Combatting the “frenzy of hatred” from far-right extremists is now “the fastest growing” part of the job for some of the UK’s counter-terrorism police teams.
Sky News has gained exclusive access into the West Midlands Counter Terrorism unit to speak to frontline officers and capture the moment a man was arrested on suspicion of membership of the banned neo-Nazi group National Action.
Head of the West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit, DCS Matt Ward, explained: “Daesh, Al Qaeda inspired plots will still make up the majority of our work probably around 80% of what we do counties to relate to the Islamist threats to the West Midlands.
“The extreme right-wing probably makes up around a fifth of what we do at the moment so quite a significant proportion and continuing to grow.
“Certainly over the past two years it is the one area where we have seen more activity taking place.”
Nationally in 2018 more white people were arrested on suspicion of terrorism offences than those from Asian backgrounds.
Birmingham airport is one location where CT officers are based 24/7 monitoring the 13 million passengers who use the airport every year.
Frontline teams are often tasked with stopping suspected terrorists leaving the country or intercepting extremists arriving in the UK.
Under legislation known as “Schedule 7” they can intercept, question, search and detain people to determine if they have been involved in terrorism in anyway.
One officer in his 30s, who cannot be named due to the sensitivities of his role, told Sky News that they didn’t rely on ethnic profiling because it wasn’t a smart enough way of working.
He said: “That is an assumption that we sometimes hear but equally we are dealing with people from different backgrounds, different religions, different ethnicities it is a wide range of people here at the airport.
“Ultimately we look at what the threat picture is here to the UK and we use that to help us assist who we need to speak.”
He added: “We are looking for anything out of the normal, so we are looking for people looking down, displaying certain behaviours making sure they look comfortable… if they are not we want to talk to those individuals just to check everything is okay.”
“It is not just about terrorism or criminality – it is sometimes about safeguarding too, asking does that individual want to fly? If not why not?”
The rise in far right activity means the CT team at the airport now sometimes monitor flights to and from central and eastern Europe just as closely as planes flying in and out of the Middle East.
DCS Ward explained: “Some of the groups we are seeing are across central and eastern Europe at the moment are inspiring individuals within our own community – people get frustrated when they see other different political groups having protests or making statements and they sort of funnel each other into this kind of frenzy of hatred that we are seeing.”
“Our job is to stop that wherever and whenever we can.”
Part of their response relies on gathering information from communities across Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton, something DCS Ward says is impeded by cuts to neighbourhood policing budgets.
He added: “Counter terrorism policing only works when we have got a strong local policing base to connect and engage with.
“I think anything that puts pressure on neighbourhood policing is going to impede our ability to keep communities safe from terrorism.”