THE number of children arrested by counter-terror police has risen as they foiled three UK terror attacks during the Covid pandemic.
Figures released today show arrests for terrorism-related activity fell by 34% to the lowest level in nine years.
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Cops foiled three terror plots during lockdownCredit: Alamy
The total number of terror plots foiled by counter-terrorism police and British intelligence has risen to 28 since March, 2017.
And the number of children under the age of 18 who were arrested last year rose to 17, up from 11 in the previous 12 months.
In total, 10% of all arrests were among the under-18s, up from just 4% in the previous 12 months, Home Office figures show.
It comes as Home Secretary Dominic Raab warned today that teenagers were being recruited to Islamist terror groups in “worrying” numbers, with lockdown providing a “perfect storm” for youngsters to be radicalised.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dean Haydon, senior national coordinator for Counter Terrorism Policing, warned terrorists will have “greater opportunity” to strike once Covid lockdown ends.
DAC Haydon said: “These statistics tell me two things.
“Firstly, that despite facing unprecedented challenges brought about by the pandemic, Counter Terrorism Policing continued to keep the public safe by making 185 arrests across more than 800 live investigations – stopping three possible terror attacks in the process.
“And secondly, that while the rest of us have been focused on protecting ourselves and our families from this terrible disease, terrorists have not stopped planning attacks or radicalising vulnerable people online.”
He added: “As we follow the Government’s roadmap out of the tightest restrictions there will be greater opportunity for terrorists to operate.”
He urged the public to help police, security staff and shop workers minimise the chance of attack.
As we follow the Government’s roadmap out of the tightest restrictions there will be greater opportunity for terrorists to operate
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dean Haydon
The Home Office statistics show police arrests under the Terrorism Act 2000.
Counter-terror cops and UK intelligence services prevented three terror attacks during lockdown.
The plots came despite Covid restrictions causing terrorism-related arrests to slump to their lowest level in nearly a decade.
In total, there were 185 arrests for terrorism-related activity in the year ending December 31, 2020.
Last year saw 97 – or 34% – fewer arrests than in the previous 12 months, the lowest annual total since 2011.
Police made 185 terrorism-related arrests last yearCredit: PA:Press Association
But the percentage of youngsters under the age of 18 who were arrested more than doubled last year.
DAC Haydon urged families to be alert to “changes of behaviour” in relatives at risk of being radicalised.
DAC Haydon added: “Unfortunately we are seeing increasing numbers of young people arrested in relation to terrorism.
“Our research tells us that parents, family members and friends are the first to see the changes in behaviour which might indicate that a loved one is being radicalised.”
Earlier, Mr Dominic Raab told MPs there had been a seven per cent rise in the volume of terrorist content online.
Mr Raab said: “We can see a worrying rise in the proportion of children and teenagers that are now being arrested for terrorism offences.
“It was Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu (of the Metropolitan Police) who described lockdown and the accessibility of terrorist content online as a perfect storm because terrorists have digital access to those who are probably the most susceptible to extremist narratives”.
Currently, only 2% of people flagged to police under Britain’s anti-terror strategy Prevent are brought to the authorities’ attention because of concerns raised by those who know them best.
Police have launched a new website – www.actearly.uk – to offer advice and support for parents and family members who think their loved one might be following a path towards extremism.
DAC Haydo warned there was a worrying trend developing, with the number of people aged under the age of 18 growing last year.
He said added: “We know from experience that public information and action helps saves lives and lead to the significant arrests detailed in these statistics.