Roots of violent radicalisation - Home Affairs Committee Contents

1  Introduction

The Committee's inquiry

1. On 7 July 2005, 52 people were killed and more than 770 others injured in attacks on the London transport network carried out by four men from West Yorkshire who had been radicalised by the ideology and rhetoric of Al Qa'ida. The nature of the current, deadly threat facing the UK from home-grown terrorism was fully exposed for the first time. This was only one of a number of terrorist plots which caused the British authorities to shift their attention over the past decade from external threats to national security to those lying within the UK borders. Radicalisation is one of four strategic factors identified in the Government's counter-terrorism strategy, known as CONTEST, that have enabled terrorist groups to grow and flourish.[1] Yet four years after 7/7, the reasons why some British-born and raised individuals are vulnerable to violent radicalisation remain unclear.

2. On taking office in 2010, the Coalition Government announced a wholesale review of the Prevent Strategy (often referred to simply as "Prevent"), which was drawn up to tackle violent radicalisation in the UK in the wake of the 7/7 bombings.[2] The original strategy had attracted criticism for its alleged exclusive focus on Muslim communities, spying, and unhealthy conflation of law enforcement with integration policy. The outcome of the Prevent Review was published in June 2011.

3. In anticipation of this, we decided in May 2011 to launch an inquiry that would test the evidence base for the Prevent Review and explore issues regarding its implementation. We undertook to examine the root causes of violent radicalisation in the UK, the individuals and groups particularly vulnerable to radicalisation and the locations where this radicalisation tends to take place, in relation to the primary terrorist threats facing the UK. Specifically, we intended to:

  • determine the major drivers of, and risk factors for recruitment to, terrorist movements linked to (a) Islamic fundamentalism (b) Irish dissident republicanism and (c) domestic extremism;
  • examine the relative importance of prisons and criminal networks, religious premises, universities and the internet as fora for violent radicalisation;
  • examine the operation and impact of the current process for proscribing terrorist groups;
  • consider the appropriateness of current preventative approaches to violent radicalisation, in light of these findings, including the roles of different organisations at national and local level; and
  • make recommendations to inform implementation of the Government's forthcoming revised Prevent strategy.

4. To this end, we took oral evidence on seven occasions between September 2011 and December 2011 and received 17 written submissions. A list of those who gave evidence is appended to our Report. We visited Belmarsh prison to speak to prisoners and staff and held a round-table discussion with a group of students from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. We also held a conference at De Montfort University on 13 December 2011, attended by around 200 people involved in Prevent, including police officers, local authority workers, prison and probation staff, academics, faith leaders, students, community groups and politicians. The conference was addressed by, amongst others, Rev. Jesse Jackson and by Dr. Dipu Moni MP, the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, and allowed us to hear a wide range of views which have informed our inquiry to a significant extent. We are grateful to all those who contributed to our inquiry. We are particularly grateful to De Montfort University and the Barrow Cadbury Trust for hosting and supporting our conference.



5. Much of the language used to talk about the issues we consider in our Report is itself the subject of debate. However, whilst we briefly consider the use of language in chapter four, in general we use the Government's definitions as set out in legislation and the Prevent Strategy:

  • Section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2000 defines terrorism as "the use or threat of action ... designed to influence the Government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public ... for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause."
  • Radicalisation is defined in the Prevent Strategy as "the process by which a person comes to support terrorism and forms of extremism leading to terrorism."
  • Extremism is defined in the Prevent Strategy as "vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. We also include in our definition of extremism calls for the death of members of our armed forces, whether in this country or overseas."[3]
  • "Violent extremism" is considered by the Prevent Strategy to mean the endorsement of violence to achieve extreme ends.


