Britain faces 'new wave' of home grown terrorist attacks

Britain faces an increasing threat from lone, home grown jihadists, as a potential 'new wave' of terrorists focus their activity away from large, coordinated attacks, towards a new-style of violence, according to an article in the recent Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) Journal.

Terrorism: The New Wave by Michael Clarke and Valentina Soria suggests that the UK may face a 'new wave' of terrorist attacks as international jihadist tactics change, and violent radicalism in the UK begins to evolve.

The report identifies a number of trends that may contribute towards a 'new wave' of terrorism in the UK. Clarke and Soria emphasise the risk posed by the escalating rate of radicalisation of Muslims in the British prison system, which might produce up to '800 potentially violent radicals'. These individuals will not have previously been found guilty on terrorism charges, and as they are released back into society over the next five to ten years, will pose a significant challenge to the Security Services responsible for identifying and monitoring them.

These individuals are potential recruits to any 'new wave' of terrorism, which might revolve around significantly different organisational structures and methods of attack than have been seen in the past. This represents an evolutionary shift away from the large scale bombings previously employed across the international jihadist movement, that have required considerable amounts of training and operational support.

 Clarke and Soria suggest that the emergence of new Al-Qaeda leaders such as Anwar al-Awlaki demonstrates an increase in the use of more lone individuals, carrying out attacks on a smaller scale. This new breed of jihadists have only tenuous links to any major terrorist organisation and receive little training and few resources, increasing the difficulty for the police and intelligence services in tracking and intercepting them.

Recent examples of this shift can be seen in America where the failed Detroit and Times Square bombings were carried out by poorly trained and supported individuals attempting very high profile attacks. The report indicates that although an increasing reliance on comparatively untrained and unsupported individuals considerably lowers the chances of an attack's success, the reasoning behind their deployment rests with the logic that eventually 'one of them will be lucky enough to succeed in a major way'.

 'Whereas the police and media frequently stress the inherently dangerous nature of those convicted of terrorist offences, only 23 individuals are currently serving life or 'indeterminate' sentences; most are serving sentences consistent only with a 'serious crime'. From a legal and societal perspective this may be entirely appropriate, but it raises immediate questions about the motivations of those now released, or soon to be released: are they more or less inclined to re-offend? What of their reputation within jihadist circles? Are they lionised or undermined? From previous Northern Ireland experience it is more likely that the majority of those released will remain as committed to their cause as previously, and may serve as a source of motivation to others, albeit in clandestine ways,' write Clarke and Soria.


'Meanwhile, jihadist radicalisation is believed by the prison authorities to be taking place at a rapid rate, especially in the eight high-security institutions where most terrorist prisoners are kept. Prison probation officers believe that around one in ten of the 8,000 Muslim prisoners in high-security institutions in England and Wales are successfully targeted - perhaps some 800 potentially violent radicals, not previously guilty on terrorism charges, will be back in society over the coming five to ten years. The Prison Chaplaincy, including its Muslim Adviser, told a Parliamentary Committee last year that the situation was becoming progressively worse. It remains to be seen how much of this 'new radicalism' may find actual expression in violent acts or attempts at recruitment.' 

'The jihadist threat to the UK therefore seems to exist now on two distinct levels. Attempts to create the well-planned spectacular attack in a western country clearly continue, even if the incidence of them seems to have waned. At the same time, a new dimension has become apparent. Whereas AQ-Core in Pakistan/Afghanistan trained people explicitly and thoroughly in guerrilla warfare and steadily added more terrorist training to their repertoire, under the influence of a new generation of leaders like Al-Awlaki, it appears that high motivation is followed by fairly rudimentary training. Rather than sending out trained 'cell leaders' to conduct preparation for sophisticated operations, AQAP ('Al Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula') and other related organisations have recently been content to send out a higher number of lone individuals (or at least lightly supported ones) whose chances of success are considerably lower but whose number and presence raise similar public anxieties. Eventually, it is reasoned, one of them will be lucky enough to succeed in a major way against high profile targets in western countries.'


1. For all enquiries please contact Daniel Sherman

2. The Journal is the leading publication of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). Published six times a year, it is an internationally recognised authority on defence and security issues.

3. Professor Michael Clarke is Director of RUSI and has acted as an expert witness in a number of terrorism cases since 2005.

4. Valentina Soria is a researcher at RUSI and a doctoral candidate at the University of Reading.

5. RUSI is an independent think-tank for defence and security. RUSI is a unique institution; founded in 1831 by the Duke of Wellington, it embodies nearly two centuries of forward thinking, free discussion and careful reflection on defence and security matters.


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