Page last updated at 13:26 GMT, Tuesday, 22 September 2009 14:26 UK

Is far-right extremism a threat?

Britain's security services have focused on Islamic extremism since the late 1990s but as BBC File on 4's Allan Urry discovered there are now concerns some resources should be devoted to the growing threat of far-right terror plots.

Martyn Gilleard
Martyn Gilleard was only arrested by chance

When two attackers firebombed the Islamic Centre, a mosque in the heart of Luton's Bury Park area in May, they created a siege mentality for local Muslims, according to mosque official Farasat Latif.

"We are on edge as a community; everyone is expecting another attack," he told File on 4.

Tensions have been high in Luton since Al Muhajiroun, a group banned at the firebombed mosque, organised a demonstration in March against the war in Afghanistan as the Royal Anglian Regiment marched through the town after a tour of duty.

This in turn sparked a counter-demonstration by a group called the United Peoples of Luton.

Racial tensions

This group became the English Defence League (EDL), whose protests against Islamic extremists around England have led to claims that it attracts far-right extremists hoping to foment racial tensions and encourage further protests, which the group denies.

The Islamic Centre received hate mail after the March protest, but there are fears the firebombing was more sinister - a premeditated attack rather than a hot-headed reaction to the controversial demonstration.

These kind of groups and these kind of forums create an atmosphere in which it is seen to be more and more acceptable to express these hateful views
Edmund Standing, author of The BNP and The Online Fascist Network

"Police told us that the getaway car was stolen nine months before the incident and had been kept off the road for a good eight to nine months," said Mr Latif.

"Maybe the next attack could be an incendiary device left in the mosque, because people come with bags and we have many nationalities, so an English person wouldn't stand out."

He said mosque officials have been considering whether people should be searched before they enter, which could be a wise precaution in the current climate.

Earlier this month Neil Lewington, 44, a white supremacist from Reading, was jailed for being found in possession of explosives as he was about to board a train.

Lewington, a fascist loner who hated Asians, regularly visited two white supremacist websites - Combat 18, a British neo-Nazi group, and a website for the Ku Klux Klan.

According to Dr Matthew Feldman, an expert in far-right extremism who gave evidence at Lewington's trial, the authorities were fortunate to arrest him before he took any drastic action.

"I have every reason to believe this person has posed a very serious threat to public order in this country," he told File on 4.

FIND OUT MORE
Listen to File on 4, BBC Radio 4 2000 BST, Tuesday 22 September 2009, repeated 1700, Sunday 27 September 2009.
Listen on iPlayer
Download the podcast

Lewington, however was only arrested by chance, after being found drunk at a railway station.

Another lone far-right extremist, Martyn Gilleard, who was found to have four home-made nail bombs when police raided his flat, was also arrested by chance as part of an investigation into child pornography.

Like others described as "lone wolves", he visited extremist websites and web forums that provided information about how to make bombs.

Edmund Standing, author of The BNP and The Online Fascist Network, said: "The fact that a lot of people [who use these websites] may be fantasists and do not pose a direct threat, doesn't mean these forums and websites don't, because for every 20 of them there could be one person who is actually twisted enough do something like this.

"These kind of groups and these kind of forums create an atmosphere in which it is seen to be more and more acceptable to express these hateful views."

'Lone radicals'

He said the websites advocated "lone wolf tactics" where anonymous individuals turned up at meetings and carried out subversive and violent actions.

"We face a far more difficult task dealing with these individuals, lone extremists who go to these groups or hang around the edges of these groups and become radicalised," added Mr Standing.

In fact, the threat posed by lone extremists was recently flagged up by a member of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), while a senior member of the Metropolitan Police has voiced concerns about the possibility of a major terror attack by right wing extremists.

In April 2007 the government began its Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) action plan to work with Muslim communities to "isolate, prevent and defeat violent extremism".

Bomb-making materials
Bomb-making tips are available on some far right websites

There are suggestions the government is planning to widen the scope of PVE to cover far right extremists as well, but no minister would be interviewed by File on 4.

But a statement from the Department of Communities and Local Government said: "Government is working to address all forms of extremism, including violent far right groups. Over the coming months, we will be implementing a more comprehensive strategy to strengthen resilience to such extremism."

Dr Feldman thinks the move would be a timely intervention: "I can't recommend enough the work that the police are doing in terms of a preventive agenda and I'm sure it's going to move into considering these very overtly racist and far-right websites that are clearly inciting violence and racial hatred."

He said most security service resources had been devoted to Islamic extremism since the late 1990s and the attacks of 7 July 2005.

But he added: "I think the appreciation now is that doesn't mean the far right has gone away... some of the treatment and attention to these issues has in fact galvanised a white British nationalist in terms of acting where before they would have stayed at home grumbling."



Print Sponsor


Hyper File on 4


ABOUT THE PROGRAMME


INTERACT


Podcast

Download or subscribe to this programme's podcast

Podcast Help

SEARCH FILE ON 4:
 


SEE ALSO
Safety fears prompt marching ban
21 Aug 09 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific