed and found to have 'no fixed ideology', according to reports

Sudesh Amman, who stabbed two people in Streatham, south London, last February. However, a panel decided his case did not require intervention

Reading attacker Khairi Saadallah, 27, (left) was assessed by Prevent officials but found to have ‘no fixed ideology’, according to reports. Sudesh Amman, who stabbed two people in Streatham, south London, last February. However, a panel decided his case did not require intervention

Usman Khan, 28, who stabbed two young graduates to death after a prisoner rehabilitation event on London Bridge, had come into contact with Prevent officers who had 'no specific training' in handling terrorists, an inquest heard

Parsons Green bomber Ahmed Hassan was also referred to the anti-terror scheme 20 months before he planted a device on the Tube that injured 50 people during rush hour in 2017

Usman Khan, 28, (left) who stabbed two young graduates to death after a prisoner rehabilitation event on London Bridge, had come into contact with Prevent officers who had ‘no specific training’ in handling terrorists, an inquest heard. Parsons Green bomber Ahmed Hassan was also referred to the anti-terror scheme 20 months before he planted a device on the Tube that injured 50 people during rush hour in 2017

This week a new report claimed Prevent had been hijacked by political correctness which was skewing it away from the threat posed by Islamic terrorism. 

The devastating analysis accused police and others who oversee the Prevent scheme of allowing its work to be swayed by ‘false allegations of Islamophobia’.

The report claimed, as a result, anti-terror resources are being diverted away from the principal terror threat – Islamist extremism.

Prevent is said to be spending growing amounts of time and money combating other types of extremists, such as the far-Right, even though they make up a smaller proportion of the threat to national security.

The report by counter-terrorism think-tank the Henry Jackson Society said the beleaguered scheme was ‘failing to deliver’.

Dr Alan Mendoza, of the society, said: ‘The Prevent scheme has been hamstrung by political correctness following a well-organised campaign by Islamist groups and the political Left of false allegations of ”Islamophobia” so that its work is skewed away from the gravest threat – that of radical Islam.’

The report said there is a ‘fundamental mismatch’ between the threat posed by Islamist terrorism and the attention given to it by Prevent.

Home Office figures show 22 per cent of all referrals to Prevent relate to Islamist extremists while 24 per cent are for neo-Nazi or other far-Right extremists.

Among cases actually taken up by the Prevent scheme in its Channel programme – which mentors individuals to turn them away from terrorist causes – 30 per cent relate to Islamists compared with 43 per cent who are far-Right.

The British Muslim academic who compiled the report, Dr Rakib Ehsan, said: ‘The Prevent scheme’s central aim is to reduce the UK’s overall terror threat and maximise public safety. At the moment, it is failing to deliver on this front.’ 

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

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

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. Prevent referrals are handled by expert officers in the local police force. 

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 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

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. 

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.

Sir David Amess (pictured) was stabbed to death at a constituency surgery on Friday

Sir David Amess (pictured) was stabbed to death at a constituency surgery on Friday

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.’

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. 

‘The NHS, schools, local authorities and other agencies are often much weaker at intervention because they don’t want to antagonise faith groups.’  

Jack Merritt, 25

Saskia Jones, 23

Jack Merritt, 25, (left) and Saskia Jones, 23, (right) were stabbed to death by Usman Khan on London Bridge 

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’.


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