Britain has warned that far-right extremism poses a real threat to U.K. security. The warning comes as observers note a growing pan-European network of “counter-Jihad’ groups that are actively recruiting vulnerable members.
When Anders Breivik went on a killing spree in Norway in July 2011, he said he was motivated by a desire to save Norway and Europe from an Islamic takeover.
His target was a summer camp run by Norway’s Labor party, which Breivik blamed for complicity in what he described as multiculturalism. Most of his 77 victims were teenagers.
In the wake of the attack, Britain was among those to add far-right extremism to its anti-terror strategy.
The U.K. Minister for Crime and Security, James Brokenshire, says one in 10 cases of radicalization now being tackled by the government concerns the far right.
“It is not insignificant that the biggest arms cache found in England in recent times had been amassed by a bus driver motivated by such ideology,” he said. “In 2010 two individuals were convicted for preparing a terrorist attack using a homemade poison, and another was jailed for disseminating terrorist publications.”
Investigations showed Anders Breivik was not an active member of a far-right network, but he did contribute regularly to nationalist and Islamophobic online forums.
“When Breivik carried out his attack, what you saw from counter-Jihad activists was an attempt to excuse or perhaps contextualize the attack, and essentially say, look, though we don’t condone this type of targeting of civilians, we believe that this is going to continue to happen if you don’t listen to us,” said Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchensm, head of research at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at Kings College London.
Breivik was known to admire the anti-Islam English Defense League, or EDL. The EDL has helped set up similar leagues across Europe.
In August last year, far-right activists from across Europe gathered in Stockholm, Sweden. Among them was the EDL’s founder, who calls himself Tommy Robinson.
“It’s about sharing ideologies, sharing resources, working together in any way we can over the next 12 months in order to highlight the truth, the truth about Islam.” said Robinson.
Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens says the counter-Jihad movement is different from 20th century far-right groups in its specific focus on Islam.
“This movement is certainly one of the many consequences of 9/11,” he said. “However there are other elements involved here, including the issue of mass immigration in Europe.”
The British government says the cases of far-right radicalization that it is tackling are “self-starting groups and individuals.”
“The far-right threat is not as widespread or systematic as the al-Qaida inspired threat,” U.K. Minister for Security James Brokenshire said. “And, operationally, there are vast differences. But we also notice that at the same time, at its core, the far right appeals to people who share many of the same vulnerabilities as those exploited by al-Qaida-inspired extremism.”
Brokenshire says those vulnerabilities include a sense of alienation and questions around identity – issues that are being debated across Europe at a time of high economic uncertainty.
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