Growing threat from far right as white extremists form largest proportion of terror arrests seen in 15 years

An expert has warned the far-right poses a growing threat in the UK as figures revealed white extremists formed the largest proportion of terror arrests seen in 15 years.

Home Office data shows that 41 per cent of suspects arrested in the last year were white – the highest percentage since March 2004.

Black suspects accounted for 11.9 per cent of those arrested, up slightly from 9.9 per cent the previous year.

While the number of Asian suspects dropped to 36.2 per cent of those arrested in 2018-19, down from 40.6 per cent in the 12 months prior, and the lowest percentage since 2006.

Home Office data also showed an increase in the number and percentage of arrests for suspects with extreme right-wing ideologies.

A total of 33 people with such views were arrested in the year to March 2019, up from 29 the previous year, and nine the year before that.

It accounted for 14.8 per cent of those arrested, up from 12.7 per cent and five per cent in the previous two years.

Islamist extremists made up the bulk of suspects in custody for terror-related offences.

There were 178 in the last year, down from 186 the year before. It is the first time since 2014 that the number has not increased.

Counter-terrorism expert Raffaello Pantucci told The Independent the extreme right-wing “has been identified consistently by security officials as a growing threat in the UK”.

He said: “From a disparate threat that was largely made up of isolated lone actors, it has increasingly become an organised threat with tentacles reaching out across Europe.”

Mr Pantucci, director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi), added that there was “undoubtedly” a wider context to the rise in terror suspects with extreme right wing ideologies.

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He said: “This comes in the form of a broader European context where the political mainstream discourse around questions of immigration and Muslim communities has been consistently dragged to the right, meaning previously less acceptable narratives are getting brought more into the mainstream.

“Brexit has also fed this, given the undertone of anti-immigrant narrative that has fed parts of the debate. 

“The point is that as we have seen this all move into the mainstream, we are increasingly seeing the extreme right wing feel more empowered across Europe, something that has made the threat more menacing.”

Overall, the number of arrests for terror offences dropped by 40 per cent in the year to March 2019 following a surge in the wake of the Manchester and London attacks.

The 268 arrests made in the last year were significantly down on the 443 the previous year – the highest since records began – which included the Manchester Arena bombing, as well as terror attacks at London Bridge, Parsons Green and Finsbury Park.

Of the 268 arrests, about one third (90 in total) resulted in a charge, while some 69 people were released without charge, data shows.

Of the 70 people charged with a terrorism-related offence, 32 had been prosecuted, all of whom were convicted.

The 268 represents the lowest figure since 251 arrests in 2014.

Press Association contributed to this report.

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