Extremists poised to exploit grievances, former Scotland Yard chief warns

Grievances stoked by protests including Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion are at risk of being exploited by extremists and terrorists looking for opportunity in increasingly fragile and fractured societies.

Speaking at a Resilience First event this week, former assistant commissioner for Special Operations at the Metropolitan Police, Sir Mark Rowley QPM, said the situation is not being helped by mounting COVID-related societal and economic pressures.

“Islamist terror has changed and gone online, propaganda is thrown across the world, scattered like seeds and connected to local grievances in a way that we haven't seen before. The chance of these seeds hitting fertile ground is growing all the time," Sir Mark said. “The right wing has used the online world to go from loners to groups and to connect to global grievances and ideologies. So we have multiple, complex, fragmented threats. These extremist groups have had a captive audience to reach in people’s homes as people have been working from home or have been unemployed.

“Particularly if we look at the last year, grievance has been stoked by COVID-19 and some of the other protest issues around Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion. Such grievances are often exploited by extremists.

“We have seen increased numbers of fragile states, as states get damaged and distracted by COVID-19, particularly weaker states in Africa and other parts of the world, creating more opportunity for extremists and terrorists.”

Against this backdrop, businesses have a dual part to play in combatting this threat, the resilience association said.

Executive director, Robert Hall, said companies have a responsibility to move upstream from the physical security of their premises to working with their employees to support their mental health and well-being to prevent the kind of alienation that can lead to extremism.

“Businesses should be prepared to prevent staff from being radicalised as much as to protect others from becoming the innocent casualties. If preparedness is to become a competitive advantage for organisations then we should take a more holistic view of our mitigation measures in order that we become more resilient as individuals and communities.

“The twin threats of extremism and terrorism have become more dispersed and amorphous on the back of the pandemic. The deprivations of lockdown, the opportunity to spend more time online and hook up with fellow conspirators, a growing ultra nationalist dimension and the hate campaigns around BME and religious groups have all added fuel to the fire of both the extremist and the terrorist.”

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