Extremists who are unable to reach the Middle East to fight for Islamic State may carry out attacks in the UK instead, the Director of Public Prosecutions has warned.
Alison Saunders said that the type of the prosecutions are changing as it emerged there have been more than 100 convictions in the UK for Iraq and Syria-related terrorism.
Of the 109 people convicted of terrorism offences related to Iraq or Syria 85 per cent had never set foot in either of the countries, it emerged.
Ms Saunders said the authorities needed to be “very aware” of the risk posed by people who were unable to reach Syria but instead focused on actions in Britain, either plotting attacks or radicalising others.
She told the BBC, who compiled the figures: “We need to be acutely aware that if people can’t go to Syria – and we have certainly seen this in some of the cases we have prosecuted – they may plan an attack here instead or they may try to radicalise other people to attack.”
Her warnings comes after Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) called for those who could not join them in the battlefield to launch attacks in Britain.
“Muslim brothers in Europe who can’t reach the Islamic State lands, attack them in their homes, their markets, their roads and their forums,” the jihadist group said in a message entitled Where are the lions of war? and published on YouTube at the beginning of Ramadan last month.
The analysis of convictions in the UK shows the youngest offender was a then 14-year-old from Blackburn, Lancashire, who was convicted in 2015 after taking on the role of “organiser and adviser” to an alleged Australian jihadist in a plan to murder police officers in Melbourne on Anzac Day.
Those convicted come from a wide cross-section of society and include former prisoners, a hospital director and the son of a police officer.
Married couples, siblings and a mother of six have also been prosecuted and of the 109 people convicted, 18 (16%) were female.
Prisons Minister Sam Gyimah told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the figures showed the “changing nature of the threat”, with “frustrated travellers” plotting or carrying out low-tech “DIY attacks”.
“We also know that IS is discouraging people from travelling over to the caliphate to help fight there and is encouraging them to perform jihad locally,” he said.
He said the internet was a “key front in the fight against Islamist terrorism” and Ms Saunders acknowledged that prosecutors had to be “on top of” the issue.
Extremists use the internet and social media for communication, spreading propaganda and radicalising others.
Mr Gyimah said Home Secretary Amber Rudd had held meetings with Google and Facebook about the issue.