British Islamist terrorists are getting younger and an increasing number had no prior convictions or previous criminal records before carrying out an act of terrorism or being arrested in the later stages of planning attacks, according to a major report to be published this week in London.
The rising proportion of militants who are so-called “clean skins,” previously unknown to the authorities, has jumped sharply, posing a growing challenge for Britain's security services as they scramble to try to prevent acts of terrorism, says the report's author, Hannah Stuart, an analyst at The Henry Jackson Society, a British research group.
Between 1998 and 2010 more than three-quarters of Islamist terrorists were known to British authorities in one way or another well before their arrests, 48 percent had come under surveillance by Britain’s domestic intelligence agency MI5. But the number of terrorists known to authorities has plunged between 2011 and 2015, the proportion known to MI5 more than halved.
More women radicalized
Aside from the growing number of "clean skins" in the ranks of British militants plotting terrorist acts, the 1,000-page report analyzing Islamist terrorism in Britain since 1998 to the beginning of last year finds there has been a surge in the number of women joining jihadist groups or radicalizing.
The report states, “Eighteen women have been convicted of terrorism offenses ranging from supportive offenses such as assisting an offender to serious attack-related offenses such as attempted murder. More than half of the female cases involved behavior that was supportive of men with whom they have a family or personal relationship, or was accepted by the trial judge as subordinate to that of their partner and co-accused.”
Women accounted for four percent of Islamist-related offenses between 1998 and 2010, but 11 percent between 2011 and 2015.
The report, one of the most comprehensive of its kind in Europe, says the terrorism threat the country faces continues to be from ‘home-grown” militants rather than from militants infiltrated into the country or recruited from the ranks of recent refugees or migrants. According to the study, 72 percent of Islamism-related offenses in Britain were carried out by British nationals or people who held dual British nationality.
“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,” says Stuart. She and other researchers scoured court transcripts and media reports as well as other sources to analyze 269 individual convictions or suicide bombings and all of the nearly 400 terrorism offenses recorded between 1998 and early 2015.
The number of Islamism-inspired terrorism offenses in Britain nearly doubled between 2000 to 2015, according to the report.
Poverty and segregation factors
Another key finding from the study includes the highlighting of a connection between poverty and radicalization, upending a conventional view that has increasingly taken hold that Islamist terrorists are disproportionately educated and middle class.
About 38 percent of terrorists were unemployed, while 76 percent came from neighborhoods with above-average deprivation. The report says 48 percent of British-based offenders were people living “in the most deprived 20 percent of neighborhoods nationally, commonly referred to as ‘highly deprived.”
A crucial finding is that militants come from highly segregated and heavily Muslim areas, raising new questions about integration. A high concentration of bombers or those convicted of terrorism-related offenses came from segregated districts in London and Birmingham. A tenth of all Britain’s Islamist terrorists come from just five local authority districts in Birmingham, the most populous British city outside London.
Forty-three percent of those convicted of Islamist-related terrorism came from London and half of those most came from just three of the capital’s boroughs in east London, Tower Hamlets, Newham and Waltham Forest.
During the period studied the most common age for an Islamic terrorist was 22. The Henry Jackson researchers found that 52 percent of Islamist offenders had Southern Asian ethnic backgrounds, and were most commonly British Pakistani.
Last month, a senior British counter-terror official, Max Hill, warned that Britain is facing a level of threat from terrorists not seen since the Irish Republican Army bombings 40 years ago. He said jihadist strategists were planning “indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilians” and that the country is facing an “enormous ongoing risk which none of us can ignore.”
Hill expressed anxiety about the imminent return of hundreds of British jihadists who have been fighting for jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq and warned British teenagers as young as 14 years-old are being radicalized by extremist videos and hate speech online.