Growing numbers of far-right extremists are being referred to a counterterrorism program run by the British government, new figures show.
A total of 968 people were referred to the Prevent Scheme between April 2016 and March 2017 due to concerns about their radical right-wing beliefs — a rise of more than a quarter on the previous year.
This increase reflects warnings from police about the rising threat of terrorist attacks in the UK by groups motivated by anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant beliefs.
Fiyaz Mughal, director of Faith Matters, a UK-based non-profit organization that works to reduce extremism and interfaith tensions, told Arab News the figures were a sign that Prevent was trying to address all forms of radicalism.
“The increase in referrals is partly because of a rise in far-right extremism, but (it) also (shows) that professionals are becoming more attuned to assessing and safeguarding risks,” he said.
The British government set up the Prevent program in 2003 to address the threat of Islamic radicalism in the country, but its focus has widened to include other forms of extremism. The government considers it a key part of its counterterrorism strategy.
Prevent allows schools, universities and other public entities to report concerns or suspicions they have about someone with potentially extreme right-wing or militantly Islamic views.
In February, the-then UK counterterrorism police chief, Mark Rowley, said that four terrorist plots by right-wing extremists had been uncovered during 2017.
The latest Prevent figures, released yesterday, show that a total of 6,093 people were referred to the scheme last year, with more than half of those aged 20 or under.
But while the numbers indicate that far-right radicalism is a growing problem in Britain, they also highlight the continued threat posed by Islamic extremism.
More than 60 percent of referrals to the program are still related to concerns about Islamic extremism, though the figure of 3,704 people is a 26 percent decrease on the previous year.
Out of the total number of referrals to Prevent, 1,146 people were passed on to the government’s anti-radicalization program Channel, a voluntary scheme that provides mentors to individuals deemed vulnerable to extremism. About two-thirds of these cases were related to concerns over Islamic extremism.
The Prevent Program has been highly controversial in Britain, with critics claiming it sows distrust between communities and encourages Muslims to spy on each other.
Mughal said that while Prevent has its faults, it plays a key role in combating terrorism.
“Mistakes have been made in its previous delivery and communications, but those who obsess about it have no alternative,” he said. “Do they truly believe that any government would have no counterterrorism or counter-extremism strategy?” he said.
Mughal said he was pleased Prevent is tackling the threat of far-right extremism as well as Islamic radicalism.
“Let us not forget that this is about the safeguarding of people and lives, and we have lost many lives in this country to Islamist terrorism and a smaller number to far-right extremism and terrorism,” he said.
The Muslim Council of Britain has previously called for an “independent inquiry” into Prevent, with a statement last November questioning the use of the program in schools, citing incidents where young children in nursery were referred to the scheme.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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