Coronavirus lockdown could be good news for terrorist recruiters
The coronavirus lockdown could prove a fertile recruiting ground for online jihadists and other extremists, a leading Counter Terror officer has warned.
With millions of youngsters at home, unable to attend school or other facilities, it is feared terrorists could be exploiting the situation by seeking to groom and radicalise them.
Since the start of the lockdown last month there has been around a 50 per cent drop in the number of young people being referred to Prevent, the government’s deradicalisation programme.
But counter-terror specialists believe that rather than going away, the problem is simply hidden behind closed doors and could even be getting worse because of the sense of isolation and boredom many teenagers are feeling.
Chief Superintendent Nik Adams, the National Coordinator for Prevent, urged anyone who had concerns that a loved one was being targeted by online extremists to contact the police and seek help before it was too late.
He said: “What concerns me greatly is that the decline in the number of referrals doesn’t mean that there are fewer people that need our help, but that fewer people are able to access the support they need.
“Schools, mental health workers and other public services provide vital support and protection to young and vulnerable people, and the combination of those services being impacted by Covid-19 and the fact people are spending more time online means a small number of vulnerable people are at greater risk of being drawn towards terrorist activity.
“As we all adapt to the prolonged lockdown, I want parents to know that there is help and support available if someone in your household’s behaviour has changed and you are worried that they may be being groomed.”
Counter terror police have also warned that despite the country being in lockdown, the threat from an attack, either from Islamic extremists or Far Right terrorists, has not diminished.
Mr Adams said: “Isolation may exacerbate grievances that make people more vulnerable to radicalisation – such as financial insecurity or social alienation.
“The extremists and radicalisers know this and, as ever, will look to exploit any opportunity to lead those people into harm, often using topical issues as hooks to lure them in.
“The national Counter Terrorism network is incredibly resilient and we have adapted in key areas to make sure we’re still able to provide our vital service through things like virtual interventions and working with school safeguarding leads, who continue to provide their services throughout this period.”
He went on: “Of course, I recognise that these are unsettling times for a lot of people and I know that families are under a lot of strain at the moment, but we’re seeing great examples across the country of how communities are pulling together to support each other.
“It’s vital that safeguarding remains at the heart of that support, so we can remain vigilant as a society and make sure the vulnerable people in our communities stay protected from those intent on doing them, and us, harm.
“If you have concerns about someone you live with or are speaking to, we are here to help.”