Experts say Islamism – not far right – remains dominant UK terror threat

Passersby stop to look at flowers left at London Bridge in central London following the murder of Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones by Usman Khan. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

Conversation in the UK around extremism and counter-terrorism has been focused on the threat from the far right in the last year after attacks including the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand, the El Paso Walmart shooting in the U.S. and the synagogue killings in Halle, Germany.

None of these events occurred in the UK.

The recent attack on London Bridge should re-awaken the UK to the Islamist threat, counter-terrorism and counter-extremism experts have said, warning against complacency.

The murders of Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones on Nov. 29 by Usman Khan was the first fatal Islamist terror incident in two years. UK authorities have nonetheless warned the far right is the fastest growing threat, even though Islamist extremism remains the dominant form, says the UK Guardian.

This week, a man was arrested in the Bristol suburb of Clifton on suspicion of Islamist-related terrorism offences. The 33-year-old was held on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism, said Avon and Somerset police.

Charlie Winter, senior research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence at King’s College London, said: “As far as I’m concerned, the threat didn’t go away – if anything, having been defeated in Baghouz [in Syria] earlier this year, the Islamic State’s appetite for terror attacks in the UK is greater now than it’s ever been.

“That said, there’s a gulf between appetite and capability, and, besides seemingly isolated incidents like [London Bridge], whether or not the group is able to sustainably and effectively push would-be attackers over the edge remains to be seen.”

Milo Comerford, Islamist extremism lead at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), an organization countering extremism across the ideological spectrum, said: “The London Bridge attack shows we’re not over the hill with Islamist extremism and points to a new phase of the challenge we’re facing.

“There is a growing far-right threat and that needs to be seen in context. That, and the defeat of ISIS, shouldn’t mean we should take our eye off the ball on Islamist extremism.”

Isis has been driven out of Iraq and Syria, where they once exerted control over great swathes of both countries. This has removed a geographical stronghold but the ideology remains.

While the far right is clearly on the rise – a global terrorism index recently pointed to a 300% increase over the past five years – Comerford said it was still a tiny fraction of the total worldwide threat.

Since 2017, law enforcement agencies in the UK said there have been 25 foiled plots, at least 16 of which were Islamist. In 2017-18, of the 7,318 individuals referred to the authorities, 3,197 or 44 percent were referred for concerns related to Islamist extremism and 1,312 or 18 percent were referred for concerns related to rightwing extremism.


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