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U.K. Foils Seven Late-Stage Plots Since March 2020

Counter Terrorism Policing (CTP) and the U.K. Intelligence Services have stopped seven late-stage terror attacks since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading senior police officers to warn the public not to let their guard slip during the festive period.

That takes the total number of foiled terrorism plots since March 2017 to 32 – with 18 related to Islamist extremism, 12 to Extreme Right Wing Terrorism and two to Left, Anarchist or Single Issue Terrorism.

The warning comes as the Home Office’s quarterly release of statistics relating to the police’s use of powers under the Terrorism Act 2000 revealed there were a total of 188 arrests for terrorism-related activity in the year ending September 30, 2021.

The Senior National Coordinator for Counter Terrorism Policing, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dean Haydon, said: “CTP and our colleagues in the security services have stopped seven terror plots in less than two years, assisted by our officers making 188 arrests in the 12 months to the end of September.

“The public will also be well aware of the fact that the U.K. has suffered two terror attacks in quick succession, with the national threat level raising to Severe – meaning an attack is highly likely.

“All of this combines to paint a picture of a sustained and high tempo threat, which our world-class police, security and intelligence services are doing everything in their power to combat.

“But it takes a whole society approach to effectively tackle terrorism, and co-operation between the police and the public is vital, so we need you to be vigilant, and we need you to be alert.

“As we approach the festive period, we need the public to help play their part in protecting the U.K.

“That means trusting your instincts and contacting us if you see anything suspicious – we get 10,000 reports of suspected terrorist activity from the public every year and around 20% of those are useful intelligence which helps officers stop terrorists.

I would urge everyone to remain vigilant and ACT by reporting it to us confidentially via gov.uk/ACT or by calling 0800 789 321. In an emergency, always dial 999.”

CT experts have highlighted one other concerning element to the latest arrest statistics, and that is despite the overall total falling to one of its lowest levels in a decade – with 28 (13%) fewer arrests than the previous 12-month period – children continue to be disproportionately represented.

Despite the overall reduction in arrests, which is largely due to an overall reduction in crime since the beginning of the national lockdown in March last year, 25 children were arrested in relation to terrorism offending – the highest number ever recorded in a 12-month period.

“We are very concerned that children are becoming an increasing proportion of our arrests,” added DAC Haydon.

“But it doesn’t have to be this way. Ideally we would identify when a young person is being led down the path towards terrorism activity and use the Prevent program to try and put them on a different path.

“Our research tells us that parents, family members and friends are the first to see the changes in behavior which might indicate that a loved one is being radicalized. But currently just 3% of people we help through Prevent come to the program because of concerns raised by those same people who know them best.

“We urge concerned parents to visit the website – www.actearly.uk – designed specifically to offer advice and support for parents and family members who think their loved one might be following a dangerous path towards extremism. Asking for help is a difficult and emotional step, but we must see it for what it is – action which won’t ruin their lives but may well save them.”

The latest Home Office statistics reveal that as in previous years, and similar to other types of crime, the vast majority of those arrested for terrorism-related activity were males (92%). Despite the rise in children being involved in terrorist activity, the ‘30 and over’ age-group again accounted for most arrests (51%). 

The arresting officer also records the ethnic appearance of the arrestee. Arrests for those of “White ethnic appearance” increased by 5% (up from 96 to 101 arrests). There was a decrease in the number of arrests of people of “Black ethnic appearance”, from 20 arrests to 7, and a 40% decrease in the number of arrests of people of “Asian ethnic appearance” (from 82 arrests to 49). The number of arrests of people of “Other ethnic appearance” increased by 72% (from 18 arrests to 31).

The proportion of White people arrested exceeded the proportion of Asian people arrested for the fourth consecutive year. Arrests of persons of White ethnic appearance accounted for 54% of arrests, up 10 percentage points on the previous year. Those of Asian ethnic appearance accounted for 26% of terrorist-related arrests, down 12 percentage points. The proportion of those arrested who were of Black ethnic appearance was 4%, down five percentage points compared with the previous year. Those of ‘Other’ ethnic appearance accounted for 16% of arrests, up eight percentage points on the previous year.

Of those arrested, 82% considered themselves to be of British or British dual nationality, up four percentage points on the previous year and the highest proportion in a calendar year since the data collection began. The proportion increased from 33% in the year ending September 2002 to 80% in the year ending September 2015 and has not fallen below 69% since. 

In the year ending September 30, 2021, 62 persons were tried for terrorism-related offenses, an increase of nine (17%) from the 53 persons in the previous year, but a fall of 29 (32%) from the peak of 91 trials in the year ending September 2018. Of the 62 persons tried for terrorism-related offenses, 58 were convicted.

Of the 58 persons convicted of terrorism-related offenses, 41 (71%) pleaded guilty and 17 (29%) entered a not-guilty plea. This was a higher proportion compared with the previous year, when 28 of the 48 persons convicted (58%) entered a guilty plea.

The most common sentence length in the latest year was of less than four years, which accounted for 43% of sentences (25 of 58 convictions). Of these, 16 sentences were between one and four years (28% of total), and nine were less than a year (16% of total). There were also 20 sentence lengths between four and 10 years, accounting for 34% of sentences (20 of 58 convictions). Those given a life sentence accounted for 3% of all those sentenced in the latest year (two sentences), seven percentage points lower than the previous year (five of 48 convictions). There were no sentences of 10 years or more, a decrease of two compared with the previous year. The number of non-custodial sentences increased from seven to 11 in the latest year.

As of September 30, 2021, there were 218 persons in custody for terrorism-connected offenses in the U.K.

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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