It takes more than ideas to make an extremist

There’s still much we don’t know about Saturday’s stabbings in Reading which left three dead and others injured. The suspect, Khairi Saadallah, was arrested on suspicion of murder and then re-arrested under the Terrorism Act.

Over the past three years, the security service has uncovered and broken up 25 terrorist plots. But after the Reading atrocity, officials were quick to point out that the scale of Britain’s terrorism threat means that such apparent “lone wolf” attacks are very hard to prevent.

But there’s another reason why the authorities are finding the task of identifying such extremists even harder. For in addition to jihadi ideology and the growth of far-right extremism, counterterrorism authorities have identified a new group: individuals who are radicalised to the point of committing terrorist violence but whose ideological aims are incoherent or mixed.

Those drawn to extremism or terrorist acts are also often users of cannabis and other drugs. The association between cannabis, mental illness and violence has long been established and yet has been largely ignored by the authorities.

Radicalisation is complex, with various causes acting on each other. Yet, too often, the dots aren’t connected. With psychiatric services under pressure, too many patients who may present some kind of danger to themselves or others fail to be hospitalised.

Those who end up in prison, moreover, may be released with poor or non-existent monitoring of their mental state and whether they are continuing to take their medication, even if they are suffering from paranoia or psychosis. If such neglect is combined with radicalisation, the results may be catastrophic.

The core unpalatable fact is that there are now just too many individuals in Britain who are somewhere on the spectrum of marginalisation, radicalisation and psychological disorder for the security service to detect them all, even though they may be triggered into violence by so many things. High time for some joined-up thinking.

To read my whole Times column (£), please click here.

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