An important part of preventing terrorism is to understand the threat and the drivers for it. The UK faces several different terrorist threats. The threat from international terrorist groups remains the foremost and most significant. Extreme right-wing terrorism is a growing threat, and in 2016 the government proscribed an extreme right-wing terrorist group, National Action, for the first time. Northern Ireland related terrorism remains a serious threat, particularly in Northern Ireland itself.
2017 saw a shift in the nature of the terrorist threat to the UK. Between 2011 and 2016, there were four terrorist attacks in Great Britain, each targeting a single individual. The Westminster attack in March 2017 was the first to cause multiple fatalities in the UK since 2005. The five attacks in London and Manchester in 2017 killed 36 people. Five victims died in an attack on Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament, 22 at the Manchester Arena, eight at London Bridge and Borough Market, and one at Finsbury Park. Many more were injured, including in an attack at London’s Parsons Green Tube Station.
The shift in threat is also demonstrated by the number of potential attacks disrupted by MI5 and Counter-Terrorism Policing. They have foiled 25 international terrorist plots since June 2013, 12 of which have been since March 2017, and four extreme right-wing plots have been disrupted since 2017.
The number of arrests for terrorism-related offences has risen steadily since 2010. Between 2010 and 2017 there were 2,029 terrorism arrests in Great Britain. As of March 2018, the security and intelligence agencies were handling over 500 live investigations, involving some 3,000 individuals.
When CONTEST, the UK’s strategy to combat terrorism, was last published in 2011 the global threat from terrorism was assessed to be shifting. Al Qa’ida, while still capable of terrorist attacks in the UK, had become a weaker force than at any time since 2001. It was predicted that Al Qa’ida’s senior leadership would find it increasingly difficult to operate, but that its affiliates and like-minded groups would continue to take advantage of fragile states and aspire to attack western interests. These 2011 assessments have proved largely correct. However, the rapid rise of Daesh, or the impact it would have on global terrorism was not predicted.
In the UK and Europe, extreme right-wing groups, including neo-Nazis, seek to exploit any anxieties around globalisation, conflict and migration (including any which they are able to link to the Syria conflict) in an attempt to broaden their appeal. These groups may vary considerably in their rhetoric, but they share the racist view that minority communities are harming the interests of a “native” population.
The threat from the extreme right wing has evolved in recent years and is growing. There has been the emergence of several groups, such as Generation Identity, Britain First, and Systems Resistance Network amongst others that preach zero tolerance to non-white, Muslim, Jewish, and LGBT communities. In the past five years, four terrorist attacks in the UK were carried out by lone actors motivated to varying degrees by extreme right-wing ideologies.
Before 2014, extreme right-wing activity was confined to small, established groups with an older membership, which promoted anti-immigration and white supremacist views but presented a very low risk to national security. The emergence of National Action in 2014 increased community tensions and the risk of disorder. In December 2016, the then Home Secretary proscribed National Action under the Terrorism Act 2000, the first far right group to have been done so since World War II. Other UK-based extreme right-wing groups also advocate the use of violence.
Global events and conflicts play an ever increasing role within local communities. These can sometimes lead to community tensions, fuel suspicion, and create divisions between people from different cultures and backgrounds. Early intervention to prevent individuals being drawn into extremist activity is crucial in order to safeguard them from the risks of being involved in such activity.