On August 14, 2018, a man drove his car into bicyclists and pedestrians during morning rush hour in London before crashing into security barriers outside the Houses of Parliament, wounding three. Police labeled the incident an act of terrorism and arrested the driver. (Sources: BBC News, Washington Post)

Overview

The British government and intelligence branches take extremist threats to the United Kingdom very seriously. The Security Service (MI5), Britain’s national domestic intelligence agency, rates the threat from international terrorism as “severe” and the probability of an attack as “highly likely.” As a result, Prime Minister Theresa May, who sought to introduce tough laws against domestic Islamic extremists during her time as British home secretary, sees battling extremism as one of her “top priorities.” The British government believes that Islamic terrorism, and ISIS in particular, present the largest security threat to the United Kingdom. The government also remains concerned by the growing threat of right-wing terrorism. (Sources: U.K. Home Office, Foreign & Commonwealth Office et al., MI5, Telegraph, Gov.uk)

The United Kingdom is concerned about homegrown radicalization and possible terrorist attacks committed by British nationals on British soil.

The United Kingdom is concerned about homegrown radicalization and possible terrorist attacks committed by British nationals on British soil. This was underscored by then-Prime Minister David Cameron at a September 2014 U.N. Security Council meeting. While condemning the atrocities perpetrated by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Cameron noted that many of those who had been sucked into the conflict in Syria and Iraq were U.K. nationals. Cameron also reiterated that the threat to the United Kingdom from extremists, in particular al-Shabab, Boko Haram, and al-Qaeda, would endure for many years. As a result, the year 2014 proved to be unprecedented in terms of efforts to counteract extremist-related activity. According to Britain’s top counterterrorism official, “[t]he volume, range and pace of counter-terrorism activity has undergone a step-change.” (Sources: Guardian, United Nations)  

Prior to 2000, the primary terrorist threats to the United Kingdom and its interests were Irish republican and loyalist such as the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). Seeking Northern Ireland’s succession from the United Kingdom to become part of a united Ireland, the IRA and other republican groups conducted a concerted campaign of violence against the United Kingdom and Ireland beginning in the late 1960s. The violent period, known as the Troubles, largely ended with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The U.K. government continues to monitor the threat of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, but Britain’s chief extremist threat comes from Islamic extremism and related homegrown radicalization. This shift stems mainly from the 2005 London train bombings, also referred to as the 7/7 London bombings, which compelled British authorities to pursue a more comprehensive counterterrorism strategy. Nonetheless, the British government continues to monitor the threat of Northern Ireland-related violence. As of April 2018, the government threat level remained moderate in Great Britain and severe in Northern Ireland. (Sources: U.K. Government Home Office, Foreign & Commonwealth Office et al., Gov.UK)

Today, ISIS is specifically identified as the most significant extremist threat to the United Kingdom and its interests at home and abroad. In June 2015, an ISIS sympathizer murdered 30 British tourists in an ISIS-inspired attack in Sousse, Tunisia. In December the same year—reportedly in direct response to the U.K. decision to extend airstrikes against ISIS in Syria—a man carried out a stabbing attack against three passengers at an East London underground station. As a result of the November 2015 Paris and March 2016 Brussels terrorist attacks, the United Kingdom expanded Project Griffin in April 2016. The program is designed to train workers in crowded city centers on how to deal with terrorist attacks. The program will increase the number of workers who are trained in terror response ten-fold from 100,000 to 1 million in over the course of 12 months. (Sources: U.K. Government Home Office, Foreign & Commonwealth Office et al., MI5, BBC News, BBC News)

The United Kingdom has also taken steps to counter far-right extremism. In December 2016, Home Secretary Amber Rudd banned the neo-Nazi group National Action, officially outlawing membership and support of the group and classified the group as a terrorist organization. The classification marks the first time that membership of a far-right group has been prohibited in the United Kingdom. Other far-right extremist groups such as English Defence League continue to operate in the United Kingdom. (Sources: Guardian, Independent)

Radicalization and Foreign Fighters

Radicalization

Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, the Security Service (MI5), defines radicalization as “[t]he process by which people come to support terrorism and violent extremism and, in some cases, then join terrorist groups.” The United Kingdom currently faces a particularly acute challenge in this respect. As of October 2016, approximately 850 British citizens have gone to fight for jihadist organizations in Iraq and Syria. In January 2016, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond disclosed that “600 British citizens had been intercepted while trying to reach Syria” since 2012, attributing the interceptions to closer cooperation with Turkish authorities. Even by the most conservative estimated figures, Britons comprise one of the largest foreign elements within ISIS ranks. As a result, about 50 people are referred to de-radicalization programs every week in the country. (Sources: Guardian, Telegraph, Guardian, Telegraph, BBC News,  BBC News)

MI5 is especially concerned with the trend of U.K. nationals traveling to undergo radicalization in three key territories: Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) for terrorism training; Yemen to join al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP); and Somalia to fight with al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamist terrorist group. On the latter, the former head of MI5, Jonathan Evans, has stated, “It is only a matter of time before we see terrorism on our streets inspired by those who are today fighting alongside al-Shabab.” (Sources: MI5, Guardian, Financial Times)

Head of British intelligence agency MI6 Alex Younger said in December 2016 that ISIS is “plotting ways to project violence against the UK and our allies without ever having to leave Syria.” In October 2016, London’s Metropolitan police revealed that U.K. security and counterterrorism services had foiled at least 10 terrorist plots since fall 2014. In the same period, there were 294 convictions for terrorist-related offences. In November 2014, then-U.K. Home Secretary Theresa May disclosed that 40 terror plots against the country had been thwarted since the 7/7 London bombings of 2005, including “a Mumbai style gun attack, the murder of members of the armed forces, an attempt to bring down a plane and the assassination of an ambassador.” (Sources: Guardian, Guardian, Guardian)

Anjem Choudary

In February 2015, 19-year-old Brusthom Ziamani was found guilty of plotting to behead a British soldier. Ziamani was inspired by Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, who beheaded Fusilier Lee Rigby near Rigby’s Woolwich barracks in southeast London on May 22, 2013. Ziamani, like Adebolajo and Adebowale, was sentenced to 22 years in jail after being found guilty in February 2015.  (Sources: Telegraph, London Evening Standard)

In September 2016, Choudary was convicted of supporting ISIS and sentenced to prison for five-and-a-half years.

All three men are believed to have been indoctrinated by Anjem Choudary, a self-styled Islamist cleric who British law enforcement believe is connected to more than 80 individuals implicated in terrorism cases in the United Kingdom. In September 2016, Choudary was convicted of supporting ISIS and sentenced to prison for five-and-a-half years. Following the sentencing of Choudary and co-defendant Mohammed Mizanur Rahman, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said, “The country is safer. All their evil words and dissent they’ve tried to sow throughout society is over. They’re paying the price and they’re going to jail.” Due to U.K. probationary law, Choudary was released October 19, 2018, only halfway through his sentence. British authorities imposed several restrictions on Choudary’s communications and travel. In addition, the United Nations and British government added Choudary to their respective financial sanctions lists ahead of his release. (Sources: Independent, BBC News, Guardian, Evening Standard, BBC News)

A lawyer by training, Choudary had evaded imprisonment for many years by walking a fine line between permitted speech under British laws and hate speech, despite continuously advocating sharia in the West. Nevertheless, the “family man,” allegedly subsidized in full by U.K. welfare programs, had been on the British government and law enforcement’s radar for many years. In September 2014, then-Home Secretary Theresa May proposed significantly more stringent domestic counter-extremism measures to silence Islamist preachers like Choudary. (Sources: Independent, Daily Beast, Washington Post, Daily Mail)

Choudary criticized British involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and defended the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the July 7, 2005, terrorist attacks in London and Madrid. He also organized a protest against the Jyllands-Posten (Danish cartoons) controversy despite being denied a permit, for which Choudary was fined 500 pounds. One placard at the event stated, “Massacre those who insult Islam.” In August 2014, some of Choudary’s students in east London were found handing out pro-ISIS literature. Choudary was arrested in September 2014 on terrorism-related charges, but was later released on bail. In August 2015, Choudary was charged for encouraging support of ISIS, contrary to Section 12 of the Terrorism Act 2000. (Sources: Guardian, Daily Mail, Channel 4 News, Guardian)

Choudary was also an active leader in al-Muhajiroun, a U.K.-based Islamist organization founded in 1983 by Choudary’s mentor, Omar Bakri Muhammad. The Independent reported that the group is connected to approximately half the terror attacks committed in the United Kingdom between 1995 and 2015. A counterterrorism unit of the New York Police Department (NYPD) believes that al-Muhajiroun and its numerous front organizations have as many as 1,500 followers in the United Kingdom and possibly another 1,500 abroad. Al-Muhajiroun’s front groups in the United Kingdom include Call to Submission, Islamic Path, London School of Sharia, the Saved Sect of Savior Sect, and the Sharia4 network. (Sources: Independent, Guardian, BBC News, Guardian)

Formed by Choudary in 2010, the now-banned Sharia4 network has chapters outside the United Kingdom including Sharia4Belgium, Sharia4Italy, Sharia4America, Sharia4Indonesia, and Sharia4Holland. In September 2014, 46 members of Sharia4Belgium went on trial in Antwerp in Belgium’s largest Islamic extremism case to date. Only eight defendants were present in court, with the rest presumed to be in Syria. This network has also become an apparent facilitator in the flow of some of the thousands of Europeans who have entered Iraq and Syria to join ISIS. Choudary reportedly acknowledged that his followers have a habit of “popping up” in Syria. Choudary has also previously stated his intention to travel to Syria. (Sources: Washington Post, Guardian, BBC News, Guardian, Washington Post)

Choudary’s influence abroad is also significant. ISIS foreign fighter numbers from Indonesia surged soon after he spoke at the Sharia4TheWorld rally in Indonesia in October 2014. (Source: Washington Post)

Mohammed Mizanur Rahman

Mohammed Mizanur Rahman, also known as Abu Baraa, is a British preacher and convicted ISIS supporter from Palmers Green, north London. In November 2006, Rahman was convicted of promoting racial hatred during a rally at the Danish embassy in London, during which he also called for 9/11 style attacks in Iraq and Europe. The following July, Rahman was sentenced to six years in prison for calling for British soldiers to return from Iraq in body bags. Rahman participated in the British de-radicalization program Prevent, and was released from prison in 2010. (Sources: BBC News, Daily Mail, Crown Prosecution Service, Reuters)

