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Second lockdown leaving youth vulnerable to extremism

Supt Matthew Davison has warned that the second national lockdown in England is making more young people vulnerable to being groomed by extremists.

The Counter Terrorism Policing official said that extremists were using the pandemic to spread hate and disinformation online, with young people being targeted ‘in their bedrooms’. This is all happening at the same time as police report referrals to the Prevent programme dropping.

Prevent is part of a national counter-terrorism strategy urging local communities to flag up anyone at risk of joining extremist groups.

Davison, who is the regional Prevent coordinator in north-east England, said online recruitment activity by extremist groups increased during the first lockdown, but referrals to the government-led Prevent programme fell.

He said that, during lockdown, the online space ‘has been a real lifesaver for people’, so people are spending more time online. However, unsurprisingly, terrorist groups and extremist groups have obviously picked up on this. He said that they were now ‘monitoring the migration of young people, particularly on different platforms, and targeted them with all sorts of propaganda with a view to recruiting them’.

Recent research by the Commission for Countering Extremism (CCE), a government agency founded after the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing, found extremists used the pandemic to engage in disinformation to incite hatred.

Sarah Khan, CCE lead commissioner, said: "Far right groups have sought to incite hatred against Jewish and Muslim communities. Islamist groups have been using the pandemic to promote anti-Western Islamist narratives. We are calling on the government to publish a new counter-extremism strategy to ensure a more effective response to the persistent activity of hateful extremists."

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