Terrorism in the United Kingdom

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Terrorist incidents map of the United Kingdom 1970–2015, with a total of 4,972 incidents plotted. Northern Ireland and London are major hotspots for incidents. In 2017, there was a major attack in Manchester, following a concert by Ariana Grande.

Terrorism in the United Kingdom, according to the Home Office, poses a significant threat to the state.[1] There have been various causes of terrorism in the UK. Before the 2000s, most attacks were linked to the Northern Ireland conflict (the Troubles). In the late 20th century there were also attacks by Islamic terrorist groups.

Since 1970, there have been at least 3,395 terrorist-related deaths in the UK, the highest in western Europe.[2] The vast majority of the deaths were linked to the Northern Ireland conflict and happened in Northern Ireland.[2] In mainland Great Britain, there were 430 terrorist-related deaths between 1971 and 2001. Of these, 125 deaths were linked to the Northern Ireland conflict,[3] and 305 deaths were linked to other causes[4] – most of the latter deaths occurred in the Lockerbie bombing.[4] Since 2001, there have been almost 100 terrorist-related deaths in Great Britain.

The UKs CONTEST strategy aims to prevent terrorism and other forms of extremism.[5] It places a responsibility on education and health bodies to report individuals who are deemed to be at risk of radicalisation.[5]: 35 

1,834 people were arrested in the UK from September 2001 to December 2009 in connection with terrorism, of which 422 were charged with terrorism-related offences and 237 were convicted.[6]


Terrorism deaths in Western Europe 1970-2017, based on the Global Terrorism Database. The UK is presented in red.
Terrorist incidents in United Kingdom[7][8]
Year Number of
Deaths Injuries
2021 2 2 0
2020 3
3 10
2019 1 2 3
2018 2 0 6
2017 122 42 301
2016 104 9 20
2015 115 1 23
2014 103 0 4
2013 137 4 64
2012 51 1 2
2011 47 1 3
2010 57 0 22
2009 22 3 12
2008 39 0 8
2007 20 4 13
2006 6 0 0
2005 25 57 836
2004 5 0 2
2003 23 2 11
2002 21 2 13
2001 94 8 33
2000 61 7 28
1999 76 7 161
1998 63 46 259
1997 78 23 35
1996 36 14 395
1995 22 11 5
1994 256 66 177
1993 7 31 204
1992 274 94 453
1991 262 88 235
1990 147 76 123
1989 163 66 174
1988 181 372 263
1987 118 104 120
1986 95 63 80
1985 67 64 175
1984 145 69 249
1983 177 77 186
1982 95 95 152
1981 143 86 118
1980 135 115 115
1979 238 133 146
1978 100 81 113
1977 140 103 17
1976 194 264 19
1975 194 245 129
1974 202 235 329
1973 189 210 275
1972 283 368 37
1971 81 110 1
1970 12 20 1
Total 5,218 3,447 5,937

There have been many historically significant terrorist incidents within the United Kingdom, from the Gunpowder Plot of 1605[9][10] to the various attacks related to The Troubles of Northern Ireland. In recent history, the UK security services have focused on the threat posed by radical Islamic militant organisations within the UK, such as the cell responsible for the 7 July 2005 London bombings.

The British state has been accused of involvement in state terrorism in Northern Ireland.[11][12][13][14]

A "restricted" 12 June 2008 MI5 analysis of "several hundred individuals known to be involved in, or closely associated with, violent extremist activity" concludes that British Islamist terrorists "are a diverse collection of individuals, fitting no single demographic profile, nor do they all follow a typical pathway to violent extremism".[15] Around half were born in the United Kingdom, the majority are British nationals and the remainder, with a few exceptions, are in the country legally. Most UK terrorists are male, but women are sometimes aware of their husbands', brothers' or sons' activities. While the majority are in their early to mid-20s when they become radicalised, a small but not insignificant minority first become involved in violent extremism over the age of 30. Those over 30 are just as likely to have a wife and children as to be loners with no ties. MI5 says this challenges the idea that terrorists are young Muslim men driven by sexual frustration and lured to "martyrdom" by the promise of beautiful virgins waiting for them in paradise.[15] Those involved in Islamist terrorism have educational achievement ranging from total lack of qualifications to degree-level education. However, they are almost all employed in low-grade jobs.[15] Far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly. Many lack religious literacy and could actually be regarded as religious novices. Very few have been brought up in strongly religious households, and there is a higher than average proportion of converts. Some are involved in drug-taking, drinking alcohol and visiting prostitutes. The report claims a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation, while the influence of clerics in radicalising Islamist terrorists has reduced in recent years.[15]

On 29 August 2014, the British government launched a raft of counter-terrorism measures as the terrorist threat level was raised to "severe". Prime Minister David Cameron and Home Secretary Theresa May warned a terrorist attack was "highly likely", following the coming to prominence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).[16]

