MI5 investigated rightwing terror suspect who was 13 years old
MI5’s chief has revealed that the agency had found itself investigating a terror suspect who was 13 years old, part of a “rising trend” of radicalised teenagers becoming engaged in rightwing terrorism across the UK.
Ken McCallum, the domestic spy agency’s director general, warned that extreme rightwing terror accounted for one in five of all counter-terror investigations, a threat that had “grown and morphed quite substantially over the last five to 10 years”.
A particular problem, he said, was the “high prevalence” of teenagers in rightwing terror investigations, which he suggested was because youngsters were being swept up in a “toxic ideology” of “online extremists and echo chambers”.
The youngest person who featured in MI5’s investigations was 13 years old, McCallum said, and had “stimulated quite a bit of risk in a number of places” – largely online – before investigators realised how young he was. McCallum did not name the youngster.
McCallum said he recognised that the presence of teenagers in terror investigations was a complex matter. “Clearly, in all such cases there is an important child protection angle that has to be factored in also,” he said.
But the spy chief stressed that the trend was marked: “It is already the case that in quite a range of our investigations we do sadly see teenagers, minors, under the age of 18, some under the age of 16, presenting sharp risk.”
Asked why teenagers might be drawn to this ideology, he suggested that in some cases, it may be a “piece of rebellion as teenagers find their way in the world”, and he described the threat as an almost “cult-like phenomenon”.
Some teenagers were inspired or rallied by other figures who had committed extreme rightwing atrocities around the world, in places such as Christchurch (New Zealand), McCallum added, although he declined to cite any of the figures by name.
MI5 took over the lead responsibility for countering extreme rightwing terrorism from the police from 2018. The spy chief said that, of 29 late-stage attack plots that have been disrupted over the last four years, 10 have been from the extreme right.
One serious case McCallum highlighted was the recent conviction of neo-Nazi Dean Morrice, a former Ukip member who posted violent racist, antisemitic and Islamophobic propaganda online and had collected the means for making an improvised bomb at home. He was jailed last month for 18 years.
But McCallum said it was unclear if the extreme rightwing threat was growing, or whether in fact MI5 was finding more extreme rightwing activity now that it was actively looking for it. It was, he said, “genuinely quite difficult to know right now” if it was “still spiralling in absolute terms” or more on a “plateau”.
Earlier this week an American neo-Nazi group called The Base, which is led from Russia, was banned by the Home Office. The group had been actively trying to recruit in the UK and is the fifth far-right group to have been banned under anti-terror laws.