Security Minister: 'More people radicalised online during lockdowns'
More people have been radicalising themselves online at home during Covid lockdowns, Security Minister Damian Hinds says
- Damian Hinds said there had been a ‘move’ away from perpetrators operating on behalf of large organisations towards ‘self-directed’ individuals and small groups
- Security Minister said lockdowns had ‘exacerbated’ issue of online radicalisation
- It comes after two UK terror attacks in weeks carried out by solo perpetrators
There has been an increase in online radicalisation during Covid lockdowns, security minister Damian Hinds said this morning.
As the terror threat was raised from substantial to severe in the wake of the latest attack in Liverpool, Mr Hinds said that the pandemic may have ‘exacerbated’ the number of people self-radicalising while stuck at home during lockdowns.
He told Sky News that people must remain ‘vigilant’ but he said there were ‘multiple times when we are protected from this, there’ve been over 30 late-stage plot disruptions in the last few years’.
When asked how worried the country should be about ‘lone wolves’ who have been radicalised in their bedroom during the pandemic, Mr Hinds said we should be ‘concerned’.
He added: ‘It certainly is true that we’ve seen a move over time from what we call directed attacks that are part of a bigger organisation where people are following instructions, sometimes quite complex in their organisation – there’s been a move from that to more self-directed, someone who’s self-radicalised, individuals or small groups.
‘They’re rarely totally, totally alone because people talk to one another, they take advice, they give hints, but yes there has been that move.
Security Minister Damian Hinds said the pandemic has ‘exacerbated’ the issue of online radicalisation in the wake of the latest terror attack which saw a bomb explode in Liverpool
‘Of course, during the lockdown periods, there have been people spending more time in front of computer screens and we know that when that happens for a very small minority, there can be radicalisation with very bad consequences.’
He told Sky’s Kay Burley that self-radicalisation online was not new but said the trends seen through lockdowns were that the pandemic had ‘exacerbated and increased the amount of time’ that people are spending online and for some ‘that means very bad consequences’.
Damian Hinds said ‘the reality is that you can’t always be pinpoint accurate’ when monitoring people who may be at risk of radicalisation.
The Home Office minister said security services ‘strive to do that as much as possible, to put in place the support for individuals and to identify individuals who might be at risk’.
He added he was not ‘drawing specific inferences’ relating to mental health, but he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain programme: ‘Yes, of course, we recognise that there are often links between mental health issues in individuals and some of these very dark routes that people go down.
‘Obviously for the vast, vast majority of people with mental health issues, that doesn’t become a problem, but in a minority, small minority, of cases, it does, and that, of course, is something we have to be constantly working on too.’
His comments come in the wake of the latest terror attack to take place in the UK which saw suicide bomber Enzo Almeni killed after a homemade ball-bearing device exploded inside a taxi he rode to Liverpool Women’s Hospital just seconds before the 11am minute’s silence on Remembrance Sunday.
Shocking footage captured the moment the taxi exploded outside the hospital on Sunday and showed driver David Perry miraculously escape just seconds after the blast with only minor injuries.
Pictured: This is the moment the taxi carrying an alleged suicide bomber exploded outside a Liverpool hospital in what police and MI5 are now probing as a Poppy Day terror attack
Hinds said there had been a shift away extremists taking instructions from large organisations towards ‘self-directed’ individuals or small groups who have been radicalised online
Almeni, a failed asylum seeker with Syrian and Iraqi heritage who changed his name by deed poll from Emad Jamil Al Swealmeen to sound more Western, fled the Middle East several years ago and converted from Islam to Christianity in 2017 at the cathedral it is believed was the intended target of his attack.
Four men have been arrested in connection with the attack which was officially declared a terror incident yesterday.
It was the second recorded terror attack in the UK in the space of a month after Southend West MP Sir David Amess was stabbed to death by an extremist while holding a constituency surgery in Essex last month.
During 2020, when there were multiple lockdowns as the Government tried to curb the rise in coronavirus cases, the Counter-Terrorism Internet Referral Unit (CTIRU) reported an increase of about 7 per cent in suspected terrorist content online.
The CTIRU said it had been told about 3,000 pieces of suspected terrorist content this year, up from 2,796 in 2019.
A reported published last month by the Institute of Strategic Dialogue showed that 18 months of global lockdowns led to growing engagement in extremist material ranging from terrorist content, conspiracy theories and disinformation.
Jacob Davey from the ISD said studies had already shown ‘there has been a proliferation of harmful and troubling activity online’ during the pandemic, with an impact that is impossible to predict’.
He added: ‘What we’ve seen is evidence of spikes of online activity in a wide range of extremist issues during lockdown. It is not just terrorist material but a broad cocktail of online harms, as people spent more time indoors.’
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dean Haydon (pictured) urged families to play their part in the preventing their loved ones from being radicalised online by extremists after counter-terror police said they were concerned online radicalisation had continued throughout the pandemic
Security minister Damian Hinds was asked whether it was right to lower the terrorism alert level in February.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, the Home Office minister said: ‘These are decisions taken independently of ministers by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre.
‘But whether we talk about substantial or severe, the threat level has been high for a long time now. As long as that is the case, there is of course the risk that a terrible event and atrocities such as this can happen.
‘It’s necessary to be alert throughout. I think it’s right that the level has now been raised and these things are kept under constant review.’
Earlier this year, a report by the counter-terrorism police found the number of children arrested in relation to terrorism offences has reached its highest level since records began nearly 20 years ago.
The figures prompted Counter Terrorism Policing to urge parents, friends and family to play their part in stopping the rise of young people radicalised by extremist content.
Counter-terror police said that while the number of people arrested for terror offences had fallen during Covid, this was because lockdown prevented police from disrupting terrorist activity in the usual manner and they were concerned online extremist activity was continuing
The force said the overall number of people arrested in relation to terrorist activity had fallen significantly as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
But officers confirmed this was only because CTP frequently use non-terrorism legislation to make arrests and disrupt terrorist activity, and the lockdown period had presented fewer opportunities for officers to do that.
Experts at CTP added that while fewer arrests have taken place, they were concerned that online activity has continued at pre-pandemic levels, with terrorist groomers exploiting the fact that vulnerable people have spent more time online, isolated and without regular access supporting factors such as schools, social workers and mental health services.
There is particular concern about young people, with the new statistics showing that while arrests across every other age group have declined – children were once again the only demographic to show an increase.
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