The UK’s top counter-terror cop has warned that more young people were being drawn towards terrorism with an increased extremist presence online and Covid-induced isolation contributing to a surge in radicalization.

The head of counter-terrorism policing in the UK, Neil Basu, said on Wednesday that the country is facing a heightened threat of terrorism and that Covid-related isolation was fueling a surge in radicalization, particularly among young people. 

There has been a sharp increase in extremist material online in the last few years, and Covid-19 has meant that vulnerable people are spending a lot more time isolated and online, and with fewer of the protective factors that schooling, employment, friends and family can provide.

He claimed the current conditions were the “perfect storm” for radicalization and that we may see repercussions for many years.

Basu, who is also the assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, claimed that there was an alarming rise in the number of young people being drawn towards terrorist activity.

The police chief revealed that 1,500 children under the age of 15 had been referred to the counter radicalization program known as Prevent over the past 18 months. During that period 17 children, some as young as 14, were arrested on terrorism charges. 

“That is a relatively new and worrying trend in the UK, because just a few years ago we were not seeing anyone that young amongst our casework,” Basu added.

He also explained that there had been a growth in right-wing ideologies and noted that 10 out of the 12 under-18s who were arrested on terrorism charges in 2019 were linked to right-wing extremism.

However, the majority of UK authorities’ work on counter-terrorism is still centered on the Islamist extremist threat.

The counter terror officer also announced the launch of a new website, Act Early. This initiative seeks to provide guidance to people who think someone they know is at risk of radicalization.

Earlier in November, the country’s terrorism threat level was raised from “substantial” to “severe” as a “precautionary measure” following a number of terrorist attacks in France and Austria. 

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