Britain’s counter-terrorism program has focused too much on far-right zealots and should now crack down on Islamist extremism, a report says.
An official review of Prevent – the government’s flagship policy against extremism – found there was a “double standard in the face of the far right and Islamism”, according to leaked draft excerpts.
There were more referrals to Prevent about far-right extremism than Islamist radicalization for the first time last year.
The leaked excerpts, seen by The Guardian yesterday, also criticize community groups and organizations funded by Prevent, saying some ‘have promoted extremist narratives, including statements that appear to support the Taliban’.
He also warned that “renewed attention to Islamist extremism is needed, including where individuals have not yet reached the threshold of terrorism.”
The review, carried out by Sir William Shawcross, former chairman of the Charity Commission who is leading the evaluation of Britain’s flagship de-radicalisation programme, also said Prevent “carried the brunt” of overstretched mental health services.
Sir William Shawcross, former chairman of the Charity Commission who is leading the review of Britain’s flagship de-radicalisation scheme, delivered the long-awaited review to the Home Office last month.
Sir David’s killer Ali Harbi Ali – who was today sentenced to life imprisonment – was returned to the scheme in 2014 but a year later it was found he was not a more of a threat.
Four recent attacks by Islamist terrorists who had been referred to Prevent
SOUTH-END – October 15, 2021: Tory MP Sir David Amess was stabbed to death outside Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea near Southend while attending constituency surgery. Ali Harbi Ali, 26, was referred to Prevent seven years ago.
READING – June 20, 2020: Khairi Saadallah, 27, fatally stabbed friends James Furlong, 36, Dr. David Wails, 49, and Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39, in a knife attack in a park in the downtown. He later admitted to the murders and was sentenced to life in prison. The Reading refugee support group has warned Prevent officials it could carry out a ‘London Bridge type attack’. However, it turned out that he had no “fixed ideology”, reported the Independent.
STREATHAM – February 2, 2020: Sudesh Amman was shot dead by police after he stabbed two people on a busy south London street in Streatham while wearing a fake suicide vest. He was referred to Prevent but the panel decided his case did not require intervention.
LONDON BRIDGE – November 29, 2019: Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, were stabbed to death by Usman Khan, 28, during a prisoner rehabilitation event. A man and two women were also injured before Khan, who was released from prison on license in December 2018, was shot dead by armed officers on the bridge. An investigation revealed that its Prevent agents had “no specific training” in dealing with terrorists.
PARSONS GREEN – September 15, 2017: Ahmed Hassan’s pipe bomb partially exploded on a London Underground rush hour train, injuring more than 50 people. He was sentenced to life with a minimum prison term of 34 years. He was referred to Prevent 20 months before planting the bomb.
In his draft conclusions, Sir William, former head of the Charity Commission, said Prevent’s first objective – to tackle the causes of radicalization and respond to the ideological challenge of terrorism – “is not sufficiently achieved”.
The draft also stated: “As a fundamental principle, the government must cease engaging or funding those aligned with extremism.”
He reportedly completed the long-awaited exam, which was handed over to the Home Office in late April after long delays.
Sir Peter Fahy, former chief constable of Prevent, said excerpts from the review suggested Sir William’s findings were an attempt to ‘politicize counter-terrorism policing’.
“There is a danger in mind control as opposed to the risk of violence. It’s not about ideology but about the risk of someone falling into violence,” he told the Guardian.
“It seems to me quite dangerous to pit one ideology against another.”
The Home Office said the review will help it “improve our response”, adding: “Prevention remains an essential tool for early intervention and protection”.
Mr Shawcross, a former chairman of the Charity Commission who is leading a long-awaited review of Prevent, is expected to call for the creation of a new network of counter-terrorism professionals free from council scrutiny.
Sir David’s killer Ali Harbi Ali – who was sentenced to life in prison last month – was returned to the scheme in 2014 but a year later it was concluded he was no longer a a threat.
Six of the 11 most significant recent terrorist attacks were perpetrated by individuals who went through Prevent.
The program works by Prevent coordinators appointed by the local council who receive referrals from officials such as teachers and social workers, with each person involved ranked according to their ideology.
Less serious cases are dealt with by councils, which may offer services like mentoring or parenting support, while more serious cases move on to the Channel phase, where a panel of local officials, including the police, will recommend next steps. .
Ali, a 26-year-old Londoner, radicalized himself by consuming extremist material online before fatally stabbing Tory MP Sir David.
The Met said Ali “spent time” at Prevent before coming out “by his own admission”.
He is the latest in a string of Islamist terrorists in recent years to be referred to the government’s flagship counter-terrorism program only to carry out an attack.
Khairi Saadallah, 27, fatally stabbed friends James Furlong, 36, Dr David Wails, 49, and Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39, in a park in Reading in June 2020.
Reading striker Khairi Saadallah, 27 (left) was assessed by Prevent officials but found to have “no fixed ideology”, according to reports. Sudesh Amman, who stabbed two people in Streatham, south London, last February. However, a panel decided that his case did not require intervention.
Usman Khan, 28 (left), who stabbed two young graduates to death after a prisoner rehabilitation event on London Bridge, had come into contact with Prevent officers who had ‘no specific training’ to dealing with terrorists, survey finds. Parsons Green suicide bomber Ahmed Hassan was also referred to the counter-terrorism program 20 months before planting a device on the subway that injured 50 people during rush hour in 2017.
Prevent officials were warned he could carry out a ‘London Bridge-style attack’, but was assessed and found to have ‘no fixed ideology’, the Independent reported.
Another terrorist mentioned in Prevent was Sudesh Amman, who stabbed two people in Streatham, south London, in February 2019. However, a panel ruled his case did not require intervention.
Usman Khan, 28, who stabbed two young graduates to death after a prisoner rehabilitation event on London Bridge, had come into contact with Prevent officers who had “no specific training” in dealing with terrorists, according to a survey.
Parsons Green suicide bomber Ahmed Hassan was also referred to the counter-terrorism program 20 months before planting a device on the subway that injured 50 people during rush hour in 2017.
Following his sentencing, Chief Superintendent Dominic Murphy said Ali participated in the Prevent de-radicalization program in 2014.
The UK’s flagship counter-terrorism strategy is undermined by a politically correct focus on right-wing extremism rather than more dangerous Islamist radicalism, critics have said – as a review prepares to overhaul the ‘broken’ system .
He said: “By Ali’s own admission and through our thorough investigation, we have identified that Ali was the subject of Prevent in 2014.
“He spent some time in Prevent and then came out of Prevent and by his own admission, carried on his business in secret for many years, forming his plan and carrying out reconnaissance and concentrating his efforts on many deputies.
“We say he was the true example of a committed terrorist and exactly the type of people we should be focusing our efforts on.”
Mr Murphy said Ali did not engage with anyone else in the plot and carried out the attack entirely alone.
“By his own admission, he has spent an enormous amount of time on the internet as part of his radicalization journey and his research into the conduct of this attack,” he said.
Mr Murphy, of the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command, declined to speculate on whether there had been any missed opportunities to arrest Ali.
He said the matter would be looked into further in any future inquest into Sir David’s death.