Britain sees surge in far-right activity flagged to its anti-terrorism program

Police assist a woman after a 2017 attack near a mosque in north London.

London (CNN)The number of people flagged to Britain's counter-extremism program on suspicion of far-right activity has increased by more than one third, figures released Thursday showed.

Data from the Home Office's Prevent program, a central plank of Britain's strategy to combat terrorism, showed a 36% uptick in the number of referrals of people at risk of involvement in far-right activity (1,312 people) between April 2017 and March 2018, compared with the same period the year before.
The largest proportion of those referrals were young people between the ages of 15 and 20.
    Referrals related to suspected Islamic extremism made up the bulk of cases (3,197 people, or 44% of referrals), but this figure represents a 14% fall from the year before.
    "The figures released today show Prevent is tackling the threat from radicalisation wherever it is found, including from the rise in the right-wing extremism," Security Minister Ben Wallace said in a statement.
    "Through the Prevent and Channel programme, people who are vulnerable to radicalisation have received the support they need to turn their lives around which has also helped keep our communities safe," Wallace said.
    British advocacy group Hope Not Hate told CNN that the figures underline its warning about far-right activism coming via social media -- and beyond the usual confines of traditional organizational structures -- which is "more committed to violence, radicalizing the young with much the same methods as once used by Islamist militants."
    The Prevent program obliges the public sector to root out extremism online and in person. Public-sector workers in schools and hospitals are legally required to report at-risk individuals. The program has been criticized for creating an atmosphere of distrust in the Muslim community.
    Once an at-risk individual has been identified, the police or local authority decide whether they are suitable for referral to Prevent's anti-radicalization program -- known as Channel -- where they receive mentoring and counseling.
    The Home Office found, for the first time, a similar number of people received Channel support for far-right extremism to the number referred for Islamic extremism. "Of the 394 individuals who received Channel support, 179 (45%) were referred for concerns related to Islamist extremism and 174 (44%) were referred for concerns related to right-wing extremism," the report said.
    In total, there were 7,318 referrals to Prevent -- an increase of 20% compared with the year before. The breakdown is 44% for Islamist extremism worries, 18% for right-wing suspicion and the remainder for other extremism or "mixed, unstable or unclear ideology."
    In a statement to CNN, the National Police Chiefs' Council linked the uptick to "the five terrorist attacks that took place in London and Manchester" in 2017.
    That period saw Islamic extremist Salman Abedi detonate a device in the lobby of an Ariana Grande concert, a van being driven into pedestrians in London Bridge and Darren Osborne plow his vehicle into a crowded sidewalk outside Finsbury Park Mosque in London.
    Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu told lawmakers in October that far-right extremism and Islamic extremism "feed each other"
    "The overriding threat to the UK remains from those inspired by Isis and the resurgent al-Qaeda, but our operations reflect a much broader range of dangerous ideologies, including very disturbingly rising extreme right-wing activity," he said at the time.
      Zubeda Limbada from Connect Futures, an outreach organization that tackles radicalization and extremism, agreed with that analysis.
      "We are not saying one is worse than another, we see similarities in recruitment and narrative of 'otherising,'" she told CNN. "It is about 'someone else is different and you need to join my gang.'"