Top terror cop warns extremist groups are using games to draw boys into violent ideologies

17 March 2022, 19:32

Police have seen a rise young people being drawn into terrorism
Police have seen a rise young people being drawn into terrorism. Picture: Alamy/LBC

By Megan Hinton

The head of counter terrorism has warned right wing extremist groups are using the "attractive images of gaming" to draw young boys into their ideologies.

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Police have seen a rise in lone actors carrying out attacks and more young people being drawn into terrorism over the last five years.

Since the wave of terror attacks in the UK in 2017, Assistant Commissioner Matt Jukes, head of Counter Terrorism Policing, said "most significantly" officers have seen a rise in the threat from "self-initiated terrorists", commonly described as lone actors, as opposed to cells of terrorists being directed to act.

There is also growing concern about the number of children being drawn into extreme right-wing terrorism.

Speaking to LBC outside Scotland Yard today, Commissioner Jukes said: "Counter terrorism police arrested 20 children last year, 20 under 18-years-old who are getting involved in extremist violent ideologies online.

"It's principally through accessing material in online spaces and forums that young people are being exposed to some really dangerous ideas, and downloading and sharing material which means they are committing serious terrorist offences.

Extreme right-wing groups using gaming to attract young people

"The one feature of our work is it currently features on men and in the case of the younger group, boys, and so we see gaming as part of their lifestyle and we see that some of the extremist right wing groups in particular, but others as well, are using the images of games, the appearance of gaming in their propaganda.

"I’m not suggesting for a second it is the gaming itself that leads them to those violent ideologies but those who promulgate those violent ideologies, use the attractive images of gaming to draw [boys] in.

Typically British nationals based in the UK, "self-initiated terrorists" are considered "unpredictable" due to being influenced by a variety of ideologies which makes the threat "harder to identify, to detect and to stop".

He added: "The principle threat to people in the UK is from people in the UK. People who are perhaps drawing on international material online to find their motivations or perhaps find their methods."

While they carry out their attack alone, they "take a good deal of their inspiration from online content and are sometimes in contact with others" and often use "readily accessible" weapons such as vehicles or knives.

He said he sees the opening of the new counter terror operations centre in London as "critical" to tackling such threats as "we will be able to spot the signals and signs with greater acuity" and better share intelligence to spot threats as they escalate.

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Police have also sought to remove extremist material online, with an internet referral unit seeing more than 350,000 pieces of extremist and terrorist content taken down since 2015.

Anti-terror police are also "increasingly" seeing more examples of extreme right-wing threats, which can include anti-Semitic and Islamophobic rhetoric as well as featuring "violent misogyny".

The perpetrators are "substantially younger" than before which is of "real concern", Mr Jukes said.

Children make up around one in eight of such arrests. Last year 20 children were arrested, 19 of whom were linked to extreme right-wing ideologies.

They are almost exclusively boys and the most common offending is possession of, or dissemination of, terrorist material.

In the last financial year one in four people who were referred to anti-terror scheme the Prevent programme was identified as having an extreme right-wing ideology, Mr Jukes said.

Up to the end of 2021, just over 40% of counter-terror arrests related to suspected extreme right-wing terrorism.

In that year there were four late-stage terror plots which were disrupted, three of those related to extreme right-wing terrorism.

The head of Counter Terrorism Policing said there were around "800 live investigations running at the moment", about 80% of which are linked to Islamist extremism and that "remains the predominant ideological threat we face in our work".

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The outgoing Metropolitan Police Commissioner described the threat of terrorism in the UK as a "real and present danger" which is "constantly changing and evolving".

Dame Cressida Dick said police must be "ready to adapt" but, as she prepares to leave her post, added "we are in a good position" to tackle the threats posed by terrorists in "whatever form or guise we find them".

Speaking before the fifth anniversary of the Westminster terror attack, she said: "We must not be complacent. The terrorism threat is a real and present danger. It is, as I've said, constantly changing and evolving. We have to be ready to adapt and change our approach to match the threats we face."

In the past five years the country has faced "devastating attacks" but "we've also made great strides to improve our capability", she told reporters at the briefing on Thursday.

The counter terrorism operation is "stronger and more effective now than when I started as commissioner", Dame Cressida said, adding: "I firmly believe ... we are in a good position to meet and tackle the threats, meet and deal with the risks that are posed by terrorists in whatever form or guise we find them over the coming months and years."