One of the UK’s most senior counterterrorism officers has warned that Covid-19 is creating an environment in which extremists will find it easier to identify, target and potentially radicalize vulnerable people.
Counter Terrorism Policing’s new Senior National Coordinator for Protect and Prepare, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist, told a media conference that while most of us have been focused on protecting ourselves and our families from Covid-19, terrorists have not stopped planning attacks or radicalizing people online.
In fact, he revealed that Counter Terrorism Policing and the U.K. Intelligence Services have foiled four potential terror attacks during the pandemic, taking the total number of attacks stopped by the U.K.’s counterterrorism 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 it has made us all more isolated, making it more difficult for young and vulnerable people to access 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 U.K. 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 CT efforts, by helping Counter Terrorism Policing identify those who need protection against extremist grooming via the Prevent program, or by completing the 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 defense,” 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.”