A Disruptive Influence? “Prevent‐ing” Problems and Countering Violent Extremism Policy in Practice

Published date01 June 2017
Date01 June 2017
A Disruptive Influence? “Prevent-ing” Problems
and Countering Violent Extremism Policy in
Martin Innes
Colin Roberts
Trudy Lowe
This article describes how disrupting the activities of suspected violent
extremists has become an increasingly significant construct in the policy and
practice of the Prevent strand of UK Counter-Terrorism. Informedby empiri-
cal data collected during semi-structured interviews with police officers
involved in conducting disruptions and members of the communities where
these occurred, blended with a limited amount of field observation, the analy-
sis documents how and why a logic of disruption has assumed increasing
prominence in counter terrorism work. In respect of police interventions in
particular, implementing disruptions, rather than pursuing fully-fledged
prosecutions, represents a pragmatic way of reconciling increasing demand
with limited resources, as well as managing some of the difficulties of translat-
ing intelligence into legal evidence. Conceptualized in this way, the analysis
positions disruption as a distinctive mode of crime prevention; one premised
upon logics of near-event interdiction. As such, it is understood as rather dif-
ferent in its operations and functions to other forms of “early intervention”
that are increasingly prominent in much contemporary crime prevention pol-
icy. By focusing upon how specific Prevent interventions are implemented and
performed this analysis makes a particular contribution to our knowledge of
counter terrorism work. This reflects the fact that most previous studies of
Prevent and other countering violent extremism programs have provided
analyses of community perceptions and reactions to policing and the policy
frame, rather than the configuration of the interventions themselves.
On the evening of January 19, 2012, officers from the South
Wales Police and the Wales Extremism and Counter-Terrorism
Unit entered the Canton Community Centre in Cardiff with the
intent of disrupting a meeting being hosted by Al Ghurabaa. This
group, closely allied with the organization Muslims Against Cru-
sades that had been proscribed by the Home Secretary two
months previously as an affiliate of Al-Muhajiroun, had taken to
Please direct all correspondenceto Martin Innes, Crime and Security Research Institute,
Cardiff University, Cardiff CF10 3WT, United Kingdom;e-mail: InnesM@cardiff.ac.uk.
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution
License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
Law & Society Review, Volume 51, Number 2 (2017)
C2017 The Authors Law & Society Review published by Wiley Periodicals,
Inc. on behalf of Law and Society Association
holding private meetings in venues in the local area.
Their pub-
lic and private activities were starting to generate considerable
concern among members of the local Muslim community.
In part this reflected several recent events, including the
arrest in December 2010 of five men from Cardiff for their part
in an alleged plot to blow up the London Stock Exchange, and a
second case where two local men had been traced to Kenya
where they were trying to join a terrorist group. Set against this
backdrop, the increasing public visibility of some of the key indi-
viduals involved with the Al Ghurabaa group and their seeming
ability to act with impunity were proving troubling. These com-
munity concerns had been relayed to the police at a senior level
through well established channels of engagement.
The police action was therefore designed to overtly disrupt
the group with the aim of sending a message both to those allied
to Al Ghurabaa and the wider community. The formal aims set
out in the police operational order were to:
Engage in overt disruption;
Dismantle the Al Ghurabaa infrastructure;
Divert individuals from radicalization;
Respond to legitimate public concern.
It was, according to the Association of Chief Police Officer’s
Prevent Delivery Unit, who have a national view of such issues
...the first direct disruption of this kind to take place
Operation Alton as the police intervention was labelled
sought to combine “Pursue” and “Prevent” activities. These are
strands of the United Kingdom’s overarching cross-governmental
CONTEST strategy. Pursue covers the traditional arena of
counter terrorism work in that it is focused upon identifying and
securing those known or suspected of engaging in terrorist activi-
ties (H.M. Government 2009). Prevent is more innovative and is,
as its name implies, concerned with stopping people from acquir-
ing the motivations to engage in violent activities. While the
meeting was in progress officers interrupted proceedings and
informed those present that the meeting was being stopped, and
that any further meetings were prohibited from taking place on
venues owned by Cardiff Council. One man was arrested at the
scene for attacking an officer and threatening to “cut your head
off and machine gun the lot of you.” Several others who were
known by police to be heavily involved in the group were given
For more detail on the background of this group see Wiktorowicz (2005) and Ken-
ney et al. (2016).
ACPO Prevent Delivery Unit Update, 22 September 2012 p. 4.
Innes, Roberts, & Lowe 253

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