Terrorist Radicalization ‘Biggest Scourge’ in U.K., Police Official Says

(Bloomberg) -- The head of the U.K. police’s counter-terrorism strategy called for stricter laws to tackle charismatic speakers preaching extreme ideologies, blaming them for grooming terrorists.

“To say radicalization is the biggest scourge of our time is an understatement,” Neil Basu told lawmakers Tuesday during an evidence session on the Counter Terrorism and Border Security Bill, which is currently passing Parliament.

Basu spoke of the “immense” difficulty in prosecuting Anjem Choudary, a radical Islamist preacher who avoided jail for more than 10 years. Choudary, who called for Sharia law to be implemented across the U.K. and described the 9/11 terrorists as “magnificent martyrs,” eventually served time for inviting support of Islamic State and is expected to be released this year.

Choudary is a leading figure in the banned group al-Muhajiroun (ALM), which has a “footprint in terrorist atrocities” numbering hundreds across the world, Basu said. The threat from terrorism is the greatest it’s ever been -- “a shift, not a spike,” he said. Police work has risen by 30 percent due to counter-terrorism needs, Basu added.

Both Basu and Gregor McGill, director of legal services at the Crown Prosecution Service, called for greater clarity to prosecute the streaming of extremist content live over the Internet, rather than just the current offense of downloading or visiting sites.

Basu said police are trying to tackle “fast-food rhetoric” on the internet, where “one or two lines of the Koran” are taken out of context, or extremist right-wing ideology is presented without history or context. Authorities are seeking to teach young people the resilience they need to resist such material, he said.

Asked if Nazi leader Adolf Hitler would have avoided prosecution for his Nuremberg speeches under the current U.K. legal framework, McGill replied: “yes.”

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