Up to seven in ten people targeted by the official agenda to stop people becoming terrorists may suffer from mental health issues or other vulnerabilities that could expose them to propaganda from violent extremists.
Simon Cole, chief of police and police chief for Prevent, said such psychological issues were much more of a potential factor than initially thought.
Three special centers in London, the Midlands and the North West are seeing people missed by other services, with the Counterterrorism Program being the first public service to refer them for help they may need, according to the police.
Cole also said that a growing number of children are being radicalized by banned neo-Nazi groups, who deliberately attempt to recruit young people and vulnerable people into their bedrooms in order to turn them into infantry in a race war.
Counterterrorism police have been working for several years with healthcare professionals to see how many people referred to Prevent may have mental health issues or vulnerabilities such as autism spectrum disorders, alcohol abuse issues, issues drug abuse or homelessness.
All three centers were set up to deal with people with mental health issues, but, as more people were assessed, they adapted to deal with other vulnerabilities. that can lead to mental health distress.
Prevent is a voluntary program that has been the subject of controversy. It aims to identify people who are likely to commit terrorist crimes and to divert them. In 2016, Cole said 44% of those involved had mental health or psychological issues – but the figure is now much higher.
Cole said that about 70% of prevention cases “now have some concern within them that needs to be assessed through a vulnerability support center.”
“If a person is vulnerable for whatever reason, they might find the kind of ideologies around radicalization something that they feel gives it some value. “
He added: “It could be that vulnerable people seek to identify with being linked to radicalization. Vulnerability Support Centers are an important part because what they guarantee … is that appropriate support can be provided alongside people so that if there are mental health needs, they can be met .
Cole said a significant proportion of people seen by Prevent have complex needs. “About 40% of these, there are several factors. It can therefore be substance abuse, housing or other criminal behavior. [such as violence]. You would have heard the independent terrorism critic speak a few weeks ago about autism in particular. We have therefore seen that the first thoughts were confirmed as we went forward. “
The police are also increasingly concerned about the radicalization of children, especially by the extreme right. In the last fiscal year, 21 children were arrested for terrorism, 15 of whom were suspected of involvement in far-right terrorism. In total, 13% of arrests for terrorism during the last financial year concerned young people under the age of 18, against 5% the previous year. Young people under 24 accounted for nearly 60% of far-right terrorist arrests, a rapid increase.
Cole said: “We certainly see young people being, in fact, prepared online, through sites like gaming sites, and then transferred to more private areas of the web where this process continues. There is deliberate targeting there. “
Although the scheme is accused by some of unfairly targeting Muslim communities, it must increasingly sensitize parents in white communities to the dangers of radicalization as the far-right threat grows. Prevent will also be focusing more on parents, such as its recent sponsorship partnership with parenting website Netmums.
Vulnerability Support Services clinician Dr Nicki Fowler said violence support was a symptom of a deeper problem. “When people are involved in extremism or any type of risky behavior, it is usually their solution, not their problem. “
She said people might be drawn to extremist accounts accusing certain groups of problems with the message: “Come join our group, it’s not your fault, it’s their fault.”
Housing issues, for example, can cause psychological distress or anxiety, which hubs aim to work on. Fowler said mental distress was one of many factors that affected the risk of believing in terrorist violence. “More often than not, it is relevant in the context of many factors. “
She added: “Sometimes it’s present and completely irrelevant. “
Prevent rarely escapes controversy, such as accusations of invasion of privacy or tarnishing of communities, which she denies. Fowler said police did not have access to clinical notes or sensitive health information about people referred to the hubs.
Superintendent Nik Adams, the national coordinator for Prevent, said police were not looking for information on mental health. Instead, once people are in Prevent, they are offered mental health treatment and support for their needs, which have often gone unnoticed.
Adams said, “There is a rich pool of vulnerabilities and people who can be exploited. And our job is to identify those who are susceptible and vulnerable and seek to intervene and offer them support in a way that protects them and others.
For Prevent, referrals about concerns about the vulnerability of Islamists (24%) and far-right terrorists (22%) are broadly level, but the largest group is made up of mixed, unstable and unclear ideologies. , at 51%.
“There are more people whose motivation is not as clear among those referred to Prevent,” Cole said.
Typically, the level of police and MI5 operations investigating those suspected of actual involvement in terrorism amounts to six Islamist investigations for every far-right investigation.
In 2019, Deputy Commissioner Neil Basu, head of counterterrorism until last month, said that Prevent was the most important part of Britain’s counterterrorism strategy, but it had been ‘wrong managed ”and needed to become more transparent and community-led.