Outgoing British counterterror chief warns against far-right terror threat

Far-right terror plots on the rise, UK homegrown right-wing extremists seeking to contact similar groups abroad.
Tuesday 27/02/2018
Britain’s Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Mark Rowley outside New Scotland Yard, in London, 2015. (Reuters)
Britain’s Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Mark Rowley outside New Scotland Yard, in London, 2015. (Reuters)

LONDON - There is a growing threat from far-right terrorism, the outgoing head of counterterrorism policing in the United Kingdom warned.

Mark Rowley, the assistant commissioner at the London Metropolitan police force, used his valedictory speech to draw parallels between Islamist and far-right terrorism and warn against a growing threat to the United Kingdom.

Delivering the Colin Cramphorn Memorial Lecture February 26 in London, Rowley said 14 terrorist plots in the United Kingdom had been stopped since the Westminster attack on March 22, 2017.

“Ten conspiracies of an Islamist nature were stopped since the Westminster attack and, I can tell you today, that over the same period police have been able to prevent a further four extreme, right-wing inspired plots in the UK,” Rowley said.

While Islamist-inspired terrorism remains a major threat, observers warned that far-right-wing terror plots were also on the rise.

“Far-right terrorism and violent extremism is on the rise, something that concerns us greatly and which we have longed warned the authorities to take note of,” Nick Lowles, founder of the HOPE not hate anti-extremist advocacy group, posted on Twitter.

“The threat from the British far right is growing and evolving. Many see themselves in a war with Islam and, as a result, we must be prepared for more terrorist plots and use of extreme violence from the far right for the foreseeable future,” Lowles added.

Before his speech Rowley acknowledged that the “right-wing terrorist threat is more significant and more challenging than perhaps the public debate gives it credit for.”

“It’s a significant part of the terrorist threat. Right-wing terrorism wasn’t previously organised here,” Rowley said in his speech.

He warned that homegrown right-wing extremist groups were seeking to contact similar groups abroad.

“There are many Western countries that have extreme right-wing challenges and, in quite a number of those, the groups we are worried about here are making connections with them and networking,” Rowley added.

Recent far-right attacks in Britain include the killing of Labour MP Jo Cox in June 2016 and an attack on Muslim worshippers outside of Finsbury Park mosque in June 2017.

Rowley refused to divulge information about the foiled far-right terror attacks but said far-right extremists were acting in ways and utilising recruiting tools similar to those of Islamist extremists.

“Islamist and right-wing extremism is reaching into our communities through sophisticated propaganda and subversive strategies creating and exploiting vulnerabilities that can ultimately lead to acts of violence and terrorism,” Rowley said.

“Ironically, while Islamist and extreme right-wing ideologies may appear to be at opposing ends of the argument, it is evident that they both have a great deal in common.”

Rowley specifically referenced the banned far-right National Action group, saying: “For the first time we have a homegrown proscribed white supremacist, neo-Nazi terror group which seeks to plan attacks and build international networks.”

He also singled out controversial right-wing activist Tommy Robinson, founder of the English Defence League (EDL), and Jayda Fransen, deputy leader of Britain First whose controversial social media posts were retweeted by US President Donald Trump.

Rowley said the Finsbury Park mosque attacker Darren Osborne, who has been sentenced to life in prison, grew to hate Muslims “largely due to his consumption of large amounts of online far-right material, including statements from former EDL leader Tommy Robinson, Britain First and others.”

He compared Robinson with imprisoned British Islamist hate preacher Anjem Choudary and said the media must do more not to give extremists like Robinson and Choudary a platform.

“Such figures represented no more than the extreme margins of the communities they claim to speak for, yet they have been given prominence and a platform to espouse their dangerous disinformation propaganda,” Rowley said.

“Each side feeds into each other’s extremist rhetoric with the common goal of increasing tensions and divisions in communities.”