The British government has committed to increased surveillance on extremists taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to target vulnerable people, two ministers outlined in plans on Tuesday.
The government said it would “monitor closely” extremist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood who were trying to “take advantage” of the crisis.
Experts have voiced concerns that the lockdown has allowed groups such as the Brotherhood, which has plotted against Gulf states, to spread their message directly into people’s homes.
James Cleverly, the Minister for the Middle East, said the British government took concerns over the Muslim Brotherhood seriously.
Fellow Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell had earlier raised in Parliament concerns over the group.
“The British government continues to take concerns about the Muslim Brotherhood seriously and keeps under review the activities undertaken by the Muslim Brotherhood's associates overseas," Mr Cleverly said in a written response.
“We monitor closely the risk that any movement might seek to take advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic to spread their influence, exploiting this unprecedented global health challenge to target vulnerable people and communities.”
He said on Tuesday that he had spoken to Dr Anwar Gargash, the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, on a range of international issues.
Mr Cleverly also thanked the UAE for its recent donations of protective equipment to healthcare staff fighting the coronavirus.
There are worries that extremists are using people’s isolation during lockdown to promote their messages and influence the vulnerable, especially youths, who are spending more time online.
Dr Alan Mendoza, director of the Henry Jackson Society, said there was a danger that groups such as the Brotherhood could beam its radical messages “straight into people’s homes through online TV channels or through Zoom calls and online discussion”.
“There’s been a general fear that extremists can use this opportunity to get online in different way with a much reduced ability to police them,” Dr Mendoza said.
“Who knows what is said in a Zoom conversation?”
He said that more worrying was the loss of contact through community policing and Home Office programmes such as Prevent, which seeks to de-radicalise extremists.
“Vulnerable people could be influenced and that influence remains unchecked," Dr Mendoza said. "A moderating influence has potentially gone at the moment.
“The impact on people not having the kind of access they would normally have to their religious leaders, to their imam in the mosque, means these extremist views largely go unchallenged.”
Mr Cleverly said the British government remained committed to “combating any groups which represent a threat to global security and stability”.
Mr Rosindell had asked ministers to answer questions over the rise in activities as a result of the pandemic by the Brotherhood, which seeks to implement its own strict interpretation of Sharia under a global caliphate.
He told The National that he welcomed the government efforts to monitor the Brotherhood and "prevent their influence growing in vulnerable communities, especially during the Covid-19 outbreak".
Mr Rosindell said it was crucial to block "extremists such as Hamas, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood, and deny them the fertile landscape they are seeking to exploit during these difficult times".
The pandemic has already inspired terror plots through online propaganda, as well as increased radicalisation, Prof Andrew Silke said in a report for Pool Re, which insures against terrorism.
“Extremist propaganda is focusing on the vulnerability of government opponents distracted by the pandemic and the opportunity this presents for attacks,” Prof Sike, the chair in terrorism, risk and resilience at Cranfield University, wrote in a report.
“There is a significant current increase in online extremist activity, raising the risk of increasing short-to-medium term radicalisation.
"There are strong long-term concerns that states weakened by the serious economic consequences of the pandemic will be more vulnerable to the resurgence of terrorist groups in many parts of the world.”
Meanwhile, Victoria Atkins, the Home Office Minister, told Mr Rosindell in a written response: "The Government keeps under review the activities of those associated with the Muslim Brotherhood in the UK."
The Home Office said it already refused visas to members and associates of the Brotherhood, and ensured that charities linked to it were not used to finance operations.
It was also keeping the activities and views of the Brotherhood under review to consider if they justified proscribing the group as a terrorist organisation.
Last year, the US gave serious consideration to designating the Brotherhood as a terrorist group.
Ms Atkins said the Home Office had made “no assessment on any increase in activity resulting from the economic situation”.