UK minister warns about lone attackers radicalised in lockdown

Threat from extremists growing because of internet propaganda, says Damian Hinds

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A UK government minister has spoken of a growing threat from lone wolf terrorist attacks by extremists who could have become radicalised during the coronavirus lockdown.

The warning came as police in Liverpool, northern England, investigate an attempted bombing of a women's hospital in the city on Sunday.

Emad Al Swealmeen, 32, who was killed in the explosion, was identified as the chief suspect while four people arrested in connection with the incident were released without charge on Tuesday.

Home Office Minister Damian Hinds said counter-terrorism police were discovering “more by the hour” about the incident, but that it could be weeks before a full picture of what happened was formed.

Mr Hinds told Sky News that the public was right to be concerned about so-called lone-wolf figures who were radicalised during the pandemic, and that there was a trend towards "self-radicalisation" by people who followed propaganda on the internet.

There was a "trend away from what are called directed attacks ... to more individual, self-initiated, self-radicalised, not so complex, sometimes quite the opposite end of the scale in terms of the methodology used" action, Mr Hinds, MP for East Hampshire, said.

“During the coronavirus period and lockdown there have been more people spending more time in front of their computer screens.

"I mean, it’s only a tiny, tiny proportion of those who go down this dark route, but yes, of course this is a concern.

During the coronavirus period and lockdown there have been more people spending more time in front of their computer screens
Security Minister Damian Hinds

“So much of all criminality these days has a connection one way or another to the internet and that’s especially true when we talk about extremism, radicalisation and terrorism."

Mr Hinds said the government was working closely with social media companies to battle the threat from extremists.

The Online Safety Bill being introduced to Parliament and "wider work" around the Prevent anti-extremism initiative would also help to reduce the threat from would-be lone-wolf figures, he said.

UK minister Damian Hinds says there is a growing threat from self-radicalised extremists. AP Photo

In Parliament, Conservative MP Robert Jenrick said extremism was a “significant problem” that needed to be confronted with “renewed seriousness”.

Mr Jenrick told the Commons that while it “wouldn’t be right to speculate” on the motives of the Liverpool bomber while the investigation was taking place, it was “true that we have a significant problem in this country with extremism, and extremist ideologies, and one which we need to confront with renewed seriousness”.

In response, Minister of State for Crime and Policing Kit Malthouse said that while the government could do a lot on prevention, “in the end, we have to get to the root cause, which is, as he says, the radicalisation, often self-radicalisation, of those individuals, often online".

Mr Malthouse suggested “significant attention and resources” would be paid to the possible risk lone-wolf terrorists posed.

Labour MP Dame Angela Eagle asked Mr Malthouse for his views on “how we can counter self-radicalisation and the fact that the security services are particularly worried that it may have been turbocharged during lockdowns”.

“Both in crime generally and in possible radicalisation online, we are working through the implications of the lockdowns and the impact from Covid on particular individuals who may be susceptible to having spent time in confinement and been exposed to material that they otherwise wouldn’t have been," Mr Malthouse said.

Updated: November 17, 2021, 8:16 AM