On 22 May 2017, at least 22 were killed after a bombing occurred following a concert by Ariana Grande in the most deadly terrorist attack on British soil since 2005.[17] After a COBRA meeting, UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced that the UK's terror threat level was being raised to 'critical', its highest level.[18] By raising the threat level to "critical", Operation Temperer was started, allowing 5,000 soldiers to replace armed police in protecting parts of the country.[19][20] BBC's Frank Gardner said that the first deployment of troops is expected to be in the hundreds.[21]

There have been calls for the publication of a report into the finance of terrorism which the government said they left unpublished for security reasons. Tim Farron said, “Theresa May should be ashamed of the way she has dragged her heels on this issue, first as home secretary and now as prime minister. No amount of trade with dodgy regimes such as Saudi Arabia is worth putting the safety of the British public at risk, and if May is serious about our security, she would publish the report in full, immediately.”[22]

From June 2016 to June 2017, 379 people in the UK had been arrested for terrorism-linked offences with 123 of them being charged, 105 of them for terrorism offences. This was a 68% increase from the previous year which was partly due to various Islamist terror attacks on UK soil such as the Manchester bombing, the London Bridge attack, and the Westminster attack. The report also said that 19 terrorist plots had been foiled by British police since June 2013.[23]

Jihadist material including bomb making instructions and execution videos gets more clicks in the UK than in any other European nation and is spread among a wide range of different domains. Internet companies are not preventing this and new measures are being considered including fines for internet companies that do not remove jihadist material. David Petraeus said the Parsons Green bomb could have been made from online instructions. Petraeus noted the technical and other skill of the terrorist websites and added, “It is clear that our counter-extremism efforts and other initiatives to combat extremism online have, until now, been inadequate. There is no doubting the urgency of this matter. The status quo clearly is unacceptable.”[24]

Police chief, Sara Thornton fears cuts to the police budget will weaken counter terrorism. Thornton maintains resources needed to deal with terrorist incidents are brought from mainstream policing adding to the strain on general policing. Thornton maintains neighbourhood policing is important because it gives people confidence in the police. Then confident people give the police information needed to prevent terrorist attacks. Thornton said, “Fewer officers and police community support officers will cut off the intelligence that is so crucial to preventing attacks. Withdrawal from communities risks undermining their trust in us at a time when we need people to have the confidence to share information with us.” Thornton also said, “Experts tell us that the spate of attacks in the UK and Europe are a shift not a spike in the threat, which will take 20 or 30 years to eliminate. This new normality necessitates an open-minded dialogue with government about how we respond; and our resources have got to be part of the conversation.”[25][26]


The National Counter Terrorism Policing Network is the national collaboration of police forces across the United Kingdom responsible for counter terrorism operations and strategy.

The British government has designated 58 organisations as terrorist and banned them. 44 of these organisations were banned under the Terrorism Act of 2000. Two of these were also banned under the Terrorism Act of 2006 for "glorifying terrorism." Other than the far-right neo-Nazi National Action, the other fourteen organisations operate (for the most part) in Northern Ireland, and were banned under previous legislation.[1]

International organisations the government has designated as terrorist and banned, of whom the vast majority are of radical Islamic ideology, are:[1]

As of 2019, the police have stated that the fastest growing terrorist threat in the UK is from the far right.[27]


According to political scientist Gilles Kepel, the jihadi violence is rooted in Islamic fundamentalism in the form of Salafism, an ideology that clashes with the values of Western democracies and which entered the United Kingdom when the country gave shelter to radical Islamist leaders from around the world in London.[28] According to Kepel, an individual progresses into violence by first becoming a salafist. Further, he states that salafist ideology has led to attacking targets which symbolizes Western culture, such as the concerts at Manchester and in the Bataclan theater or deliberately timing attacks to interfere with democratic elections.[28] Scholar Olivier Roy disagrees, saying that the majority of Islamic terrorists are radicals first and are drawn to fundamentalist Islam as a result.[29] He has argued that there's no evidence that they go from Salafism to terrorism, noting that Islamic terrorist Abdelhamid Abaaoud was known to violate religious rules about halal food.[30] Roy has also argued that the burkini bans and secularist policies of France provoked religious violence in France, to which Kepel responded that Britain has no such policies and still suffered several jihadist attacks in 2017.[28]

In July 2017, it was reported that British authorities had stripped some 150 suspected criminals with dual citizenship of their British passport, to prevent them from returning to the UK. Those deprived of their UK citizenship included both "jihadis" and "jihadi brides".[31]

In October 2020, Islamist terrorism remained the greatest threat to the UK by volume according to Ken McCallum, the Director General of MI5.[32]

Irish Republican[edit]

Irish organisations the British government has banned are:[1]

British Loyalist[edit]