In May 2014, Rahman again came under police investigation following his praise of Boko Haram militants after the group kidnapped more than 300 Nigerian schoolgirls. Rahman defended the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris during a January 2015 sermon, stating that by “insulting Islam…they can’t expect a different result.” Rahman declared Great Britain “the enemy of Islam,” and claimed France was carrying out “ethnic cleansing.” He defended the Charlie Hebdo attack as a “war.” (Source: Crown Prosecution Service, Daily Mail)

Rahman and Anjem Choudary were arrested in September 2014 for suspected membership in ISIS, and Rahman was charged that August with encouraging public support for ISIS. They were both convicted in June 2016 on charges of soliciting support for ISIS. That September, Rahman and Choudary were each sentenced to five years and six months in prison. (Sources: CNN, BBC News, Crown Prosecution Service, New York Times)

Abu Izzadeen

Born Trevor Brooks, Abu Izzadeen is a former electrician who considers himself the “Director for Waltham Forest Muslims” in north London. Izzadeen has been in and out of prison since 2008, when he was convicted of inciting terrorism. He was released early in 2009, but repeatedly sent back to prison for violating his parole. In 2014, Izzadeen and two of his followers were sentenced to two years and 10 months for harassing the public as a self-styled “Muslim Patrol.” The vigilantism was part of Izzadeen’s campaign to make Waltham Britain’s first suburban borough governed under sharia. (Sources: Telegraph, BBC News, Daily Mail, BBC News, BBC News)

Izzadeen is married with three children and, like Choudary and Rahman, relies on welfare. Choudary refers to such assistance as “the jihad-seekers allowance.” All three men are believed to be connected to Choudary’s Muslims against Crusades organization and are, therefore, no longer permitted to speak to Choudary. (Sources: Daily Mail, Telegraph)

In April 2015, the British Home Office denied Izzadeen’s request for a passport based on a belief he would likely try to join ISIS. Nonetheless, Izzadeen was arrested on November 14, 2015, aboard a Romania-bound train at the Hungarian border. After British authorities issued an arrest warrant for Izzadeen, Hungary deported him back to Great Britain. In January 2016, British authorities sentenced him to two years in prison. (Sources: Daily Mail, Guardian, Associated Press, Guardian)

Omar Bakri Mohammad

Omar Bakri Mohammad is the founder of al-Muhajiroun. He originally entered the United Kingdom in the 1980s as a political asylee from Saudi Arabia, which had expelled him for his Islamist proselytizing. In 1986, Bakri and Anjem Choudary created the British chapter of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Bakri was arrested in 2005 for his connections to terrorist plots and terrorist-related organizations, which include al-Muhajiroun and its front groups. Days after his arrest, Bakri fled the country, and Britain banned him from returning because of his links to radical groups. Like Choudary, Bakri has glorified the 9/11 and 7/7 attacks and other acts of Islamist violence. While under investigation, Bakri fled to Lebanon in 2005. Lebanese authorities arrested Bakri on terrorism charges in 2010. Bakri was sentenced to life in prison in Lebanon, but was released after witnesses recanted their testimony. Bakri was arrested again in Beirut in May 2014 on terrorism-related charges. In October 2015, he was sentenced to six years of hard labor for funding an organization affiliated with the Nusra Front and building training camps in Lebanon. (Sources: BBC News, New York Times, New York Times, Independent, Daily Mail)

Bakri’s family is still in the United Kingdom and is trying to gain permission for his return. Unlike Choudary, law enforcement was able to connect Bakri to Michael Adebolajo’s conversion to Islam. Adebolajo was an accomplice in the Lee Rigby murder. Bakri has also been linked to Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the mastermind of the January 2015 Paris attacks. Abaaoud has been connected to the banned Islamist group Sharia4Belgium, for which Bakri helped transport fighters to Syria. (Sources: Independent, Daily Mail)

Abu Hamza and the Finsbury Park Mosque

Mustafa Kamel Mustafa (“Abu Hamza al-Masri” or “Abu Hamza”) is an Egyptian-British citizen and U.S.- and U.N.-sanctioned terrorist associated with al-Qaeda. In 1987, Abu Hamza traveled to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, where he met with the spiritual leader of the Afghan Mujahideen movement, Abdullah Azzam. He then traveled to Afghanistan to work on a Saudi rebuilding project after the Afghan-Soviet war. There, he lost both hands and an eye, reportedly in a demining operation, though accounts vary. (Sources: U.S. Department of the Treasury, Telegraph, BBC News, BBC News, U.S. Department of Justice)

In 1997, Abu Hamza arrived at the Finsbury Park Mosque in London. Abu Hamza associated remotely with Yemen-based extremist figures, even claiming to serve as the “legal officer” for the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic Army of Aden terrorist group. In 1999, Scotland Yard questioned him about alleged bomb plots in Yemen. Police jailed the cleric’s son Mohammed Mustafa Kamel for involvement in violence in Yemen. In 1999, Abu Hamza and several co-conspirators attempted to establish an al-Qaeda training camp in the United States, based in Bly, Oregon. In late November 1999, Abu Hamza dispatched several British-based al-Qaeda operatives to establish the camp. One of the operatives, Oussama Abdullah Kassir, brought with him a manual on the use of sarin nerve gas. (Sources: U.S. Department of the Treasury, Telegraph, BBC News, BBC News, U.S. Department of Justice)

Abu Hamza’s fiery speeches at Finsbury Park attracted such attendees as 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and failed shoe bomber Richard Reid. Three of the 7/7 bombers—Mohammad Sidique Khan, Shehzad Tanweer, and Germaine Lindsay—also reportedly attended Abu Hamza’s sermons at Finsbury Park. The mosque became known as a “suicide factory” and “Al-Qaeda camp in the heart of London,” according to Al Arabiya journalist Ben Flanagan. In February 2002, British media reported that Islamists had trained on AK-47 assault rifles at the mosque. That April, the U.S. government designated Abu Hamza as a “terrorist facilitator with a global reach.” (Sources: U.S. Department of the Treasury, Telegraph, BBC News, Guardian, BBC News)

British police arrested Abu Hamza in May 2004 on 11 terror-related charges after the U.S. government requested his extradition. In 2006, he was convicted and imprisoned for seven years. The U.S. government extradited Abu Hamza in 2012. He was convicted in May 2014 of 11 terrorism-related charges. In January 2015, Abu Hamza received a life sentence in U.S. prison. (Sources: BBC News, BBC News, CBS News, U.S. Department of Justice)

In 2005, the Finsbury Park Mosque reopened under the management of the Muslim Association of Britain. In July 2015, global financial risk-analysis database World-Check labeled the mosque a terrorism risk, though the mosque’s leaders vowed to fight the label. Thompson Reuters, which owns World-Check, agreed to pay damages to the mosque in February 2017. On June 19, 2017, Darren Osborne drove a van into a crowd of worshippers outside the mosque, killing one and wounding 10 people. (Sources: Telegraph, Newsweek, Guardian, Al Arabiya, International Business Times, BBC News, Associated Press, Business Insider)

Hizb ut-Tahrir

Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), meaning “Party of Liberation,” is an international Islamist movement seeking to unite Muslims under one Islamic caliphate. HT considers itself a non-violent political party dedicated to peacefully converting Muslim nations to Islamist political systems. HT praises the concept of jihad but insists that it does not use “material power to defend itself or as a weapon….” (Sources: Center for Social Cohesion, Hizb ut-Tahrir, Hizb ut-Tahrir America)

HT’s British chapter (HT Britain) is considered the nerve center of the global movement. HT’s operations in the United Kingdom are led by HT Britain’s chief executive, Dr. Abdul Wahid. HT’s spokesperson, Taji Mustafa, engages the media on behalf of the movement, and has spoken at HT conferences in other countries like Australia. Because HT is allowed to operate freely in Britain, HT Britain recruits members by hosting public conferences and panels, and by engaging with the British media on a regular basis. HT Britain also maintains a website, where its positions on foreign and domestic policy are made available through articles and video. (Sources: Nixon Center, Hope Not Hate)

On both Twitter and Facebook, HT Britain has amassed more than 11,000 followers. Local HT Britain chapters organize their own fundraising to support outreach efforts, such as printing and handing out leaflets in public spaces. HT Britain has also benefited from government funding, including grants to run early education programs. The British government ended this funding program after media reports confirmed that HT members were using the funding to indoctrinate students with controversial HT ideology, including the belief that tolerance and integration are un-Islamic. (Sources: Facebook, Twitter, American Foreign Policy Council, Telegraph, Telegraph)

Individuals known to have been in contact with HT Britain have gone on to join more violent Islamist groups. For example, notorious ISIS executioner Mohammed Emwazi (a.k.a. Jihadi John) was in contact with the group while studying at British universities before he joined ISIS. Former British prime ministers Tony Blair and David Cameron called for banning HT in 2009 and 2011, respectively. However, David Anderson, then the U.K. government’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, submitted a report to Parliament in 2011 recommending against banning HT as it had not advocated violence. The British Home Office has also ruled that HT does not advocate violence and that Britain cannot ban the group for having unpopular ideas. The Home Office did concede, however, that HT is anti-Semitic, homophobic, and anti-Western. (Sources: Guardian, The Week, Guardian)

Abu Qatada

Born Omar Othman, Abu Qatada is a U.S.- and U.N.-designated Jordanian cleric of Palestinian descent accused of being an al-Qaeda propagandist who has spread radicalism and influenced jihadists such as the September 11 hijackers. The United Nations at one point considered Qatada to be Osama bin Laden’s “spiritual ambassador in Europe.” British security services have accused Qatada of granting religious legitimacy to people who want to “further the aims of extreme Islamism and to engage in terrorist attacks.” Qatada also stands accused of organizing military training trips to Afghanistan, funding the Iraq- and Syria-based terror group Ansar al-Islam, and encouraging Ansar al-Islam to strengthen its ties with al-Qaeda. A Spanish judge once described him as bin Laden’s “right-hand man in Europe.” (Sources: U.S. Department of the Treasury, U.N. Security Council, Jadaliyya, BBC News, New York Times, New York Times)

