The unique and isolating circumstances of the last two years profoundly impacted the risk landscape, exacerbating existing tensions and leaving many vulnerable to radicalisation.
Between April 2021 and 2022, there were 255 notable terrorist/extremist incidents across the UK, with activity increasing significantly after July 2021.
Islamist extremist terrorism remains the dominant threat in the UK while extreme right-wing terrorism (ERWT) is fastest growing challenge. In 2018, ERWT came under the security service’s remit – it is now assessed with the same terminology as Islamist terrorism and is incorporated in the UK threat level assessment.
According to MI5, one in five attempted attacks in the UK are now from ERWT groups1. Of the 29 late-stage attack plots disrupted in the last four years, ten have been ERWT. Reciprocal radicalisation is a worrying trend, especially in its targeting of under-18s. The UK economy, isolation and exposure to online extremist material are contributing to the shifting environment. The pandemic provided the perfect recruitment conditions for people, particularly the young and vulnerable, to become radicalised. Last year, a 13-year-old boy from Cornwall admitted 12 offences, two of dissemination of terrorist documents and 10 of possession of terrorist material.
Recent high-profile incidents have involved “lone wolf” actors, unsophisticated weaponry. Their intention has been maximising casualties – a far cry from the collateral damage/legitimate target modus operandi associated with traditional terrorism. As surveillance, response times, emergency services and law enforcement increase their capability to mitigate and prevent attacks, there is potential for lone actors to opt for softer, more localised targets.
Mixed, unstable or unclear ideology
A study that Cardiff University's Violence Research group released at the end of April this year found that serious violence increased by 23% after the government lifted COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, the biggest rise since records began back in 2000. With the dire economic situation in the UK, there are fears this violence could increase.
It has been a year since Jake Davison shot and killed five people and injured two others in Plymouth before fatally shooting himself, and an inquest is due early next year. This incident is an example of a rapidly expanding trend of mixed, unclear and unstable (MUU) extremism cases. Rather than ideological convictions, attacks such as this one are characterised by engagement with dark online subcultures where violence and dehumanisation are the norm.
2021 government statistics show that there were 2,500 MUU referrals to Prevent, a government-led programme which aims to safeguard vulnerable people from being drawn into terrorism, in the year ending March 20212. People in this category outnumbered those reported for ERWT or Islamist extremist views combined. The same was true the year before. Data from last year also shows that 70% of people referred to Prevent had mental health issues.
The government ordered an independent review of the Prevent scheme by William Shawcross, and this has been delivered to officials but it is yet to be published.
Currently organisations have no legislative requirement to consider or deploy security measures to counter terrorism in the vast majority of public places. However, this may soon change. In the aftermath of the Manchester Arena bombing, the Home Office launched the public consultation last year, which ran from February to July. It posed 58 questions covering to whom the legislation should apply, what the requirements should be, how compliance should work and how the government should best support and work with partners; 2755 individuals or organisations responded to this consultation.
The government announced a draft terrorism bill called Protect Duty via the Queen’s speech in May. The implications of that legislation could be far-reaching, possibly affecting up to 10,000 organisations and businesses operating throughout the UK.
Protect Duty is a result of what happened at Manchester, most notably the confusion around roles and responsibilities in a terrorist attack. The legislation aims to create a response framework, enhance the protection of the UK's publicly accessible locations from terrorist attacks and ensure that businesses and organisations are adequately prepared to deal with incidents.
Who will this apply to? Owners and operators of publicly accessible locations – defined as any place that members of the public have access, whether by payment or otherwise, but excludes private venues. So offices, where there's no public access are, at the moment, out of scope. The threshold has not been confirmed but it looks like Protect will apply to any venue with a capacity to exceed 100 or more or where there are more than 250 employees with public access.
There's debate around whether there should be different requirements depending on what the event is, and where it is in the UK. While everybody believes it is the right thing to do and is extremely positive about it, one of the major concerns, in the current economic situation, is cost. Will organisations already struggling in the aftermath of COVID-19 realistically be in a position to comply with this potential new legislation?
How can we help?
Whilst the exact requirements under the new legislation has still to be finalised, Gallagher Crisis Management is actively monitoring the situation and is preparing to help clients and prospects with the requirements to comply with this new legislation. The existing Crisis Resilience solution will be enhanced to include advice and support for all clients that are within scope to access trusted, reliable advice to enable them to go through the stages to become compliant. In the unfortunate event they are caught up within a terrorist event, they will also have support through the emergency number which will give them access to response consultants that can support the client’s internal crisis management team.