See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "List of proscribed terrorist groups" (PDF). Gov.uk. Retrieved 2018-03-22.
  2. ^ a b "How many people are killed by terrorist attacks in the UK?". The Telegraph. 5 June 2017.
  3. ^ "Sutton Index of Deaths: Geographical Location of the death". Conflict Archive on the Internet. Retrieved 5 June 2017.
  4. ^ a b Douglas, Roger. Law, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Terrorism. University of Michigan Press, 2014. p.18
  5. ^ a b CONTEST The United Kingdom’s Strategy for Countering Terrorism (PDF). HM Government. 2018. ISBN 978-1-5286-0209-9.
  6. ^ Alan Travis. "No terror arrests in 100,000 police counter-terror searches, figures show". The Guardian. Retrieved 2016-01-28.
  7. ^ National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. (2016). Global Terrorism Database (globalterrorismdb_0616dist.xlsx). Retrieved from https://www.start.umd.edu/gtd University of Maryland
  8. ^ National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. (2016). Global Terrorism Database (gtd1993_0616dist.xlsx). Retrieved from https://www.start.umd.edu/gtd University of Maryland
  9. ^ Larabee, Ann (1 May 2021). "Unspeakable: Literature and Terrorism from the Gunpowder Plot to 9/11 . Peter C. Herman. New York: Routledge, 2020. Pp. viii+211". Modern Philology. 118 (4): E230–E232. doi:10.1086/712496.
  10. ^ Hamourtziadou; Jackson (2018). "5/11: Revisiting the Gunpowder Plot". Journal of Global Faultlines. 5 (1–2): 91. doi:10.13169/jglobfaul.5.1-2.0091.
  11. ^ "CAIN: Issues: Collusion - Chronology of Events in the Stevens Inquiries". Cain.ulst.ac.uk. Retrieved 2016-01-28.
  12. ^ Dr Martin Melaugh. "CAIN: Issues: Violence: Stevens Enquiry (3) Overview and Recommendations, 17 April 2003". Cain.ulst.ac.uk. Retrieved 2016-01-28.
  13. ^ "Report of the Independent International Panel on Alleged Collusion in Sectarian Killings in Northern Ireland" (PDF). Patfinucanecentre.org. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-06-10. Retrieved 2016-01-28.
  14. ^ "Village - Politics, Media and Current Affairs in Ireland - 'I'm lucky to be above the ground'". 2006-11-16. Archived from the original on 2007-11-20. Retrieved 2016-01-28.
  15. ^ a b c d Travis, Alan (2008-08-21). "MI5 report challenges views on terrorism in Britain Exclusive: Sophisticated analysis says there is no single pathway to violent extremism". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2008-08-23.
  16. ^ Coates, Sam; Hamilton, Fiona (30 August 2014). "Security crackdown amid severe terror threat". The Times. Retrieved 23 May 2017.
  17. ^ Dodd, Vikram; Pidd, Helen; Rawlinson, Kevin; Siddique, Haroon; MacAskill, Ewen (23 May 2017). "At least 22 killed, 59 injured in suicide attack at Manchester Arena". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 May 2017.
  18. ^ "Latest updates as UK terror threat level raise". BBC News. Retrieved 23 May 2017.
  19. ^ "PM Theresa May raises UK threat level to 'critical'". ITV News. 23 May 2017. Retrieved 23 May 2017. Raising the level to critical means that military personnel could be deployed to support armed police officers - part of a plan known as Operation Temperer.
  20. ^ Alan Travis [@alantravis40] (23 May 2017). "PM says Critical Threat level's Operation Temperer will use up to 5,000 troops to take over armed police patrol duties under police command" (Tweet). Retweeted by The Guardian – via Twitter.
  21. ^ Gardner, Frank (23 May 2017). "Threat level raised: Latest updates". BBC News. Retrieved 23 May 2017.
  22. ^ 9/11 survivors urge May to publish UK terror funding report The Guardian
  23. ^ Travis, Alan (14 September 2017). "UK terror arrests rise 68% to record level during year of attacks". the Guardian. Retrieved 19 July 2018.
  24. ^ Britain has large audience for online jihadist propaganda, report says The Guardian
  25. ^ UK's terror fight 'puts unsustainable strain on police' BBC
  26. ^ Don't cut police anti-terror budget as threat grows, warns top officer The Guardian
  27. ^ Fastest Growing Terrorist Threat is from the Far Right say Police The Guardian
  28. ^ a b c Lerner, Davide (2017-06-14). "London Gave Shelter to Radical Islam and Now It's Paying the Price, French Terrorism Expert Says". Haaretz. Retrieved 2018-06-09.
  29. ^ Lerner, Davide (2017-08-20). "It's Not Islam That Drives Young Europeans to Jihad, France's Top Terrorism Expert Explains". Haaretz. Retrieved 2018-06-10.
  30. ^ "'That Ignoramus': 2 French Scholars of Radical Islam Turn Bitter Rivals". Retrieved 2018-07-19. “There is no proof that shows the young men go from Salafism to terrorism,” Mr. Roy said, pointing out that the planner of the Paris attacks in November, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, ate McDonald’s, which is not halal. “None of the terrorists were Salafists.”
  31. ^ Association, Press (2017-07-30). "UK 'has stripped 150 jihadists and criminals of citizenship'". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-02-23.
  32. ^ "Director General Ken McCallum makes first public address | MI5 - The Security Service". www.mi5.gov.uk. Retrieved 2020-10-18.

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