Abu Qatada is also accused of being involved in the 2000 “millennium conspiracy” in which terrorists planned bombings at Western and Israeli targets during millennium celebrations in the United Kingdom. British authorities arrested Qatada Abu Qatada is also believed to have inspired several members of al-Qaeda, including Mohammad Atta, a “ringleader” behind the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. after Abu Qatada videos were found in Atta’s apartment in Hamburg, Germany. (Source: Telegraph, U.N. Security Council)

Abu Qatada sought asylum in Great Britain in 1993. In 1999, a Jordanian court convicted Qatada in absentia on terrorism charges and sentenced him to life in prison. British authorities arrested him several times and sought his deportation. Beginning in 2005, Qatada began an eight-year fight against deportation. The cleric argued Jordanian authorities had tortured him and would employ evidence collected through torture. (Sources: New York Times, European Court of Human Rights)

In 2005, Jordan and the United Kingdom signed an agreement guaranteeing Qatada a fair trial and Jordan’s compliance with human-rights laws in order to allow for Qatada’s deportation. After an eight-year battle in British courts to avoid deportation, Qatada returned to Jordan in 2013. In 2014, two Jordanian courts acquitted Abu Qatada of both the 1998 bombing and 2000 terror plot. (Sources: European Court of Human Rights, Jordan Times, Telegraph)

Kabir Ahmed

Kabir Ahmed was a British suicide bomber who blew himself up in a November 2014 attack on an Iraqi police station that killed seven police officers. Prior to his death, Ahmed—also known as Abu Sammyh Al Brittani—was the first person to be convicted of terror charges in the United Kingdom. After Ahmed handed out pamphlets depicting a mannequin—representing gay people—hanging from a tree, a court convicted him in February 2012 of “distributing threatening written material to stir up hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation.” Ahmed said he was doing his “duty as a Muslim, to inform people of God's word and to give the message on what God says about homosexuality.” (Sources: Telegraph, BBC News, BBC News)

Ahmed told Newsweek that he had been radicalized in British prisons. He expressed his admiration for the late Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Sayyid Qutb, deceased al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki, Osama Bin Laden, and Ayman Zawahiri. Ahmed claimed he “simply walked” across the Turkish border in 2013 and joined ISIS. Other reports say he first joined Jund al-Sham in Syria before joining ISIS. In early 2014, Ahmed told BBC News that he was on a “waiting list” to become a suicide bomber. During the Newsweek interview, Ahmed referred to the United Kingdom as “Dar Al Kuffar, the land of the Infidels,” and said he never wanted to return. (Sources: Newsweek, BBC News)

The Troubles 

“The Troubles” were a three-decade period of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland that began in the late 1960s. Catholic “republicans” wanted to expel British forces and unite Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland. On the other side, Protestant pro-British “unionists” or “loyalists” sought to maintain Northern Ireland’s position within the United Kingdom. Several militant groups were active during this time, but the Irish Republican Army (IRA) was the most well-known. Various iterations of the IRA have been responsible for nationalistic violence in the United Kingdom since the late 19th century. The original IRA, a.k.a. the “old IRA” or “Official IRA” (OIRA), fought in Ireland’s war of independence between 1919 and 1921. In 1969, the Provisional IRA paramilitary group—commonly referred to as just the IRA or PIRA—broke away from OIRA. (Sources: BBC News, NBC News, BBC News)

The IRA carried out multiple bombings during the Troubles targeting British civilians, politicians, and military in opposition to British rule over Northern Ireland. More than 1,800 people died in IRA attacks. On July 1, 1972, the IRA detonated 22 bombs in Belfast, Northern Ireland, killing nine and wounding 130 in what is known as Bloody Friday. Two bombs in London public parks killed 11 British soldiers and wounded 50, mostly civilians, on July 20, 1982. On October 21, 1984, an IRA bombing of the Brighton hotel in a plot to kill Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher instead killed five people and wounded 34. A bomb at the Royal Marine barracks in Deal, Kent, killed 11 Royal Marines on September 22, 1989.  (Sources: NBC News, BBC News, BBC News, BBC News, BBC News)

The loyalist Ulster Defense Association (UDA) was the largest paramilitary group during the Troubles. At one point the group included 30,000 people. It was responsible for killing about 100 people. Operating under the name the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), the group claimed deadly attacks such as a 1992 shooting at a Belfast bookstore that left five people dead. The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) was another loyalist paramilitary group. The UVF was responsible for killing 500 people in bombings and other attacks. The British army and Northern Ireland’s police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, also fought against the republican groups. (Sources: NBC News, BBC News)

The IRA and loyalist groups both employed systems to distribute propaganda to the public. The groups reportedly used code words with police and media in order to verify their identities when they would call in with statements, warnings, or claims of violence. According to media and police, the code words helped distinguish legitimate claims from false ones. The groups would also use pseudonyms that became closely associated with the groups. Loyalist groups like the UDA would sign their statements “Captain Black,” and the IRA would use the name “P O’Neill.” The IRA maintained a publicity bureau in Dublin, from which it released press statements signed by the fictitious O’Neill, who began signing IRA statements claiming and justifying violent attacks in 1970. Journalists and researchers have speculated that O’Neill was actually a committee of IRA military leaders. (Sources: BBC News, Irish Times, CAIN, Baltimore Sun)

In 1920, the United Kingdom established a local parliament in Northern Ireland, commonly referred to as Stormont. In March 1972, four days after an IRA car bomb killed six and wounded 100 others in Belfast, the British government suspended the Stormont government and imposed direct rule over the territory. In July 1972, the IRA began a bombing campaign that made 1972 the bloodiest year of the Troubles. On May 29, the OIRA declared a ceasefire. The British government and the IRA entered secret negotiations later that June, leading the IRA to declare a ceasefire on June 26. The talks soon after broke down. On July 21, the IRA planted almost 23 bombs in and around Belfast, 22 of which exploded, killing nine and wounding 130 in what became known as Bloody Friday. (Sources: CAIN, CAIN, CAIN, Guardian, BBC History)

On November 15, 1985, the British government and Ireland signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which gave Ireland a consultative role in the governance of Northern Ireland. The agreement marked the first time the British government acknowledged that it would allow a united Ireland if the people voted for one. Following the November 8, 1987, IRA bombing of a veterans’ memorial service in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, known as the Remembrance Day Bombing, Thatcher called the bombing the “last straw” violation of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Nonetheless, the agreement remained in effect. (Sources: BBC News, BBC News, CAIN, New York Times, New York Times, RTÉ, Encyclopedia Britannica, Irish News)

In March 1993, after double IRA bombings killed two children in England, some 20,000 people rallied for peace in Dublin. Observers at the time pointed to the rally as a demonstration of the IRA’s lack of support in Ireland. By 1998, the splinter group Real IRA (RIRA) had reportedly swayed republican loyalties in the republic away from the IRA and its political party, Sein Féin. (Sources: Chicago Tribune, New York Times, Irish Times)

Founded in 1905, Sinn Féin (“We Ourselves”) is a left-wing Irish political party active in both Northern Ireland and Ireland. Sinn Féin is dedicated to creating a united Irish republic that encompasses both Ireland and Northern Ireland. Sinn Féin acted as the political wing of the IRA during the Troubles. A February 2005 British government statement called Sinn Féin and the IRA “inextricably linked” and noted “obvious implications at leadership level.” (Sources: 10 Downing Street, BBC, Sinn Féin, Sinn Féin, New York Times)

Gerry Adams led Sinn Féin from 1983 until 2018. Adams has denied that he is a member of the IRA while refusing to “disassociate” himself from the group. He consistently refused to condemn the IRA’s violence during the Troubles, but he eventually helped broker the Good Friday Agreement. In 2011, Adams won a seat in Ireland’s parliament. Irish media reported in December 2017 the discovery of files possibly linking Adams to a failed May 1987 IRA plot to blow up a police station in Armagh, Northern Ireland. Mary Lou McDonald succeeded Adams in February 2018. According to Irish Times political editor Pat Leahy, Sinn Féin’s goal is more focused on Ireland than Northern Ireland so it can gain political power in order to promote unification. (Sources: NPR, The Journal, BBC News, Irish News)

On April 10, 1998, the British government, Republic of Ireland, and warring factions signed the Belfast Agreement, a.k.a. the Good Friday Agreement, which called for a Northern Ireland Assembly, the creation of a British-Irish Council and the British-Irish Governmental Conference. Also under the agreement, Ireland would drop its claims to Northern Ireland, and British authorities would release conflict-related prisoners. Coinciding with the 30th anniversary of Bloody Friday in July 2002, the IRA issued an official apology for all the deaths of non-combatants it caused during the conflict. Sporadic violence continues to occur, but the conflict has largely ended. IRA splinter groups such as the New IRA, the Real IRA, and Óglaigh na hÉireann (“Soldiers of Ireland”) have sought to disrupt the calm. In the years following the Good Friday Agreement, loyalist paramilitaries continued to target Catholic civilians and plant pipe bombs around Northern Ireland. In June 1999, for example, loyalist paramilitaries planted a series of pipe bombs around the territory, killing a Protestant woman married to a Catholic man. (Sources: NBC News, BBC News, Christian Science Monitor, Gov.UK, Reuters, Reuters, Washington Post, Irish Times, CAIN, CAIN)

In 2015, a British intelligence report found that the IRA was no longer actively recruiting in Ireland or Northern Ireland, but its leadership structure remained in place. According to the report, the IRA was distributing campaign materials on behalf of Sinn Féin. Other violent republican groups continue to operate in the United Kingdom. In July 2015, the IRA splinter group Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) held a military parade in Belfast despite the Good Friday Agreement. In its 2015 Annual Report on the United Kingdom’s counterterrorism strategy, released in July 2016, the U.K. Home Office reported 16 national security attacks in Northern Ireland in 2015. The British government continues to monitor the threat of North Ireland-related violence. As of April 2018, the government threat level remained moderate in Great Britain and severe in Northern Ireland. (Sources: The Journal, Belfast Telegraph, Herald, Gov.UK, Gov.UK)

