More white people arrested over terrorism than any other ethnic group for second year in a row

Official statistics released after head of counterterror police names far-right extremism as fastest growing threat

Lizzie Dearden
Security Correspondent
Thursday 05 March 2020 10:45
Justice Secretary Announces Emergency Terror Legislation

The number of white terror suspects being arrested in the UK has outstripped those of Asian appearance for the second year in a row.

Official figures showed that that 117 white people were arrested on suspicion of terror offences in 2019, compared with 111 Asian suspects and 21 black suspects.

“The proportion of white people arrested exceeded the proportion of Asian people arrested for the second consecutive year, having not done previously since 2004,” a Home Office document said.

The change comes after increased police operations against far-right extremists, including members of National Action.

The neo-Nazi terrorist group was banned in 2016 but split into factions that operated under different names, whose members were later arrested in mass raids.

The head of counterterror police declared right-wing extremism as the fastest-growing terror threat in the UK in September, and intelligence agencies have been brought in to tackle it for the first time.

A total of 25 attack plots have been foiled since March 2017 – 16 Islamist, eight far-right and one other.

There were 280 arrests for terrorism-related activity in 2019, two fewer than the previous year.

Less than a third of suspects were charged, while 39 per cent were released for continuing investigation, 23 per cent were freed without charge and 7 per cent faced alternative action.

Raffaello Pantucci, the director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi), said white suspects would include far-right extremists, Muslim converts and people of “mixed or unclear” ideology.

He told The Independent that arrest figures may reflect the operational capacity of police as well as the threat itself.

“This is the number that you will see being dealt with because that’s what the system can handle,” he added.

“The far-right problem has been increasing – the intelligence services’ decision to focus on them is a reflection of the fact they see a genuine problem escalating and they need to deal with it.”

The senior national coordinator for counterterror policing said there had been a spike in arrests in the last three months of the year.

“As we have seen in the last few months, attacks can happen anywhere and at any time without warning,” said Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dean Haydon.

“The figures show that the gradual decline in terror-related arrests has continued since 2018, but despite this – and the reduction in the threat level from severe to substantial – the attacks in Fishmongers’ Hall and Streatham demonstrate that we cannot allow ourselves to think this threat has diminished.

Sudesh Amman, 20, launched a terror attack in Streatham days after being released from prison

“With 3,000 or so subjects of interest currently on our radar and more convicted terrorists soon due to be released from prison, we simply cannot watch all of them, all the time.”

As of 31 December, there were 231 prisoners in custody for terrorism-related offences in Britain – up nine on the previous year.

More than three-quarters were categorised as holding Islamist extremist views, 18 per cent far-right and 6 per cent other ideologies.

A total of 54 people were released from custody in the year, three-quarters of whom were freed after serving prison sentences.

The majority had been handed terms of four years or more, including one life sentence.

In the wake of attacks committed by released prisoners in London Bridge and Streatham, the government has brought in an emergency law preventing the automatic release of terrorist prisoners.

Those on determinate sentences will be kept inside jail for longer and assessed by the Parole Board before being freed.

The law was introduced amid rising concerns over terrorist networking and radicalisation in jails, where two alleged terror attackers have recently been attempted by prisoners.

One terrorist, who attacked police officers with a sword outside Buckingham Palace and then planned new atrocities, described being “surrounded by jihadis” in HMP Belmarsh.

Up to 800 inmates at any one time are being monitored for suspected extremism, and prison officers suspect the number is far higher – and growing.

Mr Haydon warned that the only way to reduce the number of terrorists in the long term was by preventing people from being drawn into radicalisation.

“Early intervention, through the Prevent programme, is absolutely key,” he added. “We need families, friends, colleagues and local communities to recognise that early intervention is not ruining someone’s life but saving it, and potentially that of others too.”

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