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Darren Osborne is found guilty of terrorist killing outside mosque, triggering review of extreme right threat
A man “brainwashed” within a month by anti-Muslim propaganda has been found guilty of a murderous terrorist attack on worshippers leaving a mosque, triggering a complete review of the national security threat posed by the extreme right.
A jury took less than an hour to be convinced that Darren Osborne, 48, drove a van into a crowd of Muslims near a mosque in Finsbury Park, north London, killing one and injuring 12.
Police believe the catalyst for Osborne’s descent into hate was seeing a BBC drama about a sexual abuse scandal involving Muslim men, which was then used in online extremist propaganda against Islam. He was a heavy consumer of internet propaganda from Tommy Robinson, the founder of the English Defence League and material from Britain First, another extremist hate group.
In the premeditated attack in June 2017, Osborne’s rented van left a tyre mark on the upper torso of Makram Ali, 51, targeted because he was Muslim and as he returned from prayers.
Ali died 100 yards from his home in a killing witnessed by some of his family. Others were left with life-changing injuries.
The jury had been told Osborne wanted to kill as many Muslims as possible.
The Finsbury Park attack followed the assassination of the Labour MP Jo Cox in June 2016 by Thomas Mair, a rightwing extremist, and the banning of three extreme rightwing groups later that year, including National Action.
The Guardian understands a review has been launched into the extreme right by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre. Sources say it is assessing how determined they are to kill, how able they are to murder, what their motivations are, and how they spread their propaganda and get recruits.
It is the first assessment of the entire landscape of the threat the extreme right poses to national security by JTAC, an elite Whitehall counter-terrorism unit, which has previously concentrated on jihadist and Irish violent extremism.
Senior counter-terrorism sources told the Guardian there were 100 violent neo-Nazis and far-right extremists committed to a racial and religious war in Britain.
That figure did not include Osborne, who was not known to police as an extremist. The police are in charge of countering the white rightwing threat, which senior security officials believe is rising.
The prosecution said the killing was terrorist, fuelled by Osborne’s hatred of Muslims, which his partner, Sarah Andrews, said had developed rapidly in the weeks before the attack, leaving him “a ticking timebomb”.
It started with the BBC drama Three Girls, and then, according to Andrews, Osborne had become “obsessed” with Muslims. He binged on social media postings by Robinson and members of Britain First.
The hate material Osborne consumed does not break any terrorism or criminal law, said Commander Dean Haydon of Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command. “We have to be alive to the fact that people are accessing this material and they are using it to self-radicalise, and that’s what happened in this case.”
Haydon added that online material from Robinson had influenced Osborne’s rapid spiral into forming a terrorist murderous intent: “There is material out there linked to some of the groups connected to him that quite clearly has been an influencer in this case.”
The Finsbury Park attack followed three Islamist terrorist attacks in London and Manchester from March to June 2017. A note recovered from the van Osborne had driven down from Wales, where he lived, railed against Muslims, the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, and the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
The jury heard that after the attack Osborne was saved by an imam, who protected him despite his attempt to run down Muslims. Osborne was seen to smile and say: “I’ve done my bit” and: “I want to kill more Muslims.”
Osborne will be sentenced on Friday at Woolwich crown court and faces a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment.
In a defence that the prosecutor, Jonathan Rees QC, described as “absurd”, he had claimed “a guy called Dave”, who was not visible on any CCTV footage, had been driving the van while he changed his trousers in the footwell.
The JTAC review will be accompanied by a greater likelihood of MI5 involvement in countering the threat of rightwing terrorism. Officials say the Islamist threat, followed by Irish extremists, are their top terrorism concerns. But one senior official said there were fears the extreme right and jihadist terrorists would become “symbiotic” and feed off each other, leading to a spiral of violence posing an “existential threat” to Britain.
The senior source added that the extreme right was already copying tactics from Islamic State to gain followers and incite violence.
Nick Lowles, chief executive of anti-extremist charity Hope Not Hate, said: “This case highlights the pernicious nature and danger of online hate and sadly confirms the threat from rightwing extremism.
“But it also highlights the role that far-right figures and rightwing media have played in propelling anti-Muslim hatred into the mainstream.
“We have long argued that the authorities have not properly understood the nature of anti-Muslim extremism and rhetoric and the potential impact it can have on the Darren Osbornes of this world.”
Harun Khan, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “The scenes we witnessed last summer were the most violent manifestation of Islamophobia yet in our country. We cannot be complacent and regard this as a one-off terrorist incident.”
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