Maintaining the Good Friday Agreement faces other challenges in both the United Kingdom and Ireland. The agreement created a power-sharing assembly to govern Northern Ireland. In March 2017, Sinn Féin withdrew from government power-sharing talks in the Northern Ireland Assembly, leaving Northern Ireland without a devolved executive for more than a year. Devolution is the process of government decentralization by which authority is distributed from the U.K. parliament to assemblies in Northern Ireland and Wales, and parliament in Scotland. Observers believe the discord could potentially enflame republican tensions. (Sources: Reuters, BBC News, Independent, BBC News)

Further, Britain’s decision to exit the European Union (the so-called “Brexit”) has opened the possibility of a physical border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, which remains in the EU. According to Ireland’s minister of state for culture, Joe McHugh, Brexit threatens to close and harden the now-open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, which could encourage violence and rally republicans who want the pathways between Ireland and Northern Ireland to remain fluid. In March 2018, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar also warned that hardening the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland could reignite violence, calling Brexit a threat to the Good Friday Agreement that could “drive a wedge” between Ireland and the United Kingdom. As of April 2018, negotiations were continuing on terms of the British withdrawal. According to Irish Ambassador to the U.K. Adrian O’Neill, the European Union and United Kingdom are in agreement that there will be no hard border on the Irish isle. (Sources: Washington Post, Guardian, Guardian, Belfast Telegraph)

In July 2018, six days of rioting erupted in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, culminating in rioters throwing 74 petrol bombs and two improvised explosive devices at police and passing vehicles on July 13. Pro-republican protesters reportedly objected to plans to hold a parade in Londonderry marking July Twelfth, the annual Protestant commemoration of the victory of the Protestant William of Orange over the Catholic King James II in 1690’s Battle of the Boyne. The Northern Ireland Police Service blamed the violence on the New IRA and other republican groups opposed to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Also on July 13, an explosive device were thrown at the Belfast homes of former Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and Bobby Storey, Sinn Féin’s former Northern Ireland chair. There are no injuries in either attack. The rioting was reportedly the worst in Londonderry in years. Sinn Féin, the Irish government, and the U.K. government condemn the violence. (Sources: NBC News, RTÉ, Deutsche Welle, BBC News, Twitter, Independent)

Far-Right Extremism

The United Kingdom has taken steps to counter far-right extremism. In December 2016, Home Secretary Amber Rudd banned the neo-Nazi group National Action, officially outlawing membership and support of the group. National Action, which has held demonstrations in British cities bearing banners saying “Hitler was right,” is now classified as a terrorist organization. The classification marks the first time that membership of a far-right group has been prohibited in the United Kingdom. Rudd declared, “National Action is a racist, antisemitic and homophobic organization which stirs up hatred, glorifies violence and promotes a vile ideology…It has absolutely no place in a Britain that works for everyone.” (Sources: Guardian, Independent)

Despite the group’s proscription, National Action members have reportedly continued to meet under different group names to avoid conflicting with the ban. In July 2017, whistleblower Robbie Mullen informed authorities of plans to kill Labour Party parliamentarian Rosie Cooper. During the June 2018 trial of National Action leader Christopher Lythgoe and five other members, Mullen described preparation for a so-called “white jihad.” National Action member Jack Renshaw pled guilty to buying a knife to kill Cooper, but denied membership in National Action. The following month, Lythgoe received an eight-year prison sentence for membership in a banned group. (Sources: Sky News, BBC News, BBC News)

In December 2016, Home Secretary Amber Rudd banned the neo-Nazi group National Action, officially outlawing membership and support of the group.

Britain First is a far-right, nationalist party formed by members of the British National Party in 2011. The group views itself as a “patriotic political movement” but has no representation in the British government. A video on Britain First’s website shows members at a so-called training camp in North Wales learning combat techniques. In a self-described “invasion” in May 2014, Britain First sent members to Whitechapel’s East London Mosque with army-issued Bibles and Christian pamphlets. The group has also formed so-called “Christian patrols” to hand out anti-Islam pamphlets to Muslims in London, Luton, and other cities. Britain First has promised to be the first “professional, patriotic, nationalist campaigning organization” and promised to “get our country back.” Fourteen churches and Christian groups representing every Christian denomination in the country issued a joint condemnation of Britain First as “extremist” and accused the group of “hi-jacking the name of Jesus Christ to justify hatred and spread fear.” In April 2016, members of Britain First carrying signs declaring “No more mosques” protested outside a mosque in Whitechapel, London. The demonstration ended in violent confrontation with counter-protesters, which Britain First described as “aggressive Muslims assembled who promptly attacked our activists, stealing expensive camera equipment, and inflicting violence on our activists.” (Sources: International Business Times, Daily Mail, Huffington Post UK)

On June 16, 2016, Member of Parliament Jo Cox was murdered by an assailant who reportedly shouted “Britain First” before the attack. Other witnesses have disputed the claim and Britain First has denied any connection to the attack. In November 2016, Member of Parliament Louise Haigh called for the British government to proscribe Britain First as a terrorist organization. (Sources: National Post, MSN)

The English Defence League (EDL) emerged in Luton in 2009 to take a stand against radical Islam in Britain, according to its leaders. The EDL believes that British society is under attack by Muslim extremists. British media has routinely referred to the EDL as a far-right group, which has “aggressive rallies” at Luton’s Central Mosque and violently clashed with anti-fascist protesters. In 2011, EDL members joined vigilante patrols in southeast London and clashed with police. Matthew Collins of the British NGO Hope Not Hate told British media in 2013 that the EDL had become increasingly fascist in its protests and went from being concerned about extremism, to them radicalising themselves.” A 2013 British media poll after the Lee Rigby murder found that 61 percent believed that the EDL made terror attacks more likely. In October 2013, the EDL’s founder, Tommy Robinson, quit the group citing concerns of far-right extremism. (Sources: International Business Times, Birmingham Mail, Channel 4 News, BBC News, Daily Mail, Daily Mail)

Foreign Fighters

As of October 2016, approximately 850 British citizens have traveled to the Middle East to become foreign fighters in the Syrian conflict or with ISIS. British courts have convicted more than 70 people for attempting to leave the country. The United Kingdom faces a threat from returning foreign fighters. According to the BBC, approximately half of the country’s foreign fighters have returned. British Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation David Anderson warned in January 2016 that lax security and porous borders at British beaches, marinas, and small ports could provide easy access to the country for returning foreign fighters. (Sources: BBC News, Soufan Group, Daily Mail)

In a January 1, 2016, interview with the Times, British Security Minister Ben Wallace warned that returning British foreign fighters will pose a greater threat to the United Kingdom as ISIS loses territory in the Middle East. Wallace also said there is a threat of returning fighters using chemical weapons in the United Kingdom. ISIS has used such weapons in Iraq and Syria, and Wallace said British intelligence chiefs believe returning fighters aspire to use them in domestic attacks as ISIS wants to carry out “mass casualty attacks” in the United Kingdom. (Sources: Times, Guardian, Jerusalem Post)

At least 100 British citizens have also gone to the Middle East to fight against ISIS since the fall of 2014. Many fight alongside the Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG), such as Ryan Lock of West Sussex. Lock died in a YPG battle in Raqqa, Syria, on December 21, 2016. He was the third British volunteer to die fighting with the YPG. A YPG statement said that Lock “joined actively in our offensive against the terror threat that Isis caused upon Rojava, Kurdistan.” The U.K. Foreign office has warned against all travel to Syria, but the government has not made a blanket restriction on volunteer fighters. According to a U.K. Home Office statement, each case is examined individually. The Home Office has also recommended that British citizens contribute to registered charities rather than become foreign volunteers. (Sources: Guardian, Guardian, Telegraph, International Business Times, BBC News)

Abu-Zakariya al-Britani

On February 19, 2017, British citizen Abu-Zakariya al-Britani, a.k.a. Ronald Fiddler and Jamal Udeen al-Harith, blew himself up in a car bomb at an Iraqi military base on behalf of ISIS. A convert to Islam, Fiddler traveled to Pakistan in October 2001, allegedly for a religious retreat. He claimed that the Taliban captured him at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border as he was trying to make his way back to Europe and accused him of being a British spy. The Northern Alliance liberated him in early 2002, but turned him over to the U.S. military. Fiddler was incarcerated at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, from 2002 to 2004. Fiddler returned to the United Kingdom in 2004 after the British government lobbied for his release. (Sources: Associated Press, Reuters, BBC News, Daily Mail)

Upon his return, Fiddler successfully sued the British government, alleging that British agents participated in torturing him at Guantanamo. Fiddler received a compensatory payment of £1 million. Alex Carlile, Britain’s former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, told the Associated Press that Fiddler was “a potentially dangerous terrorist,” but the British government settled to avoid releasing sensitive information during legal disclosure proceedings. British authorities reportedly lost track of Fiddler, and he reportedly crossed into Syria from Turkey in 2014 to join ISIS. (Sources: Associated Press, Reuters, BBC News, Daily Mail)

Jihadi John and The Beatles

Mohammed Emwazi, a.k.a. “Jihadi John,” was a Kuwaiti-born British man who joined ISIS in Syria in 2013 and became known as one of the group’s most brutal executioners. He belonged to a four-member ISIS unit known as “The Beatles,” which included British foreign fighters Alexanda Amon Kotey, Aine Davis, and El Shafee Elsheikh. The four were responsible for holding captive and beheading two dozen hostages, including American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and American aid worker Peter Kassig. Emwazi was featured in multiple ISIS videos in which he beheaded captives including Foley, Sotloff, Kassig, British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning, and Japanese journalist Kenji Goto. In the videos, Emwazi threatened U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and other world leaders. (Sources: Telegraph, Telegraph, Reuters, CNN)

Hostages nicknamed the four members of the group “Ringo,” “George,” “Paul,” and “Jihadi John” because of their British accents. According to freed ISIS hostages, The Beatles were among the more brutal of ISIS’s guards. Didier Francois—a French journalist held prisoner by The Beatles for 10 months—told CNN that The Beatles would regularly stage fake executions after telling captives they were to be beheaded. Escaped captives also reported that The Beatles would also waterboard them and use other torture methods. (Sources: Washington Post, CNN)

Emwazi was targeted and killed in a November 2015 U.S. drone strike in Raqqa, Syria. Kotey and Elsheikh reportedly remain at large in Syria, while Davis was arrested in Turkey in November 2015. (Sources: CNN, U.S. Department of State, Daily Mail, Washington Post)

Junaid Hussain and Sally Jones

Junaid Hussain was a British computer hacker and member of ISIS, who allegedly developed ISIS’s cyber division and taught hackers how to break into bank accounts. Hussein reportedly radicalized and directly encouraged Elton Simpson to carry out a May 3, 2015, attack with Nadir Soofi on a Draw Muhammad contest in Garland, Texas. Almost immediately after the attack, Hussain praised Simpson and Soofi on Twitter and called for death to “those That Insult the Prophet.” In April 2016, the U.S. Justice Department revealed that Hussain had communicated with Usaamah Abdullah Rahim ahead of the 26-year-old’s June 2015 attack on police officers and FBI agents, during which he was killed. According to U.S. court documents, Hussain had encouraged Rahim to kill political activist and critic of Islam Pamela Gellar, who had organized the Garland contest. Instead, Rahim chose to attack the police. (Sources: Guardian, Daily Mirror, CNN, CNN, Washington Post)

Hussain died in a targeted U.S. drone strike in Syria in August 2015, in what U.S. officials called a serious blow to ISIS.

