By Sara Elizabeth Williams and David Brown
A terrorism suspect is arrested in Britain nearly every day, it was revealed yesterday, as the Prince of Wales spoke of his fears about young people being radicalised by Islamic State.
Scotland Yard’s chief counter-terrorism officer, Mark Rowley, described the group as a cult which was unlike any other threat Britain had faced.
“We’re dealing with a group . . . trying to create a corrupt cult of people, followers who will act in their name. They’re trying to attract misfits, criminals and the vulnerable,” Mr Rowley said.
The assistant police commissioner said that he shared Prince Charles’s fears “that people can be so radicalised either by contact with somebody else or through the internet”.
“That’s the dynamic that worries us most of all . . . the ability of Islamic State to reach into communities,” Mr Rowley said.
He told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show that emergency plans to cope with a terror attack had been changed since the Paris shootings, which have been linked to Islamic State, because it was “not everything we anticipated”.
The threat posed by Islamic State, including those returning after fighting in Iraq and Syria, had led to a sharp rise in police activity, and officers were “disrupting people day in, day out”.
About 600 people are believed to have travelled to Syria and Iraq from Britain since the conflict began and about half have returned home. More than 320 people were arrested for terrorism offences last year, including an increase in Syria-related suspects from 25 to 165.
Mr Rowley said: ‘It’s very different. We’re making 35 per cent more arrests now than we used to in counter-terrorism. It’s nearly one arrest a day.”
The police have strengthened their digital resources, leading to 1,000 “unsavoury” posts a week being taken down. However, Mr Rowley said more money was needed to grow the anti-terror unit over the next year and discussions with the government for funding were continuing.
Britain’s most senior counter-terrorism officer also confirmed that police had reassessed plans since the Paris shootings.
“In terms of our national firearms capability, we’ve asked is it strong enough? How is it placed? How is it organised? You look at an event like Paris and you think . . . we’re going to have to make some refinements to our plans.”
Prince Charles began his tour of the Middle East yesterday with a visit to British-funded projects at Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp ten miles from the Syrian border.
In a speech to religious leaders after meeting Iraqi Christians forced to flee the extremists, he condemned the “perverted and brutal misinterpretation of Islam” pushed by Islamic State.
“I do not need to tell you, of course, the horrors that have been inflicted in the name of religion,” he said. “All those who have any feeling have watched in agony as people of all faiths have been persecuted, and driven from their homes, tortured and killed in the most barbaric way imaginable.”
Earlier, he had spoken out about the “alarming” extent of the radicalisation of British Muslims.
He told The Sunday Hour on BBC Radio 2: “In a country like ours, where you know the values we hold dear, you think that the people who have come here, [are] born here, go to school here, would imbibe those values and outlooks.
“The frightening part is that people can be so radicalised. . . I can see I suppose to a certain extent, some aspect of this radicalisation is a search for adventure and excitement at a particular age.”
Meanwhile, thousands of Muslims marched on Downing Street yesterday to demonstrate against cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
The Muslim Action Forum said more than 100,000 people had signed its petition, which condemned the publication of the cartoons as “an affront to the norms of civilised society”.
Protesters, who were segregated by sex, carried placards with slogans including “Learn some manners”, “To insult is not freedom” and “Verbal Abuse = Freedom of Speech”. The group described the publishers of Charlie Hebdo as “uncivilised expressionists”.
A leaflet issued at the march said that the publication of the cartoons “will continue to ‘sow the seeds of hatred’ and damage community relations”. The group also expressed “deep regret” at the Paris terror attacks saying they were a “violation of Islamic law”.