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Britain Considers New Rules for Terrorism Convicts After Attack

After the second militant attack in two months, the British government plans to announce new rules for the imprisonment of people convicted of terrorist offenses.

A 20-year-old Islamic militant who was recently released from prison stabbed two people outside a busy pharmacy in south London on Sunday, 2 February. Three people were injured, and the attacker was shot to death by police.

The attacker had been convicted of publishing graphic terrorist videos online and had collected instructions on bomb making and knife attacks, according to UK Deputy Assistant Commissioner Lucy D’Orsi. Plainclothes police officers had been tailing him at the time of the attack, the Associated Press reports. He had been released halfway through his three-year sentence

The attack echoed that of the London Bridge murders in November 2019, when a knifeman stabbed a number of people—killing two—before being shot and killed by police. That attacker had been convicted of terrorism offenses in 2012 and was released in December 2018, also halfway through his sentence.

In the UK, if a prisoner has a fixed term sentence, he or she is normally automatically released halfway through the sentence without the involvement of a parole board. If the sentence is 12 months or more, the prisoner is released on probation. This automatic release does not apply to life sentences or extended sentences of 4 years or more.

According to the BBC, the early release program is intended to allow some rehabilitation in the community while keeping prison numbers down. People found guilty of more severe crimes—serious sexual assaults or grievous bodily harm—will spend more of their sentence in jail, usually two-thirds, gaining early release with parole board approval.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced plans to set tougher rules for terror convicts, including scrapping automatic early release from prison and a minimum jail term of 14 years for serious terror offenses, according to the BBC. The government also said it plans to overhaul the conditions under which terrorism convicts are released back into the community.

Lawmakers are grappling with how to manage offenders who have been previously released—approximately 70 people convicted of terror offenses have been released in Britain after serving prison time; more than 200 others are currently in prison, the Associated Press reports. The majority are Islamic extremists, according to the BBC, but there are also 38 far-right extremists (read more about rising extremism in “Extremist Attacks Rise as Polarization Increases”).

Foreign fighters who return home after conflict or who are indoctrinated online can pose myriad threats to security, according to a 2019 Security Management article by Scott Stewart, vice president of tactical analysis for Stratfor. However, three major mitigating factors—awareness, ideology, and training—work in law enforcement’s favor. Read more in “The Threat Comes Home.”