6. The Government concluded in its Prevent Review that the Strategy should continue to focus on radicalisation linked to the main terrorist threat facing the UK, from groups that are usually collectively referred to as Islamic fundamentalist, Al Qa'ida-related, or Islamist terrorists (we will use this last term). Other than the 7/7 bombings, some of the most high-profile Islamist plots discovered by the authorities involving British citizens or residents over the last decade included:

  • the attempt by Richard Reid to detonate explosives in his shoes while on board a flight from Paris to Miami in December 2001;
  • the conviction of Kamel Bourgass for his role in a plot to produce ricin for use in a terrorist attack in London in 2003;
  • the conviction of five men in 2004 for attempting to produce explosives to attack utility companies, the Ministry of Sound nightclub, Bluewater Shopping Centre and Amec construction firm;
  • the conviction of four individuals who tried and failed to detonate bombs on London's transport network on 21 July 2005;
  • the conviction of seven individuals in connection with the Bojinka II Plot to blow up six to ten flights from the UK to the US;
  • the discovery in June 2007 of two improvised devices in a car outside the Tiger Tiger club near Trafalgar Square—the following day the two perpetrators drove a Jeep packed with gas cylinders into the lounge at Glasgow Airport; and
  • the jailing of Rajib Karim for 30 years in March 2011 after he joined British Airways in order to plan suicide bombings.

The threat level from such groups has reached the highest level of CRITICAL over the past decade (meaning an attack is expected imminently) but was most recently lowered in Great Britain from SEVERE (meaning an attack is highly likely) to SUBSTANTIAL (a strong possibility) in July 2011. [4]

7. However, the Government also believes that "Prevent should be flexible enough to address the challenge posed by terrorism of any kind" and cited two further forms of terrorism in the Strategy.[5] Firstly, it noted the threat from Northern Ireland-related terrorism had "increased significantly" over the past two years.[6] The current threat level from Northern Ireland-terrorism is set separately from that for Great Britain and currently stands at SEVERE. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has responsibility in government for Northern Ireland-related terrorism with most relevant policy areas the responsibility of the devolved administration.

8. Secondly, the Strategy cited extreme right-wing terrorism, which in the UK has been "much less widespread, systematic or organised than terrorism associated with Al Qa'ida";[7] however, there are 17 people in Britain currently serving prison sentences for terrorism offences who are known to be associated with extreme right-wing groups.[8] Although the last major terrorist attacks by a right-wing extremist in the UK took place in 1999,[9] there have been more recent convictions for offences connected with planning terrorist attacks, including:

  • Nathan Worrell, jailed for at least seven years in December 2008 for possessing material for terrorist purposes and racially aggravated harassment;
  • Neil Lewington, convicted and sentenced for a least six years in September 2009 on seven separate charges, including preparing acts of terrorism;
  • Martyn Gilleard, sentenced to 16 years in prison in June 2008 for preparing for terrorist acts and possessing articles and collecting information for terrorist purposes;
  • Ian and Nicky Davison, convicted in May 2010 of preparing a terrorist attack to target Jews, Muslims and ethnic minorities using ricin poison; and
  • Terence Gavan, jailed for 11 years in January 2010 for assembling one of the largest arms caches found in England in recent years.[10]


9. The Prevent Strategy is coordinated by the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism in the Home Office and delivered in partnership with a number of other Government Departments and statutory agencies and community groups at a local level. The Home Office currently funds Prevent coordinators in 25 priority local authority areas and also provides grant funding for project work within these areas. The Home Office provides further funding to police forces for officers to fulfil Prevent coordination and engagement roles. Key to local Prevent delivery is the Channel programme, a multi-agency programme coordinated by the police to identify individuals vulnerable to radicalisation and direct them towards appropriate support, supplied by a Channel provider. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office provides funding for Prevent work overseas (which we do not consider in our Report).

1   HM Government, Contest: The UK's Strategy for Countering Terrorism, 2011.The other three factors are conflict and instability; ideology; and technology. Back

2   "Prevent" is one of four strands of CONTEST. The others are "Protect", "Pursue" and "Prepare". Back

3   HM Government, Prevent Strategy, June 2011, Annex A: Glossary of Terms Back

4   The Security Service website, Back

5   HM Government, Prevent Strategy, June 2011, para 6.11 Back

6   HM Government, Prevent Strategy, June 2011, para 5.6 Back

7   HM Government, CONTEST: The United Kingdom's Strategy for Countering Terrorism, July 2011, p 30 Back

8   Ev 89, para 1.18 Back

9   Hansard, 26 April 1999, col. 37ff. Back

10   Alexander Melegrou-Hitchens and Edmund Standing, Blood and Honour: Britain's far right militants, Centre for Social Cohesion, January 2010, pp 36-7; HM Government, CONTEST: The United Kingdom's Strategy for Countering Terrorism, July 2011, p 30  Back

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Prepared 6 February 2012