The UK rate of convictions for terror offences related to Islamic extremism nearly doubled in the first half of this decade, according to a analysis that highlights changes since the rise of Islamic State.
The report by the security thinktank Henry Jackson Society says the security services are getting better at spotting and prosecuting offences related to Islamic extremism, but it identified a number of areas of concern including a shift towards more low-tech attacks and hotspots of offending in London and Birmingham.
The researchers looked at 264 convictions for terror offences relating to 253 people arrested between 1998 and the end of 2015, as well as five suicide bombings, and divided the figures into two time periods, before and after the end of 2010.
The report found that there were on average 23 terrorism offences related to Islamic extremism a year between 2011 and 2015, compared to an average of 12 during the preceding 13 years. One-third of all the offences looked at were carried out after 2010.
Only 37% of convictions were related to planning an attack while one-third related to facilitating terrorism, for example through fundraising. Bombing remained the most common form of attack planned, however, an increase in the number of more low-tech attacks attempted or carried out, such as stabbings or beheadings, is attributed to guidance from Isis.
The remaining convictions were for either travel offences or “aspirational” terror activity that did not pose an imminent threat or was limited in scope. The proportion of offences designated as aspirational rose from 15% in the first 13 years to 23% in the last five years.
More than three-quarters of all offences were committed by people already known to the authorities in some way, such as having come under surveillance by the security services or having previous convictions.
The report also claims that women’s involvement in Islamic terrorism has risen significantly, accounting for 11% of offences from 2011 compared with 4% in the previous years. However, women represent a tiny proportion of the total convictions, with only 18 cases since 1998, and more than half were found to have been aiding a man. More than half of the offences looked at were carried out by men in their 20s.
People born in Britain accounted for most offences, but the report suggests that certain areas of the country are producing more people implicated in Islamic terror. Of all offences, 43% were carried out by people living in London at the time of their arrest. A further 18% came from the West Midlands, with 80% of those in Birmingham. Though most were raised as Muslims, 16% were converts. Deprivation also appears to play a role, with more than half of all offences carried out by people who were neither employed nor in education.
The report’s author, Hannah Stuart, said the figures should help the police focus their efforts to combat terrorism carried out by Islamic extremists: “This report poses some particular challenges for the authorities. While it confirms widely held conceptions, such as the majority of UK terror offenders are young males, it also highlights new threats that have developed since the millennium.
“Our security services will be particularly concerned that the major threat continues to be home-grown – and that females are playing an ever-increasing role in terrorism. Such a high concentration of offenders in London and Birmingham will also focus the minds of policymakers when it comes to deciding where to target our counter-terrorism efforts.
“As we continue to improve our policing of Islamism-inspired terrorism – the prevalent national security threat of our age – we should be aware that the vast majority of UK-based terrorists do not act alone. This research shows that the overwhelming majority are part of wider networks, formed online and in person, with family and friends – and most have been radicalised here in the UK.”