Two weeks ago, The Henry Jackson Society released the most in-depth study of terrorism on British shores for a generation. The report revealed that three-quarters of Islamist-related terrorism offences were committed by individuals who were previously known to the authorities.
Almost half (48%) were committed by those who were already known to the Security Service, 38% had prior contact with the police, 13% engaged in extremism-related public activism and 9% had been stopped or detained in relation to (suspected) travel for terrorist purposes.
Similar parallels can be seen in Europe, where many of the individuals involved in the network behind the Paris and Brussels attacks were known to the authorities.
At the beginning of March this year Mark Rowley, the Assistant Commissioner to the Metropolitan Police, said that over 500 terrorism investigations are open at any one time. It can take up to thirty-five people to monitor a single individual around the clock, highlighting the immense scale of the challenge we face. Nevertheless, thirteen plots have been foiled in the last four years.
The report also revealed a significant concentration of convicted individuals who were based in Birmingham. Last night an address in Birmingham was raided in connection with yesterday’s attack. When comparing the periods 1998-2010 and 2011-2015, there was a proportional increase in Islamist-related terrorism offences in Birmingham of eight percentage points, from 15% to 23%.
The report also showed that 12% of the attempted or successful attacks were vehicular, whilst 15% involved beheading or stabbing.
Henry Jackson Society Research Fellow Tom Wilson said:
“Our surveillance can never be infallible. The fact that so many of these individuals are known to the police shows that our ability to identify likely offenders is strong, but clearly individuals can still get through. Surveillance alone can never be the solution to the terror threat.
We’ve seen that the West Midlands in particular has been a centre for Islamist terrorism in recent years, and has been the place of residence for one fifth of all UK terror offenders. Parts of Birmingham have proven fertile ground for those looking to recruit and radicalise for terrorism, with a high number of cases coming from the Hall Green and Hodge Hill areas – where three quarters of all offenders from Birmingham lived.
“We also know from our research that terror offenders are more likely to live in areas that have higher than average levels of segregation and deprivation.”