LONDON: The former head of Britain’s counterterrorism operations has warned that a “wave of terrorism” was heading from Europe to the UK and that Britain should raise its terror threat level accordingly.
Nick Aldworth, the UK’s ex-counterterrorism national coordinator, also told Sky News that individuals carrying out “lone wolf” attacks after being radicalized in their bedrooms were becoming the new norm.
His comments came just days after Ali Harbi Ali, believed to be an Islamist extremist radicalized online, murdered Conservative Party MP David Amess.
Authorities faced an “enormous challenge” in identifying potential attackers such as Ali that had been radicalized at home, Aldworth said.
“It’s become the new norm within terrorism: People self-radicalizing and then deciding to do something about it.
“We live in a democratic society, we don’t live in a surveillance society where the authorities can, without cause, tap your phone and monitor your internet usage. It’s an enormous challenge and an enormously resource-intensive challenge.
“My view, from what we’re seeing, is there are similarities this year with what we saw in 2016 and 2017 of a slowly developing wave of terrorism in Europe that’s starting to move toward the UK.
“My belief is we must be quite close to moving up a threat level back to severe (meaning an attack was highly likely),” he added.
During 2016 and 2017, five deadly terror attacks took place in Britain, including the Manchester Arena bombing which killed dozens of people, many of them children, and the murder of MP Jo Cox.
Amess’ killing has prompted renewed scrutiny on the effectiveness of Britain’s counter-radicalization program, Prevent, because Ali had previously been referred to it.
British Home Office figures show there were more than 6,200 referrals to the Prevent scheme in England and Wales in the year up to March 2020.
Aldworth said that the Prevent program was currently not receiving enough referrals from friends and family, who were best placed to notice changes in people’s behavior.
“Typically, about 30 percent of referrals come from education … about 30 percent come from the police, and about 30 percent come from a disparate number of places including health.
“The interesting point is that only between 2 and 5 percent come from family and friends, and the workplace. Of course, that’s the point you would expect changes in people’s behavior to be most observable. That’s where the gap in the market is,” he added.
British Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “Prevent is going through an independent review right now. It’s timely to do that. We obviously constantly have to learn not just from incidents that have taken place but how we can strengthen our programs.
“We want to ensure that it is fit for purpose, robust, doing the right thing. But importantly learning lessons, always building upon what is working, and addressing any gaps or issues where the system needs strengthening,” she added.