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Recently, terrorism has witnessed a gradual transition from the conventional ISIS strategy, which focused on maintaining territorial sovereignty in the Middle East, to a more global and decentralised model of insurgency. Consequently, this requires a reform in the counter-terrorism strategy of the UK, known as CONTEST.

The CONTEST strategy, which was updated last in June 2018, identified terrorism as one of the “highest priority risks to the UK.” This remains true in 2020, but the focus now needs to shift from the global threat of terrorism posed by ISIS and Al Qaeda to emphasising the control and reduction of home-grown radicalisation. The upsurge of domestic terrorism traces its origin to ISIS, but most extremists who have adopted this ideology have “never actually been in contact with it in Syria or Iraq.” 

The rise of unpredictable lone wolf tactics across Europe highlights the challenging threat posed by individual radicalisation. The scope of lone actor terrorism encompasses everything from right wing fanaticism to religiously inspired Islamic extremism. Despite the lack of organisation and absence of technical training provided by terrorist organisations, lone actors often attain their goals of uprooting the society and causing psychological damage, with the 2011 Norway attacks which killed 77 people being the most notable example. 

Extremists increasingly prefer lone actor approaches as it requires less equipment and organisation. Moreover, a driving factor in the lone actor approach is the utilisation of the internet as the primary channel to propagandise extremist beliefs, upload manifestos and download training material. 

The most controversial aspect of the CONTEST strategy is the Prevent programme, which focuses on challenging the ideology behind violent extremism, disrupting those who promote it and supporting individuals who may be vulnerable to recruitment by terrorist organisations. 

The effectiveness of the Prevent programme has been contested due to its narrow understanding of extremism and the massively disproportionate focus of the Prevent programme towards organised Islamic terrorism, which differs from the lone actor attacks that have emerged as the new face of terrorism in Britain. 

Additionally, the sole focus on Islamic terrorism leads to a sense of alienation amongst the Muslim population, which could be utilised by terrorist organisations to bolster their recruiting process and radicalisation. Therefore, the Prevent programme can herald the application of an “in group vs. out group” mentality by terrorist organisations to recruit people. Hence, CONTEST might be exacerbating the issues at hand rather than accomplishing its goal of counter-terrorism.

Regarding the escalation of home-grown radicalisation, the Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu stated that up to 80% of those who wanted to attack the UK were Britain-born or raised, which suggests issues of radicalisation are found in the societal fabric of Britain. Basu emphasised the urgent need to assimilate counter-terrorism policing along with other policies on social inclusion, mobility and education. 

In light of terrorist attacks that have occurred at Fishmongers’ Hall in November 2019 and in Streatham Hill in February 2020, the government introduced the Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill, which encompasses the toughening of sentences and an end to early release of terrorist offenders. However, emergency counter-terrorism measures to delay the early release of terrorists and lengthen sentences may not serve as an effective solution to escalating terrorism as it only restrains former terrorists but does not address the root causes.

CONTEST requires a reform in its approach to tackle a broader classification of extremism. To achieve the primary goals of the Prevent programme, a broader array of extremism needs to be targeted and controlled. The CONTEST strategy requires stronger focus on the rehabilitation of former terrorists and their assimilation and reintegration into mainstream society. Finally, the strengthening of CONTEST demands proactive steps to reduce the number of lone actor attacks specifically.

Anahad Khangura is a postgraduate student at King’s College London and a Bright Blue member. Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.