Police are engaged in more terror investigations than at any time for at least a decade, Britain’s most senior counter terrorism officer has revealed.
Announcing a nationwide publicity campaign to encourage public vigilance and support, assistant commissioner Neil Basu disclosed counter terror police are conducting more than 700 live anti-terror investigations, up from 600 in under a year.
The number of plots foiled since March last year has risen to 18, comprising 14 by suspected Islamic terrorists and four by far right extremists. The UK threat level remains at “Severe” which means an attack is “highly likely.”
Mr Basu said the biggest threats were from Isis fighters returning from abroad and individual extremists who could be radicalised online very quickly before mounting lone attacks using vehicles and knives.
“It’s a shift in the threat to the young and the malleable, even the mentally ill who are being affected by what they are seeing, and they are taking that and then using very low-sophistication measures, things that everyone can get access to – a knife or a vehicle – and making an attack,” said Mr Basu.
“And those are the kind of things that worry us most, they are the hardest to see and they are the hardest to stop.
“And that’s why we need communities to stand up and report changes in behaviour that they are seeing within their communities which might actually help us stop these things before they happen.”
The new public information campaign will air at 120 cinemas nationwide for eight weeks from January 25 to encourage people to report suspicious behaviour and activity.
It features a 60-second film in which audiences will see a man stockpiling hazardous material and another buying weapons, before rewinding and zooming in on the danger. An on-screen message reads: “Unfortunately life has no rewind button. “If it doesn’t feel right, ACT.”
Mr Basu warned the “worst-case scenario” was public complacency, revealing that there had been a “dramatic” fall in the number of instances information was reported to the police.
More than 31,000 pieces of information were passed to police in 2017, which more than halved to 13,093 in 2018.
In both years, just over a fifth of the information passed on was “very significant”, leading directly to the identification of a suspect or plot or was a small piece of the jigsaw that helped disrupt a plot or get a criminal prosecuted, said Mr Basu.
The move came as it is understood Andrew Parker, MI5 Director General, warned that a no-deal Brexit posed a threat to intelligence sharing with other EU agencies and access to pan-European databases critical in the fight against terror and crime.
He also warned the Cabinet that drones were a new terror challenge and that Al Qaeda remained a “prominent threat” to the UK and its allies.
In his annual briefing to ministers, Mr Parker also outlined ongoing work with multi-agency partners to manage the risk posed by “closed subjects of interest” (SOIs) and new ways of using data to detect threats, said the Prime Minister’s spokesman.
SOIs have been investigated in the past but are considered still to pose a threat. Westminster Bridge attacker Khalid Masood and Manchester Arena bomber Salman Abedi were both classed as closed SOIs at the time they carried out their atrocities in 2017.
Mr Parker told ministers that the main threat was driven by those linked to or inspired by the Islamic State terror group – referred to by the Government as Daesh – including lone actors although Al Qaeda remained prominent.
Downing Street declined to discuss the nature of the new methods being used or whether they have involved the co-operation of big data companies like Google or Facebook.
* Security Minister Ben Wallace announced an independent review of the Prevent programme, which aims to stop vulnerable people being drawn into terrorism. He said: “This review should expect those critics of Prevent, who often use distortions and spin, to produce solid evidence of their allegations.”