Suspected UK Member of Islamic State Sentenced for Terrorism Offences

Nov 15, 2023 | Islamist Terrorism, Threat Analysis

Author: Oliver Hair ASyI,
Threat Analyst

Read Time: 3 minutes 

On 13 November 2023, an individual suspected of being a member of a four-man Islamic State (IS) cell nicknamed “The Beatles” was sentenced to eight years in prison. The individual pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm and two charges of funding terrorism following an investigation by the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command.[1] He had previously served seven and a half years in prison in Turkey for being a senior member of IS, however, had denied being a member of “The Beatles”.[2]

“The Beatles” cell was allegedly made up of four individuals who grew up in West London and had volunteered to fight for IS in Syria. The cell was later put in charge of guarding Western hostages and US authorities claim the cell was responsible for the beheading of 27 hostages, sharing videos of the murders online.[3] At this time, two other members of the cell are serving life sentences in US jails whilst their likely leader, known as “Jihadi John”, was reportedly killed in a joint US-British drone strike in Syria in 2015.[4]

Terrorism Threat from Islamic State

    • Following the defeat of IS in 2017, it is highly likely that the group in Iraq and Syria has split into a disparate set of covert cells spread across the region. In comparison to the high level of operational capability and territory the group controlled at its peak (approx. 2014-2017), it is highly unlikely that IS would regain a comparable level of strength in the medium term due to ongoing counterterrorism operations against the group’s senior leadership.
      • It is highly likely that any of the group’s operational affiliates and covert cells are focused on accessible regional targets at this time. IS affiliate groups in Afghanistan and Africa have demonstrated the capability to conduct a high level of operational activity in recent years.
        • For example, media reporting suggests that ISKP, the group’s affiliate based in Afghanistan, has spread across the country and currently boasts approximately 1,500-2,200 members.[8] Since August 2021, the group has allegedly conducted almost 400 attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region.[9]
          • It is highly likely that the 2021 withdrawal of allied troops from Afghanistan has created a more permissive environment for terrorism-related activity and significantly limited the ability of the West to target terrorist actors in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is almost certain that terrorist groups have exploited instability in the region to enhance their own operational capability and planning.

            Terrorism Threat to the UK

              • Terrorist actors currently operating in the Middle East and Central Asia maintain the intent to project, coordinate, and conduct terrorist attacks against the UK mainland.
                  • According to US intelligence leaked in April 2023, Islamic State – Khorasan Province (“ISKP”) maintain the intent to conduct attacks against Western interests and conduct “aspirational plotting” in Afghanistan as a base of operations.[5]
                    • In March 2023, CENTCOM commander Army General Michael Kurilla suggested that ISKP could have the capability to conduct external operations against US or Western interests abroad “in under six months with little to no warning”.[6]
                  • However, it is unlikely that IS would currently have the capability to project a directed threat toward the UK mainland due to leadership losses and an overall reduction in global operational capability. At this time, it is highly likely that the predominant threat posed by global Islamist terrorist actors to the UK mainland continues to be from online radicalisation of vulnerable UK-based individuals with the intent to inspire low-sophistication attacks in the UK.
                      • In July 2023, two individuals admitted planning a trip to Afghanistan to join ISKP after becoming radicalised in 2022. The individuals had reportedly “bought clothes and equipment” and had completed an application form to join the group.[7]
                    • There is a realistic possibility that the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas could act as a driver of Islamist terrorism threat in the short term as individuals in the UK become inspired or radicalised to conduct terrorist attacks in response to the current conflict in the Middle East.

                    Intelligence Cut-Off Date: 15 November 2023

                      PHIA Scale

                      The “Probability Yardstick” (below) is a standardised instrument used to provide professional intelligence assessments. Judgements made using the yardstick are relative and reflect the analyst’s confidence in their findings and assessments.

                        • Almost Certain: An event is assessed to have a greater than 90% chance of occurring.
                        • Highly Likely: An event is assessed to have a 76% to 90% chance of occurring.
                        • Likely: An event is assessed to have a 55% to 75% chance of occurring.
                        • Realistic Possibility: An event is assessed to have a 40% to 54% chance of occurring.
                        • Unlikely: An event is assessed to have a 25% to 39% chance of occurring.
                        • Highly Unlikely: An event is assessed to have an 10% to 24% chance of occurring.
                        • Remote Chance: An event is assessed to have a less than 10% chance of occurring.

                        Time Spans

                          • Short Term: 0 – 6 Months.
                          • In the next 12 months.
                          • Medium Term: 12 months – 5 Years.
                          • Long Term: 5+ Years.

                      Author: Oliver Hair ASyI,
                      Threat Analyst

                      Read Time: 3 minutes

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