London has been at the centerfold of Islamic extremist attacks conducted by a seemingly undetectable threat: homegrown terrorists. The attackers of the three deadly terrorist strikes that hit the British capital within a period of two and a half months were among the thousands of low-grade suspects on domestic intelligence agency MI5’s radar. However, the high volume of potential perpetrators has made it difficult for the Secret Service to discern which individuals to prioritize and investigate. Along with addressing gaps in intelligence, the British government has directed prevention efforts toward internet regulations, despite the low-tech nature of the recent attacks. Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan to restrict online networking between extremist groups has been scrutinized by terrorism experts and Liberal Democrats who believe it will make attacks harder to stop in the future. With widespread debate about the effectiveness of internet regulations and the MI5, Britons question whether the government is doing enough to combat terrorist threats.
Britain’s MI5 is tasked with countering domestic terrorism, allocating 63% of its resources towards counterterrorism in 2016, according to the agency’s website. Despite funds, the agency did not actively investigate Salman Ramadan Abedi, the suicide bomber who killed 22 people in Manchester in May. MI5 only conducted 3,000 of the 20,000 pending investigations into potential terrorists at the time of Abedi’s attack. Khalid Masood, the terrorist who killed four people in a knife-and-vehicle rampage on Westminster Bridge in March, was also known by MI5 for six years.
According to a study by the Henry Jackson Society on the profiles of terrorists in the UK between 1998 and 2015, 76% of Islam-related attackers were known to the authorities, with nearly half of Islam-related offences being committed by an individual known to the Secret Service.
In the aftermath of the attacks, Prime Minister May proposed an initiative to stop terrorism in its tracks through internet controls. “We need to work with allies and democratic governments to reach international agreements to regulate cyberspace to prevent the spread of extremism and terrorism in planning,” May said in a public statement on June 4.
However, May’s proposal has been criticized by several members of the Liberal Democrat party who claim that May should have put resources into developing better intelligence. “Theresa May has chosen ineffective mass surveillance over investing in police and local intelligence-gathering,” said Tim Farron, a Liberal Democrat leader in a tweet on June 5.
A study by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization found that the internet is not the cause of radicalization but can influence an individual’s trajectory toward violent political acts. The research also addressed the implications involved in internet censorship, such as problems discerning extremist content and collecting the large amount of funding needed.
The research also found that both public and private organizations have faced difficulties crafting convincing responses to extremist’s rapidly increasing involvement in online media environments.
While the British government attempts to cultivate a comprehensive strategy to prevent future attacks, terrorist attacks are becoming deadlier and more targeted toward European countries. According to a 2016 study by the Investigative Project on Terrorism, Islamic attacks in Europe are set to increase in the next two years. The number of deaths from terrorist strikes have spiked in the past five years. In 2011, an average of 3,284 people died in terror-related deaths. In 2016, that number skyrocketed to 28,708, a change of 774%.
The research also noted that Europe has become a target for Islamic terrorists because of the continent’s unregulated immigration system and large population of refugees.
Although the British government has yet to find consensus on counterterrorism, the Secret Service has warned citizens that the threat is indeed critical. MI5 marked the threat of terrorism as severe, indicating that another attack is highly likely and imminent.