Hussain grew up in England and, at age 18, was part of a British hacker group called Team Poison. The group famously hacked former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s e-mail account and released personal information online. The group also attacked Scotland Yard, NATO, and the British National Party, and worked with the hacker group Anonymous to target banks. Hussain left the United Kingdom to join ISIS in Syria in July 2013. Later that year, he married Sally Jones, a British ISIS propagandist and recruiter designated by the United Nations. (Sources: Telegraph, Vice News)

Jones has used Twitter to issue terrorist threats against U.S. veterans and the United Kingdom, including calling upon Muslim women to launch terrorist attacks in London, Glasgow, and Wales during Ramadan. Jones converted to Islam in May 2013 and soon met Hussain. She moved to Syria later that year with her 10-year-old son and married Hussain. According to leaked ISIS documents, Jones began overseeing the training of all European female recruits in August 2015. (Sources: Independent, Vice News, Daily Mail, Telegraph)

In 2014, British banks accused Hussain of masterminding a cyber-campaign to steal money from the bank accounts of celebrities and the wealthy in order to fund ISIS. Hussain reportedly led ISIS’s CyberCaliphate hacker group, which hacked the U.S. Central Command’s social media accounts in January 2015. The following month, the CyberCaliphate hacked various U.S. and international media companies and threatened First Lady Michelle Obama and the Obama children over Twitter. (Sources: Daily Mirror, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, Guardian, CNN)

Hussain died in a targeted U.S. drone strike in Syria in August 2015, in what U.S. officials called a serious blow to ISIS. (Source: BBC News)

Major Extremist and Terrorist Incidents

Parsons Green Attack

On September 15, 2017, an improvised explosive device partially exploded at the London underground Parsons Green station during morning rush hour, wounding 30. ISIS claimed an affiliated unit carried out the attack. The British government subsequently raised the terrorism threat level from “severe” to the highest level of “critical,” meaning an imminent attack is expected. Police lowered the threat level back to “severe” two days later. The attack was England’s fifth terror attack—and the fourth claimed by ISIS—that year. (Sources: Fox News, BBC News, Associated Press, Guardian, Reuters)

Police believe the bomb exploded prematurely and otherwise could have caused widespread fatalities. The bomb was reportedly packed with knives and screws. On September 16, police arrested 18-year-old Ahmad Hassan and later charged him with attempted murder for planting the bomb. Hassan is an Iraqi refugee who passed through London’s foster system. Metropolitan police charged that Hassan used triacetone triperoxide (TATP), an explosive known as “the mother of Satan” that had been used the 7/7 Bombings as well as ISIS-claimed attacks in Manchester and Barcelona, Spain, earlier in 2017. (Sources: BBC News, Newsweek, Independent, Independent)

London Bridge Attack

On June 3, 2017, Youssef Zaghba, Khuram Butt, and Rachid Redouane ran over several people in a van on London Bridge. The men, wearing fake bomb vests, then abandoned the van and attacked people in a nearby market with knives. The attackers killed eight people and wounded 48 before police shot and killed them. ISIS claimed responsibility, calling the perpetrators a “unit of Islamic State fighters.” (Sources: Guardian, BBC News, BBC News, Associated Press, Reuters, Wall Street Journal, Independent)

Butt appeared in a 2016 British documentary called “The Jihadis Next Door.” The U.K.-based Quilliam Foundation reportedly alerted British authorities about Butt in July 2016 after he allegedly attempted to attack a Quilliam employee at an Eid al-Fitr event. The Ramadhan Foundation also reported Butt in 2013 for a similar incident. Butt was a follower of British radical preacher Anjem Choudary, and belonged to Choudary’s al-Mouhajiroun network possibly as far back as 2013. Butt was also reportedly influenced by U.S. extremist preacher Ahmad Musa Jibril. Redouane was a Moroccan-Libyan pastry chef living in Ireland who was unknown to authorities before the attack. Zaghba was an Italian national of Moroccan decent who had reportedly tried to travel to Syria in 2016. (Sources: Sun, BBC News, Telegraph, Guardian, Independent)

Iran

Due to close ties with the United States, the United Kingdom is also a target of Iran and Iranian-sponsored extremist groups. In fact, Iranian officials have explicitly talked of targeting the United Kingdom as a means of deterrence against American military strikes. In 2008, a senior Iranian official said, “the most appropriate means of deterrence that Iran has, in addition to a retaliatory operation in the [Gulf] region, is to take action against London.”

As the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism, Iran is the chief supporter of Hezbollah as well as the Islamist insurgencies in Iraq and southern Afghanistan. Through the Quds Force, the arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) primarily responsible for liaising with foreign terrorist organizations, Iran has “committed terrorism by proxy through Hezbollah, Hamas, the Taliban, militias in Iraq, and a plethora of other terrorist groups,” according to United Against Nuclear Iran. In addition, there are several British military ships stationed in the Persian Gulf alongside U.S. naval vessels likely possible targets of Iranian or Iranian sponsored extremist proxies. (Sources: MEMRI, U.S. Department of State, United Against Nuclear Iran, NPR, BBC News, Telegraph)

Murder of Lee Rigby

On May 22, 2013, Nigerian Islamists Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale murdered 25-year-old off-duty British Army Fusilier Lee Rigby near the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich, South London. After running Rigby over with a car and hacking him to death with a cleaver, the attackers dragged Rigby’s body into the street and attempted to decapitate him. The attackers encouraged onlookers to take pictures on their cellphones. While waiting for police to arrive at the scene, Adebolajo stated, “The only reason we have killed this man today is because Muslims are dying daily by British soldiers ... By Allah, we swear by the almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone.” (Sources: Guardian, Telegraph)

Adebolajo and Adebowale were convicted in December 2013 of murdering Rigby. In February 2014, the attack’s mastermind, Adebolajo, received a life sentence. Adebowale was sentenced to a minimum of 45 years in prison. In December 2014, the pair appealed their sentences. Adebolajo argued that he “killed a soldier in the course of fighting a war,” which the court dismissed as “hopelessly misconceived” and upheld the sentences. (Sources: Guardian, BBC News, Guardian)

7/7 Bombings

On the morning of July 7, 2005, three bombs exploded on underground trains in central London within 50 seconds of each other. A final explosion occurred on a double-decker bus near King’s Cross international train station. All four attacks were carried out by Islamic extremist suicide bombers. Five days later, more than a dozen unexploded bombs were discovered in a car in Luton, north of London. In all, 52 people were killed, and more than 600 injured. In April 2012, it was discovered that the suicide bombers were guided by al-Qaeda operative and dual British-Pakistani citizen Rashid Rauf. (Sources: BBC News, Independent, CNN)

Rauf died in an October 2012 U.S. drone strike in Pakistan. British intelligence reportedly provided U.S. authorities with intelligence on Rauf’s location. Rauf also allegedly planned the failed 2006 plot to blow up U.S. airliners leaving London’s Heathrow Airport. (Sources: CNN, Long War Journal, Birmingham Mail)

Republican and Loyalist Terrorism

Historically, the chief threats to the United Kingdom and its interests were Irish republican groups such as the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), whose actions also often prompted terrorist reprisals from loyalist groups like the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and its offshoots. In the early 1970s, the IRA shifted its focus of attack from the U.K. province of Northern Ireland to the British mainland, targeting dozens of English cities and towns in a sustained campaign of violence lasting until the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Notable attacks include the November 8, 1987, Remembrance Day bombing, during which an IRA bomb exploded at a veterans’ memorial service in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, killing 12 and wounding 63. On October 12, 1984, an IRA bomb exploded at the Grand Hotel in Brighton in an attempt to kill Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher during a political conference. Thatcher was unharmed but five people were killed. On December 17, 1983, an IRA car bomb exploded outside the Harrod’s department store in London, killing six and wounding 90.  (Sources: BBC News, CAIN, BBC News, BBC News, RTÉ, BBC News)

The three-decade period of sectarian violence known as “the Troubles” resulted in the deaths of more than 1,800 people in IRA attacks. Since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, IRA splinter groups have continued sporadic attacks. Loyalist paramilitaries have also continued to target Catholic civilians and plant pipe bombs around Northern Ireland. In June 1999, for example, loyalist paramilitaries planted a series of pipe bombs around the territory, killing a Protestant woman married to a catholic man. The British government recorded 16 such attacks in Northern Ireland in 2015. In May 2016, the government raised the threat level from Northern Ireland-related violence to Great Britain to “substantial.” (Sources: BBC News, Council on Foreign Relations, Reuters, U.K. Home Office, CAIN)

 

Domestic Counter-Extremism

Following the September 15, 2017, London underground bombing, the United Kingdom raised its terror threat level to its highest level of “critical,” indicating suspicion of an imminent attack. The threat level returned to the next lowest level of “severe” two days later. The government previously raised the threat level to critical after the May 22, 2017, Manchester suicide bombing. Prior to the Manchester attack, the terror threat level had been at the second-highest level of “severe” since 2014. Less than a week after the Manchester attack, the government lowered the alert level back to severe, indicating an attack is highly likely but not imminent. In December 2016, MI6 head Alex Younger declared that the United Kingdom and other European democracies faced a “fundamental threat” from cyberattacks, propaganda, and “subversion of the democratic process” by hostile states. ISIS and its sympathizers pose an “unprecedented” threat, Younger also said. (Sources: Fox News, BBC News, BBC News, Telegraph, Guardian, Guardian)

