COVID-19 Lockdown May Have Fueled Online Self-Radicalization: UK Minister

By Alexander Zhang
Alexander Zhang
Alexander Zhang
November 16, 2021 Updated: November 16, 2021

The COVID-19 lockdowns may have resulted in more people being self-radicalised on the Internet, a British minister has warned following a terrorist bomb attack in Liverpool on Remembrance Sunday.

A taxi exploded outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital at 10:59 a.m. on Sunday, killing the passenger and injuring the driver, around a mile away from the city’s cathedral where a large Remembrance service was taking place.

Police declared it a terrorist attack and later named the suspect as 32-year-old Emad Al Swealmeen, who was killed in the blast.

Talking to Sky News on Tuesday, Security Minister Damian Hinds said there has been an increase of “self-directed” terror plots carried to self-radicalised individuals.

“It certainly is true that we’ve seen a move over time, a shift from these what we call directed attacks, part of a bigger organisation where people are following instructions, sometimes quite complex in their organisation, and move from that to more self-directed, some self-radicalised individuals or small groups,” he said.

Hinds said the COVID-19 lockdowns may have exacerbated this shift. “During the lockdown periods there have been more people spending more time in front of computer screens and we know that when that happens for a very small minority there can be radicalisation with very bad consequences.”

The minister said while self-radicalisation is not a new phenomenon, the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic had “changed [the] modus operandi” as the lockdown measures “have exacerbated and increased” the amount of time people spend online.

Hinds said that security services strive as much as possible to monitor people who may be at risk of radicalisation, but “the reality is that you can’t always be pinpoint accurate.”

Four men arrested under terrorism laws following the blast have now been released from police custody following interviews.

The UK’s Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre raised the terror threat level from substantial to severe following the incident, meaning an attack is “highly likely” rather than “likely.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel told broadcasters on Monday that the threat level was raised because two terrorist incidents had taken place in a month.

On Oct. 15, Conservative MP Sir David Amess was stabbed to death at a constituency surgery by 25-year-old Ali Harbi Ali, a British citizen of Somali heritage.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist, one of Counter Terrorism Policing’s senior national coordinators, said the change was a “precautionary measure and not based on any specific threat,” adding that the public “should not be alarmed by this change.”

PA contributed to this report.