Kids as young as 13 showing interest in terrorism during pandemic, expert warns

Children as young as 13 have been expressing an interest in terrorism during the coronavirus pandemic, a top counter-terrorism officer says.

Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner Neil Basu spoke to MPs on Wednesday about a worrying rise in extremism over lockdown.

He told the Home Affairs select committee that his "greatest single fear" was vulnerable people being nudged towards terrorism.

"What I am seeing – particularly in the rightwing terrorism space, and this is anecdotal, so it's not academic – is an increase in lots of young people being attracted to this," he said.

"So we are seeing people as young as 13 starting to talk about committing terrorist acts."

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Basu said these kinds of adolescents may not have a fixed ideology, but are "just interested in violence".

"When you've been locked down, with social media having such an influence on every single one of us in our daily lives, and you're able to sit there and just take all that in on a permanent basis with no other form of distraction or protective factor around you, and I'm thinking schooling, employment, other friends, family members who are not influenced or potentially extremist themselves, that is a concern," he explained.

"That is definitely an effect of Covid-19 we are worried about."

He added that Britain leaving the European Union without a deal will make things less safe from a terrorism perspective.

"My biggest concern at the moment is where extremism affects malleable, vulnerable people of all kinds, age groups, societal backgrounds, there is no one route to a terrorist path," he said.

"The amplification of extremism and its ability to incite a vulnerable section of the population towards terrorism is probably my greatest single fear."

Basu says the pandemic and the resulting social isolation is likely to have increased levels of extremism in the UK.

"The outcome of all of that we have yet to see," he said.

"I don't know how that is going to influence the next generation."

Counter-terrorism operations are currently involved in about 800 live investigations, 10% of which are related to right-wing terrorism.

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