Since Khalid Masood’s March 2017 car-ramming attack, British authorities have stopped several threats. On April 27, 2017, London police arrested a 27-year-old man carrying knives outside of Parliament. In unrelated action the following day, police raided house in west London and Kent, foiling what they said was an active terror plot. Six people were arrested in the raids and a female suspect was shot and wounded. (Sources: New York Times, BBC News)

British law enforcement has contended with limited resources and budget cuts, which have curtailed terrorism investigation and prevention initiatives. Between 2010 and 2015, the national police budget decreased by £2.3 billion. There were 122,859 police officers in England and Wales in 2016, down from a high of 144,353 in 2009. In June 2017, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick warned that police had fewer resources for “forward-looking” intelligence to prevent future attacks because they were spending more time on “backward-looking” investigations into recent terror attacks. This has put a tremendous strain on British police resources and stalled several ongoing investigations, she said. In a letter to Home Secretary Amber Rudd, Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley wrote of the “significant impact” of terror investigations on other crime prevention in England and Wales. (Sources: BBC News, Guardian, Guardian)

In the wake of the June 2017 London Bridge attack, the British government instituted a three-month emergency plan called Operation Roset in order to strengthen British counterterrorism efforts. The plan includes reassigning police officers from other investigations to focus on counterterrorism. U.K police heads have requested assurances that the increased counterterrorism operations will not come at the expense of non-terrorism-related police investigations. In late June 2017, Rudd acknowledged in Parliament that British police resources had been stretched “very tightly” in confronting a “new phase” of the terrorist threat facing the United Kingdom. The British Home Office pledged to increase counterterrorism funding to police by 30 percent by 2022. (Sources: BBC News, Guardian, Guardian)

Few British police officers carry live firearms. British police chiefs reportedly fear that their armed officers could face public accusations of misusing their firearms on suspects. However, the Police Federation of England and Wales reported in May 2016 that a national shortage of armed officers leaves Britain vulnerable to terror attacks. As of March 2016, only 2,139 of London’s 32,000 police officers (6.7 percent) were armed. According to a January 2017 poll by the Police Federation of London’s officers, 43 percent believed there should be more specialist firearm officers, while 26 percent believed that all officers should be regularly armed. (Sources: Telegraph, Guardian, BBC News, BBC News)

Throughout 2016 and 2017, the United Kingdom has taken steps to increase the number of armed police officers in the country. In April 2016, British police announced plans to arm 1,500 more police officers nationwide. In August 2016, Scotland Yard armed an additional 300 London police officers, raising the number of the city’s armed officers to just under 3,000. The additional armed officers included members of the Metropolitan Police’s counterterrorism unit, which would carry SIG 516 semi-automatic carbines and Glock 9 mm pistols. Despite the planned increases, the Police Federation has warned that recruiting and training an additional 1,500 armed officers could take up to two years. In May 2017, the British government allocated an additional £114 million to fund 1,000 additional armed officers over five years. (Sources: Independent, Telegraph, Telegraph, Guardian, BBC News)

Activity to prevent terrorism in the United Kingdom is presently at its highest level in years. MI5 increased its operations throughout the country after the 7/7 bombings. The intelligence agencies also increased their cooperation and expanded their recruitment. MI5 head Andrew Parker said in October 2016 that the agency had stopped 12 jihadist plots in the United Kingdom in the last three years. According to Scotland Yard, there were more than 299 terror-related detentions for the year between March 2014 and March 2015 as a result of police conducting “exceptionally high numbers of counter-terrorism investigations.” Of these, 16 people who returned from Syria were charged. In addition to devoting more resources to counterterrorism investigations—leading to greater numbers of arrests—U.K. security forces are also seeking to sever the sources of radicalization. As of October 2014, there were 100 Syria-related “preventative activities” each week, and police are removing thousands of pieces of illegal online material showing beheadings, murders, torture, and suicides. Over 80 percent of the content is related to Iraq and Syria. (Sources: Guardian, Guardian, Guardian, Guardian)

In the aftermath of the May 22, 2017, Manchester terror attack, British authorities for the first time barred British citizens suspected of going overseas for terrorism from returning. The so-called temporary exclusion order requires suspects to contact British authorities before they are allowed to return to the United Kingdom. (Source: Guardian)

On March 21, 2017, the British government enacted a ban on laptops and tablets on U.K.-bound flights from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia, and Saudi Arabia. The move followed a similar U.S. ban on electronics bigger than a cellphone on flights originating from eight countries in the Middle East and Africa. (Sources: BBC News, Al Jazeera)

According to MI5, more than 60 percent of lone-wolf attackers provide clues that they are about to carry out an attack through changes in their behavior. Since 2004, MI5’s Behavioural Science Unit (BSU) has studied and attempted to identify behavioral signs in individuals that indicate they may be planning a terrorist attack. For example, Roshonara Choudhry, who stabbed parliamentarian Stephen Timms in 2010, reportedly quit her college course, emptied her bank accounts, and settled her student loan before she attempted to murder Timms. The BSU comprises criminologists, psychologists, anthropologists, and other specialists in the social scientists. The BSU uses intelligence information collected through networks of informants. Findings are then passed along to The BSU reportedly foiled at least seven terrorist plots in 2016 alone. The BSU is reportedly monitoring hundreds of British jihadists, including some 400 returned foreign fighters. The unit is charged with determining whether suspects are merely threatening action or actually intend to carry through. A member of the unit who spoke with the Times in August 2016 that “Many of those whom the service investigates have secrets from their family and friends. They many even lie to themselves about who they are.” The unit has reportedly doubled in size since the 2013 murder of Lee Rigby. MI5 has labeled the BSU a valuable resource that “is regularly used by investigative and agent running teams to support assessments and decision making.” (Sources: BBC News, Times, Sun, Economic Times, Gov.UK)

Social Media and Extremism Online

A September 2017 study by the British think tank Policy Exchange found that online extremist content attracts more clicks in the United Kingdom than anywhere else in Europe. Worldwide, the United Kingdom is the fifth most frequent location for accessing jihadist content. The study further claimed that the majority of the British public would support legislation criminalizing reading online content that glorifies terrorism. (Source: Policy Exchange

British officials have criticized social-media companies for continuing to allow the proliferation of hate speech, including extremist content, on their platforms. In April 2017, a report by the U.K. Parliament’s Home Affairs Select Committee cited the “repeated” failure of social media companies to remove such content, which committee chairwoman Yvette Cooper called a “disgrace.” The committee accused Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other multi-billion dollar companies of forcing taxpayer-funded government organizations like the Metropolitan Police to monitor content on their platforms. (Sources: Reuters, Guardian, Newsweek)

The committee called for social media companies to pay the extra costs of policing their platforms and fines for those that do not act against extremist content. The committee also recommended social media companies publicly report their efforts to moderate their platforms. Additionally, the committee requested the government enact new laws to further regulate extremist content online. The committee also called for fines for companies that fail to act against extremist content. (Sources: Reuters, Guardian, Newsweek)

In May 2017, ahead of June’s national elections, British Prime Minister Theresa May promised to create government mechanisms to punish social media companies that failed to remove illegal content. May’s Conservative Party issued a political manifesto that promised a new tax on social media companies to fund “awareness and preventative activity to counter internet harms.” The manifesto also called for sanctions against companies that failed to remove extremist content. The following month, Home Secretary Amber Rudd reiterated May’s pledge to fight online extremism. (Sources: Telegraph, Reuters, Guardian)

On June 13, 2017, May and French President Emmanuel Macron launched a joint campaign against online extremism. According to May, the joint campaign would seek to create a “legal liability” for Internet companies that do not remove extremist content from their platforms. May pledged that the Internet “must not be a safe place” for extremists. Writing in British media, Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley reaffirmed May’s position that extremist content is too readily accessible online. (Sources: BBC News, NBC News, Guardian)

During her September 2017 address to the U.N. General Assembly, May demanded that tech companies go “further and faster” to develop artificial intelligence tools to remove extremist content. May said that the United Kingdom, France, and Italy were partnering to pressure tech companies to remove extremist content within two hours of its discovery on their platforms. May imposed a one-month deadline of the October 20 G7 meeting for tech companies to demonstrate that they are progressing appropriately. (Source: BBC News)

2015 Counterterrorism Measures

The British general election on May 7, 2015, resulted in the formation of a Conservative Party majority government for the first time in almost two decades. In the wake of his re-election, then-Prime Minister David Cameron reiterated the United Kingdom’s commitment to targeting radicalization and the “poisonous Islamist extremist ideology” and announced a series of new legislative measures. Furthermore, Cameron posited that the country’s “passively tolerant society” had engendered neutrality “between different values” and encouraged “a narrative of extremism and grievance.” His comments were buttressed by specific legislative proposals submitted by then-Home Secretary Theresa May, including:

  • “Banning Orders,” targeting organizations that operate within the law but nonetheless seek to incite extremist hatred in the public or seriously threaten democracy. Banning orders may also criminalize fund-raising for and membership of such groups;
  • Extreme Disruption Orders targeting those who want to radicalize young people;
  • Measures to shut down premises where extremists seek to influence others;
  • Granting new powers and an £8 million investment to the United Kingdom’s charity watchdog, the Charity Commission, to identify charities financing extremists and terrorists. The commission has been criticized for previously failing to identify abuses of the charity sector system. The draft Protection of Charities Bill will also allow the Commission “to disqualify any trustee candidate they deem unfit;”
  • Stronger immigration rules on extremists; and
  • Enhanced powers for the United Kingdom’s communications regulator, the Office of Communications (Ofcom), to “take action against channels that broadcast extremist content.

