The United Kingdom’s Home Office has updated its CONTEST counter-terrorism strategy, raising the alarm on artificial intelligence (AI) enabled terrorism and the continued threat by Islamic jihadist organizations, such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, who still seek to carry out attacks against the country.
In a statement, UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman stated that “Islamist terrorism remains the predominant threat,” however, “the key point today is that terrorist attacks are becoming increasingly unpredictable, making them harder to detect and investigate.”
“Today unlike in previous years, terrorist movements are increasingly fragmented and disparate, and there are emerging threats from the extreme right and from abroad. Despite the prevalence of lower sophistication attacks in the UK, the threat today is more diverse, dynamic, and complex.”
“By far the biggest terrorist threat comes from Islamism. It accounts for 67% of attacks since 2018 and about three-quarters of MI5’s caseload. Islamist terror groups, including Daesh and al-Qaida, continue to seek to plan and enable attacks in countries such as the UK.” she said.
Braverman also went on to say that far right-wing extremism is a growing threat. She stated that “The remainder of the UK domestic terrorist threat is largely driven by extreme right-wing terrorism, which amounts to approximately 22% of attacks since 2018, about a quarter of MI5 caseload, and 28% of those in custody for terrorism-connected offences.”
She also noted that “Northern Ireland-related terrorism remains a serious threat, particularly in Northern Ireland itself.”
The updated CONTEST report stated that “Left Wing, Anarchist and Single-Issue Terrorism (LASIT) currently represents significantly smaller terrorist threat to the UK than Islamist terrorism or ERWT and is not currently present in the UK at any significant scale (although there has been some activity that has met a terrorist threshold in recent years and MI5 investigations continue into such cases). The majority of related activity in the UK has consisted of lawful protest, and where these have involved violence, it has resulted in offences relating to public order.”
Braverman also explained that the Contest was updated to focus on emerging technologies, such as AI, that can enhance the creation and distribution of extremist materials, as well as aid in attack planning. The updated CONTEST report stated that “terrorists are likely to exploit the technology to create and amplify radicalising content, propaganda and instructional materials, and to plan and commit attacks.”
While no known attacks have been carried out with the help of AI technology, Jaswant Singh Chail, a 19 year old who breached the grounds of the Windsor Castle to assassinate the Queen with a crossbow on Christmas 2021, was allegedly encouraged to carry out the attack by a Replika AI chatbot.
Likewise end-to-end encryption has become a focus, as extremists use it to “to hide their networks, spread propaganda, and enable attacks.” This would include encrypted messenger apps such as WhatsApp, RocketChat, and Signal.
“CONTEST is now 20 years old. It has become world-leading, and our allies look to our example, but it has to be under constant review and regularly updated,” Braverman stated, further adding that the last time the CONTEST was updated was five years ago.