UK Politics

UK turns spotlight on far right after Norway killings

Prime Minister David Cameron has ordered Britain's police and security services to look at whether they are taking the threat from far right groups seriously enough following the Norway killings.

Such groups are not currently considered a priority, with anti-terror resources mostly focused on Al-Qaeda.

But is there any evidence that Anders Behring Breivik, who has admitted carrying out the attacks in Norway which left 76 people dead, had links to British extremists?

And has the threat from non-Islamic extremists been under-estimated in the battle to combat Al-Qaeda?

Breivik claims to have had contact in the past with members of the English Defence League (EDL), which stages street protests against what it calls the Islamification of British society.

'Anxious'

In a 1,500 page online "manifesto", dated "London 2011" Breivik claimed he was recruited by two English extremists at a meeting in London in April 2002 attended by a total of eight people.

The meeting was to set up an "order" of the Knights Templar (KT), or Pauperes commilitones Christi Templique Solomonic (PCCTS), dedicated to inspiring a "conservative revolution" in Europe.

The document was written in English and signed with an anglicised version of Breivik's name - Andrew Berwick.

In it, Breivik, who says he carried out the attacks alone, says: "I used to have more than 600 EDL members as Facebook friends and have spoken with tens of EDL members and leaders".

Breivik talks of the EDL as a "street demonstrating organisation" but dismisses it as "dangerously naive" and not on the same ideological wavelength as him.

The EDL, which is understood to have a tiny sister organisation in Norway, denies having any contact with Breivik.

The Home Office also says it has no evidence of any links - a view initially supported by anti-fascist campaign Searchlight, although the group now claims to have discovered "some links between Breivik and the British far right and will be revealing these shortly".

EDL leader Stephen Lennon, who uses the pseudonym Tommy Robinson, told BBC News: "I've never spoken to him, never heard of the dude."

Lennon described Breivik as a "sicko" and a "weirdo" but said: "I've been saying in my speeches, I think we're five years away from that happening here, or 10 years, of English lads doing that because of the desperation they're in."

'Isolated individuals'

David Cameron has rejected claims the UK has been "complacent" in its response to the perceived threat from far right groups - but he has ordered the police and the security services to "take stock" of whether they are being sufficiently vigilant.

The government's revised Contest anti-terrorism strategy, published earlier this month, concentrates almost exclusively on the threat posed by Al-Qaeda and other Islamist terror groups.

It suggests the far right is less organised and well-trained than Islamist groups and that their influence is on the wane across Europe.

Under a section entitled "Planning Assumptions 2011 - 2015", the document says: "There will continue to be isolated individuals who engage in terrorist activity in the name of extreme right or left-wing views or other ideologies.

"They will not pose as high a risk to our national security as terrorism associated with Al Qa'ida."

There are currently 14 people serving prison sentences in the UK for terrorism offences who "are known to be associated with extreme right-wing groups," the Contest strategy says.

Lone fanatic

A number of former British National Party members are among those behind bars, including Robert Cottage, jailed in 2007 for possessing what the police described as "the largest amount of chemical explosive of its type ever found in this country" and Terence Gavan, convicted last year of manufacturing a vast array of explosives, firearms and nail bombs.

But the BNP, like the EDL, is not considered by the Home Office a terrorist organisation and has never officially encouraged or condoned terrorist acts.

Scotland Yard building sign
The Metropolitan Police said it was liaising with the Norwegian authorities

It is also a registered political party, with two members of the European Parliament.

Its influence is, in any case, on the wane, according to anti-fascist campaigners, with many of its activists turning their back on the electoral process in favour of street protests organised by the EDL.

The police unit dedicated to monitoring political extremism in England and Wales - the National Co-Ordinator for Domestic Extremism - was recently brought under the control of the Metropolitan Police's Counter-Terrorism command.

The unit, which has 75 officers, is also responsible for gathering intelligence on environmental and animal rights extremists, and has more than 1,800 photographs of potential suspects.

Anti-fascists campaigners have criticised the police for failing to take far right extremism seriously enough and not being sufficiently coordinated in their intelligence gathering.

But there are also civil liberties implications in extending surveillance of individuals - and the UK's coalition government, which is dedicated to scrapping snooping laws, will be mindful of avoiding a knee-jerk reaction to events in Norway.

It is difficult to pre-empt the actions of a lone fanatic - and there is some evidence that Breivik had even been shunned by fellow right wing extremists.

He claims to have been banned from posting on a US-based white supremacist website Stormfront, popular with far-right activists in the UK, for not being anti-semitic.

Some members of the neo-Nazi site have expressed anger that he appears to have targeted white people rather than Muslims or Jews.

Others dismiss him as a "nut" who has set back the white nationalist cause by 20 years.

But it is clear that any new attempt to combat the far-right must be mindful of the difference that exists between traditional anti-Jewish neo-Nazis and the new breed of anti-Muslim extremists such as Breivik.

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