(Sources: BBC News, Prime Minister’s Office, Independent)

CONTEST

In 2003, the United Kingdom began implementing a long-term, comprehensive Counter-Terrorist Strategy known as CONTEST. It consists of four elements: stopping terrorist attacks; preventing people becoming or supporting terrorists; enhancing protection against terrorist attacks; and mitigating the impact of a terrorist attack. CONTEST was strengthened in 2009 under then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The United Kingdom’s current specific focus is on developing programs to monitor Internet based communications, as well as supporting the U.K. security industry to export services and products to other countries hosting major global events. (Sources: U.K. Government Home Office, Foreign & Commonwealth Office et al., Guardian, U.K. Home Office)

The United Kingdom’s anti-terrorism strategy under CONTEST is supported by legislation stretching back to 2000, when Parliament passed the Terrorism Act.

The United Kingdom’s anti-terrorism strategy under CONTEST is supported by legislation stretching back to 2000, when Parliament passed the Terrorism Act. This forms the legal basis for prosecuting terrorists and banning terrorist organizations. Among the list of proscribed terrorist groups are the Abu Nidal Organization, al-Qaeda, al-Shabab, Boko Haram, Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS, Jemaah Islamiyah, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The Terrorism Act of 2000 has since been supplemented by several further pieces of counterterrorism legislation, most notably including: the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001; the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005; the Terrorism Act 2006; the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008; and the Terrorist Asset Freezing Act 2010. The United Kingdom has also enacted the United Nations Terrorism Order 2009. (Source: U.K. Government Home Office, Foreign & Commonwealth Office et al., U.K. Government Home Office)

Prior to 2000 and for much of the 20th century, British counter-extremist legislation focused almost exclusively on efforts to deal with the long history of conflict arising from “the Troubles” related to Northern Ireland. A series of legal measures collectively known as the Prevention of Terrorism Acts were first enacted as far back as 1939, which initially prohibited membership in a variety of republican (nationalist) and loyalist (unionist) organizations. Measures to prevent entry to the British mainland, to block the flow of financial support, and enhanced powers of detention and arrest also formed key parts of the Northern Ireland-related Acts. Several Northern Ireland groups continue to be proscribed as terrorist groups, including the IRA, the Irish People’s Liberation Organization, the Loyalist Defence Force, and the Ulster Freedom Fighters. (Source: U.K. Government Home Office)

To prevent Islamists from traveling to conflict zones, the United Kingdom already maintains an extensive “no-fly” register but this is set to be supplemented by new rules to make it easier to remove suspected jihadi recruits from commercial flights. Airline companies will now need to present an “authority to carry” list when flying to conflict zones after giving the passenger list to enforcement agencies. While the authority to carry program was implemented in July 2012, it has not been strictly enforced. (Sources: Telegraph, U.K. Government Home Office)

The U.K. government released an updated CONTEST strategy in June 2018. The strategy views Islamic terrorism, and ISIS in particular, as the chief security threat to the country. The strategy also recognizes the growing threat posed by far-right extremists. In announcing the revised CONTEST, U.K. Home Secretary Sajid Javid declared that the government would focus its efforts on amending current legislation, strengthening the sentencing framework for terrorism offenses, and enabling U.K. courts to prosecute terrorism offenses committed overseas. CONTEST also calls for expanded powers for security services to arrest suspects at earlier stages. Additionally, the revised strategy calls on businesses to more quickly alert authorities of suspicious transactions, such as stockpiling chemicals or erratic behavior while renting a car. Critics questioned whether the strategy could encourage vigilantism, prejudicial reporting, and a weakening of civil rights. (Sources: Gov.UK, Gov.UK, Independent, Daily Mail)

Release and Monitoring of Extremist Prisoners

The United Kingdom has sought to increase its focus on extremists released from prison. According to the U.K. Home Office, 46 convicted terrorists were released from prison between March 2017 and March 2018. Overall, more than 500 prisoners convicted of terrorism offenses have reportedly been released since 2001. By the end of 2018, more than 40 percent of the 193 terror-related sentences handed down between 2007 and 2016 will expire. Government officials have called for revisions of U.K. extremism laws to increase attention on deradicalization both in prison and after prison. (Sources: Gov.uk, Express, Guardian, Telegraph, Sun, News.com.au)

Additionally, British probation law allows for prisoners serving fixed-term sentences—excluding life sentences—to be released halfway through their terms. The practice came to public light in the summer of 2018 when British media reported that imprisoned ISIS supporter Anjem Choudary would be released that October. He is one of 80 prisoners convicted on terrorism charges expected to be freed in 2018. British police and prison officials have criticized the releases but acknowledged they could not override the law that would set Choudary and others free. Government officials have called for additional resources to monitor freed prisoners to prevent recidivism. In Choudary’s case, officials imposed restrictions on Internet use and his ability to meet with former radical associates, as well as placing him under heavy surveillance. (Sources: Gov.uk, Express, Evening Standard, Telegraph, Sun, News.com.au)

Prevent Strategy

Within CONTEST is the Prevent strategy. The strategy has three objectives: respond to extremist ideology, built relations with civil society groups, and provide support to prevent radicalization. Through Prevent, the government has funded sports activities, leadership development forums, discussions on current affairs, and other programs to boost communal engagement in combating extremism. The government has reportedly been reluctant to reveal specifics of the programs instituted under Prevent in order to avoid hindering their effectiveness through association with the government. (Sources: Gov.UK, Gov.UK, Gov.UK)

The British government also coordinates with more than 2,790 institutions—including schools, universities, and religious organizations—to reach almost 50,000 people. These relationships resulted in 130 community projects—more than half of which were in schools—in 2015 with more than 25,000 participants. Teachers monitor their students for signs of radicalization and refer cases to police for follow up and possible referral to Channel, a multi-agency system of panels across England and Wales that assesses potentially at-risk individuals and provides “support before their vulnerabilities are exploited by those that would want them to embrace terrorism.” In 2015, the British government recorded 3,955 referrals to Channel, of which approximately 15 percent were linked to right-wing extremism and about 70 percent were linked to Islamic extremism. Specific details of Channel projects are not publicly available. Between January 2012 and December 2015, just under 2,000 British children under 15 were referred to government counter-radicalization programs. (Sources: Gov.UK, Gov.UK, BBC News, U.K. Parliament, Gov.UK, Guardian)

In October 2016, the government launched a pilot program called the Desistance and Disengagement Programme (DDP) to aid in the deradicalization of convicted terrorists who have been released from prison on probation. The program includes mentoring, psychological support, and theological and ideological advice. The government expanded the program in 2018 to include returned foreign fighters and individuals sanctioned for terrorism. The DDP became compulsory. In June 2018, the government announced its intention to double the capacity of the DDP to 230 within 12 months. Upon his release from prison in October 2018, pro-ISIS propagandist Anjem Choudary was ordered to participate in the DDP. (Sources: Hampshire Prevent Board, Gov.UK, Gov.UK, The Times)

In December 2016, Leicestershire Chief Constable Simon Cole—the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s point person for Prevent—called the program “absolutely fundamental” to British counterterrorism efforts. Between 2015 and 2016, there were approximately 7,500 referrals through the program for evaluation. Of those, approximately 1 in 10 were classified as vulnerable to terrorism and referred to the Channel program. The U.K. Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit removed more than 55,000 pieces of online terrorist material in 2015, compared with 46,000 in 2014. In 2015, online counter-narrative resources developed by the U.K. government and civil society groups received more than 15 million online views, compared with approximately 3 million in 2014. British authorities stopped 150 people from traveling Iraq and Syria in 2015, and family courts prevented 50 children from approximately 20 families from being taken to Iraq and Syria. The National Offender Management System identified 1,000 prisoners who are either extremist or vulnerable to extremism and scheduled interventions such as prisoner transfers and disciplinary action. (Sources: Gov.UK, Gov.UK, BBC News, U.K. Parliament, Gov.UK, Guardian, Mirror, BBC News)

Prevent has also received criticism from NGOs, teachers, and within the U.K. government. In 2011, the government restructured the program in light of criticism that authorities were using Prevent-funded programming to spy on Muslim communities. In February 2016, the U.K. independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson QC, called for an independent review of Prevent because some elements of the program have been “ineffective or being applied in an insensitive or discriminatory manner.” U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Assembly Maina Kiai said that Prevent has “created unease and uncertainty around what can be legitimately discussed in public.” In a March 2016 interview with the Guardian, Kiai said that because of the program “some families are afraid of discussing the negative effects of terrorism in their own homes, fearing their children would talk about it at school and have their intentions misconstrued.” For example, in March 2016, teachers at a Luton nursery school overheard a 4-year-old pronounce “cucumber” as “cuke bum” and thought he was referring to a pressure-cooker bomb. (Sources: U.K. Parliament, Guardian, Guardian, Independent)

In April 2016, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) supported a motion declaring that Prevent targets Muslim students. The NUT argues that radicalization primarily takes place online and Prevent inhibits discussion within the schools that could be beneficial to counter-radicalization. The NUT also asserts that Prevent causes “suspicion in the classroom and confusion in the staffroom.” (Sources: Guardian, National Union of Teachers, Guardian)

The British anti-war advocacy group CAGE referred to Prevent as a “cradle to grave police state” in a report of the same name. The group argues that the strategy creates a two-tier system of law for Muslims and non-Muslims. CAGE asserts that Prevent’s basic premise—that radical ideology is the root cause of violence is the Muslim world—is flawed. CAGE argues that violence is actually driven by “the political struggle of Muslims in response to unrepresentative regimes, often aided by Western policy and occupations.” The NGOs Rights Watch UK and the U.S.-based Open Society Justice Initiative have also criticized Prevent. (Sources: CAGE, Guardian)

In March 2018, the Muslim Council of Britain launched the Safe and Secure anti-radicalization program for British mosques as an alternative to Prevent. Safe and Secure runs similar workshops and programs as Prevent but without the stigmatization of the Muslim community, according to organizers. The program reportedly focuses on themes other than radicalization, such as gang violence. Safe and Secure’s creator, Dal Babu, told that Guardian that the purpose is to “make this more about safeguarding than focus just on radicalisation.” (Source: Guardian)

Muslim Brotherhood Review

On December 17, 2015, the U.K. review of the Egypt-originated Muslim Brotherhood and its associated groups in Britain was published. The report found that the Brotherhood in the United Kingdom—a “loosely associated” group with no single leader—generally subscribed to peaceful methods and “non violent incremental change.” It also found that although the Brotherhood had in the past sought an Islamic state in Britain, “there was no indication that the Muslim Brotherhood itself still held this view or at least openly promoted an Islamic state here.” However, both authors, former British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Sir John Charles and Director General of the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism Charles Farr, expressed concerns about the Brotherhood’s relationship with Hamas. According to Charles, the Brotherhood has “deliberately, wittingly and openly incubated and sustained an organization – Hamas – whose military wing has been proscribed in the UK as a terrorist organization….” Charles also noted that “they are prepared to countenance violence – including, from time to time, terrorism- where gradualism is ineffective.” Reviewing the Brotherhood’s fundraising activities, Charles Farr reported that “[t]hough never publicly acknowledged by the Muslim Brotherhood charities in the UK are an important part of the Hamas and Brotherhood in the country.” He noted that some of the Brotherhood-affiliated charities “have been linked to Hamas.” Hamas has been proscribed in the United Kingdom since 2001. (Sources: Guardian, Muslim Brotherhood Review: Main Findings)

[The Brotherhood] are prepared to countenance violence – including, from time to time, terrorism- where gradualism is ineffective.Former British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Sir John Charles

In his official response to the findings, Cameron highlighted the Brotherhood’s “highly ambiguous relationship with violent extremism.” Cameron stated, “[t]he main findings of the review support the conclusion that membership of, or association with, or influence by the Muslim Brotherhood should be considered as a possible indicator of extremism.” He proposed that the British government would continue to:

  • Refuse visas to Muslim Brotherhood members who have made “extremist comments” on record;
  • Ensure Brotherhood-linked charities do not fundraise for the Muslim Brotherhood;
  • Coordinate better with international partners to properly investigate claims of Muslim Brotherhood impropriety regarding “illicit funding or other misuse of charities”
  • “[E]nforce the EU asset freeze on Hamas;” and
  • Review whether the Muslim Brotherhood should be proscribed.

(Source: Prime Minister’s Office)

International Counter-Extremism

The United Kingdom plays a key role in overseas military activities, and remains an active and leading participant in international coalition efforts to thwart extremism and terrorism globally. Due to its military commitments in the Middle East and Central Asia, as well as its strong alliance with the U.S., British soldiers and U.K. interests overseas have also been targeted by extremist entities, most notably the Taliban in Afghanistan during the long-running intervention that finally ended with British withdrawal in late 2014.

Afghanistan

In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, the United Kingdom launched Operation Veritas, in simultaneous support of the American-led campaign, Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). The goals of OEF, like Operation Veritas, were to find al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and to remove Afghanistan as a terrorist refuge by deposing its Taliban leaders. While rapidly ousted from power, the Taliban quickly initiated an insurgency in 2002, seeking to regain control.

In 2003, all U.K. operations within Afghanistan were placed under Operation Herrick. The goal was to protect Britons at home by developing Afghanistan’s security force to combat terrorism. Turning over command to NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in 2006, British troops worked to increase the stability of Afghanistan’s new government under President Hamid Karzai, who assumed power in 2004.

By 2010, amid rising costs and casualties, NATO announced a full withdrawal of international forces by 2014, with the United Kingdom ending combat operations by 2015. Throughout the 13-year conflict, the Taliban posed a deadly threat to the nearly 10,000 British troops stationed throughout Kabul, Kandahar and Helmand province. At the cost of 450 British servicemen deaths and over 6,000 injuries, the United Kingdom withdrew from Afghanistan in November 2014. Control was then handed to the new 350,000-strong Afghan army (ANA), trained and equipped by ISAF. (Sources: BBC News, U.K. Government Home Office, Foreign & Commonwealth Office et al, U.K. Government Home Office, Guardian)

Iraq

In the early 2000s, the United Kingdom and its western allies sought to remove Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from power, viewing his regime as a destabilizing force in the Middle Eastern region due to its suspected weapons programs, support of terrorism, and record of brutality against its own people. In response to these concerns, the United Kingdom and United States launched airstrikes on Iraq’s air defense network in 2003, quickly followed by a land invasion of 42,000 British and tens of thousands of American troops. Hussein’s government quickly fell to the coalition forces.

In 2007, the United States and United Kingdom began handing over security of several Iraqi provinces to the Iraqi military, effectively marking the beginning of the move to withdraw entirely from Iraq. By 2009, the United Kingdom had formally begun to withdraw its forces from Iraq, having incurred 179 military casualties. (Sources: BBC News, Stanford University, National Review)

ISIS

On September 26, 2014, the U.K. Parliament approved joining U.S. airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq, citing concerns that Islamic extremists posed a “clear and proven” threat to Britons everywhere due to the proximity of battlegrounds in Iraq and Syria to Europe. Though the vote by Parliament specifically prohibited the deployment of ground troops, the U.K. has actively trained and armed Kurdish fighters to combat ISIS since the beginning of September 2014. After weeks of reconnaissance flights to gather intelligence, British Royal Air Force GR4 Tornado jets fired on several ISIS truck convoys as well as “heavy weapon positions” in early October 2014. Throughout that month, U.K. Royal Air Force (RAF) fighters continued to attack ISIS positions along with their American allies as the U.S. sent in new Apache AH-64 helicopters in order to increase its aerial bombardment on ISIS positions. Although there have been calls in both the U.K. and the U.S. for the deployment of ground troops against ISIS, so far both countries have been cautious not to escalate the conflict. However, in May 2016, it was reported that the United Kingdom is drawing up plans to deploy ground forces in Libya, forming “part of an Italian-led Libyan international assistance mission.” Then British Foreign Minister Tobias Ellwood said that “[t]here is planning for 1,000 troops or so but we are yet to receive the invitation – the request – for any support.”

On September 26, 2014, the U.K. Parliament approved joining U.S. airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq.

Following the November 13, 2015, attacks in Paris that claimed the lives of 129, then-Prime Minister David Cameron sought parliamentary approval to extend airstrikes against ISIS in Syria. The prime minister said, “it is in Syria, in Raqqa, that Isil has its headquarters and it is from Raqqa that some of the main threats against this country are planned and orchestrated.” On December 2, 2015, British parliamentarians voted 397 to 223 to authorize U.K. airstrikes against ISIS in Syria. Hours after the decision, four British jets departed from the Cypriot Royal Air Force base at Akrotiri and carried out strikes in Syria. Apparently in response to this decision, 29-year old Muhaydin Mire stabbed three people at a London underground station in East London, causing serious and minor injuries. A 56-year old was left with “serious” stab wounds. Mire was sentenced to life in prison. In March 2016, London’s Metropolitan Police issued another ISIS-related statement, warning that the jihadi group had shifted “from a narrow focus on police and military as symbols of the state, to something much broader,” claiming that it had “big ambitions for enormous and spectacular attacks….” (Sources: New York Times, Daily Mail, Telegraph, Independent, BBC News, New York Times, BBC News, CNN, Guardian)

Public Opinion

Islamic Extremism

In May 2017, the Pew Research Center released polling that found that 79 percent of Britons were at least somewhat concerned by extremism in the name of Islam. Of that 79 percent, 43 percent responded they were “very concerned.” According to Pew, older Britons are more concerned about Islamic extremism than other demographics. The poll found that 87 percent of those who were 50 or older responded they were at least somewhat concerned. Of respondents 30 to 49 years old, 80 percent said they were at least somewhat concerned. Of those who were 18 to 29, 61 percent said they were at least somewhat concerned. Pew conducted the poll between February and March 2017, and released the results a week after the May 22, 2017, Manchester suicide bombing. (Source: Pew Research Center)

Online Extremism

Polling released by the British think tank Policy Exchange in September 2017 suggested that British citizens are concerned about the availability of extremist content online. According to the poll:

  • 74 percent believe Internet companies should be more proactive in removing extremist content from their platforms
  • 65 percent believe that the major Internet companies are not doing enough to combat online radicalization
  • 72 percent said that Internet companies had a responsibility to combat and remove extremist content from their platforms
  • 75 percent would support the creation of an independent monitor to regulate web companies’ compliance with counter-extremism laws
  • 74 percent would support new legislation criminalizing the consumption of online extremist materials
  • 73 percent would support new legislation criminalizing the possession and viewing of online extremist content

(Source: Policy Exchange)

Use of Force Against Terrorism

In August 2016, the Pew Research Center released polling that found that 71 percent of Britons support U.S.-led military action against ISIS, but only 34 percent agree that overwhelming military force is the best way to defeat global terrorism. In contrast, Pew found that 57 percent of Britons agree that relying too much on military force creates hatred that leads to more terrorism. (Source: Pew Research Center)

In a Spring 2016 Pew poll released that June, 79 percent of Britons viewed ISIS is more of a threat to their country than global climate change (58 percent), global economic instability (48 percent), cyberattacks from other countries (55 percent), and large numbers of refugees leaving Iraq/Syria (52 percent). (Source: Pew Research Center)

Poll of the British Muslim Community

In April 2016, the British network Channel 4 commissioned a poll of British Muslims, which was conducted by ICM Unlimited. According to the results:

  • 34 percent would inform the police if they thought somebody they knew was getting involved with people who support terrorism in Syria
  • 4 percent sympathize with people who take part in suicide bombings
  • 23 percent support the introduction of sharia (Islamic law) in place of British law in certain areas of the country
  • 32 percent either sympathize with or won’t condemn those who take part in violence against those who mock the Islamic Prophet Muhammad.
  • 86 percent feel a strong sense of belonging to Britain

In analyzing the results, former Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission Trevor Phillips said, “The integration of Britain’s Muslims will probably be the hardest task we’ve ever faced. It will require the abandonment of the milk-and-water multiculturalism still so beloved of many, and the adoption of a far more muscular approach to integration.” The Muslim Council of Britain rejected the poll’s findings, which he said used the views of a “fringe minority” to smear a large population, according to the New York Times. (Sources: New York Times, Channel 4)

CEP Polling

CEP polling found that U.K. citizens see Islamist-based extremism as the greatest threat to national security and very likely to become an increasingly severe threat over the next decade. According to CEP data from 2014, more than half of British public respondents agree with U.K. national intelligence assessments, and consider the potential for Islamic extremist to pose a serious threat to national security over the next decade as “very likely.” (Source: Counter Extremism Project)

Two-thirds of British respondents in a CEP poll consider Islamist extremist movements the greatest threat to national security, more than any other country surveyed.