One of the UK’s most senior counter terrorism officers has warned that Covid-19 is creating an environment in which extremists will find it easier to identify, target and potentially radicalise vulnerable people.
Counter Terrorism Policing’s new Senior National Coordinator for Protect and Prepare, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist, told a media conference yesterday that while most of us have been focused on protecting ourselves and our families from Covid-19, terrorists have not stopped planning attacks or radicalising people online.
In fact, he revealed that Counter Terrorism Policing and the UK Intelligence Services have foiled four potential terror attacks during the pandemic, taking the total number of attacks stopped by the UK’s Counter Terrorism machine to 29 since March 2017.
“Covid-19 is exacerbating the challenging circumstances and grievances within society that terrorists latch onto to promote their brand of hatred and extremism – such as economic inequality or pre-existing divisions within communities,” he said.
“It has stoked distrust in authority and inspired a new wave of conspiracy theories which have more easily reached the mainstream – such as against 5G technology.
“Most importantly is has made us all more isolated, making it more difficult for young and vulnerable people to access to the support services such as mental health provision and social care which they rely on to protect them from extremist influence.
“At the same time Covid-19 has also driven huge numbers of people to spend a lot more time online, and we have seen an increase in the volume of online extremism and hatred, much of which sits below a criminal threshold, but which creates a permissive environment which makes it easier for extremists to pedal their brand of hatred.
“Put together, that is a potent mix which is of real concern.”
DACSO Matt Twist also warned that as the UK begins to ease out of lockdown, there will be greater opportunity for terrorists to operate.
That means it is vitally important for the public to play an active role in our CT efforts, by helping Counter Terrorism Policing identify those who need protection against extremist grooming via the Prevent programme, or by completing our free online CT training – ACT Awareness – to improve their understanding of the threat and how to protect themselves.
“The cooperation between public and police is a powerful defence,” said DACSO Matt Twist.
“Because the information that the public provides prevents attacks and saves lives. My main message to the public is that any piece of information could be important, it is better to be safe and report.
“You know your local community, you are best placed to spot when something doesn’t seem right. Trust your instincts and act by reporting it, in confidence, via gov.uk/ACT. Reporting it won’t ruin lives, but it might save them.”
If you are worried that someone close to you is at risk of radicalisation, visit actearly.uk for help and guidance on protecting those around you. Or call the national Police Prevent Advice Line on 0800 011 3764, in confidence, and our specially trained Prevent officers will listen carefully to your concerns.
If you are unsure on how to report suspicious activity, or are not sure what to look out for, visit gov.uk/ACT for more information on what you can do to help protect your community.