LONDON: The UK government will overhaul the country’s anti-extremism strategy, Home Secretary Priti Patel has said, amid concerns it is not focusing enough on Islamist extremists.
The Times reported on Monday that she is awaiting the results of a delayed three-year independent review of Prevent.
Patel told the media in reference to the $52 million program: “The Prevent review is really important to me. I can’t prejudge a review but it’s quite clear, and I say this from my own observations from what I see, that there are things that need to change.”
Over the past five years, Prevent worked with seven of 13 UK terrorists who went on to kill 14 people in separate attacks. That figure includes Ali Harbi Ali, the recently sentenced murderer of MP David Amess, who was stabbed to death last year.
During his trial last week, Ali said he feigned compliance with Prevent officers, who underestimated him. “I just knew to nod my head and say ‘yes’ and they would leave me alone afterward and they did,” he added.
Ali’s former schoolteacher told the media that she had warned Prevent officials of his capacity for violence almost a decade ago, but was ignored.
Officers reportedly told her: “We don’t think he’s a threat. We don’t think he’s worth taking on any further.”
Prevent was designed as a frontline strategy to detect extremist sentiments. It requires local authorities — including teachers, health workers, religious officials and police, among others — to notify Prevent officials of people at risk of extremism.
Those cases then judged most concerning are passed to a scheme known as Channel, which provides compulsory de-radicalization training and mentoring.
But UK counterterrorism experts have warned that Prevent statistics show that the program is failing to clamp down on extremism.
Islamist extremists accounted for about a quarter of Prevent cases, with the same proportion of far-right extremists also being referred. The other 50 percent were categorized as having “vague” ideologies that could not be defined.
Prevent has an “overemphasis” on not being anti-Muslim and focuses too heavily on far-right extremism, said Lord Carlile, a former terrorism legislation reviewer.
A senior civil service source told The Times that there were frustrations over the delay of the independent review into Prevent.
“Home Office officials are frustrated it’s taking so long. There’s a team waiting for it week after week after week.”
The program has also faced criticism over its referral of young children, including an 11-year-old who said he wished his school would burn down during a fire drill.