Families should come forward with information on relatives they feel are turning to extremism following “lone actor” attacks in France and Austria, Britain’s security minister has urged.
James Brokenshire has also called on the major social media companies, including Facebook, to help prevent people becoming radicalised online and report threats to the authorities.
Following the extremist atrocities in Europe earlier this month, Britain is now looking to introduce new powers for the police, Mr Brokenshire told a webinar, with greater powers to search premises and individuals, as well as a new “urgent arrest power.”
With the defeat of ISIS and Al Qaeda in Syria and Iraq, terrorist groups have turned to using single radicalised people to commit attacks, called the ‘lone actor’. In France, a teacher was beheaded by a terrorist inspired by ISIS, as was another extremist who killed four people in Vienna before he was shot by police.
“One of the most fundamental shifts we've seen in recent years has been the prominence of what is often referred to as the 'lone actor' threat,” Mr Brokenshire told the Royal United Services Institute. “The primary threat is posed by those who’ve mobilised to violence independently. Technological changes, permissive online spaces and low sophistication attack methods have lowered the bar to entry into terrorism.”
But he warned that the term ‘lone actor’ implied that the individuals were isolated from society, that they “never tell anyone else about their views or ambitions, that they have no interconnections with friends, family, or others around them” and cannot be stopped “from taking the path to terrorism.”
He called this a false picture and that research had shown that there was planning for attacks among groups of two or three people. “They can be spotted, they're not alone," he said. “More than ever the authorities need communities and families to come forward if they're concerned that someone they know is at risk of being drawn into terrorist activity,” he said. “These terrorists can be spotted. They can be stopped.”
While the security services, including MI5 and counter terrorism police, were working day and night to prevent attacks, the best place to spot the warning signs of radicalisation was online.
“We also expect social media companies to play a role in identifying and flagging both illegal glorification content and the potential terrorist grooming of vulnerable individuals. That is why we are so concerned and companies like Facebook, who take a unilateral decision to apply end-to-end encryption in a way that wholly precludes any access to content of users’ messages. These companies must continue to take responsibility tackling illegal behaviour. And we remain committed to working with them to ensure we continue to protect the public, without compromising user privacy.”