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Terrorism Fact Sheet

What is Terrorism?

 Terrorism is the use or threat of action, both in and outside of the UK, designed to influence any international government organisation or to intimidate the public.  It must also be for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause. Examples include:

  • serious violence against a person or damage to property,
  • endangering a person's life (other than that of the person committing the action),
  • creating a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public,
  • action designed to seriously interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system.

It is important to note that in order to be convicted of a terrorism offence a person doesn't actually have to commit what could be considered a terrorist attack. Planning, assisting and even collecting information on how to commit terrorist acts are all crimes under British terrorism legislation.

Terrorist Organisations

There is no one type of terrorist or terrorism. It originates from a variety of countries and terrorists have multiple ethnic, racial, religious and or political identities and have different views, aims and purposes. Here are some examples:


The most common type of CPS terrorism case has been Syria-related since Daesh took over large areas of Syria and Iraq from 2014 onwards. Daesh tactics are geared to attract maximum publicity to amplify the spread of fear; they use violence against anyone who does not agree with their extreme views. The CPS prosecuted Junead and Shazib Khan for offences of preparing acts of terrorism.

Extreme Right Wing

Recent years have seen a rise in cases of far right extremism in the UK. Far right extremists promote messages of hate-filled prejudice which can encourage radicalisation among people motivated by race hate. Groups including (the now proscribed) National Action have been under scrutiny for promoting offensive, anti-Islamic messages which run contrary to the values of respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. The CPS continues to work to combat those who seek to sow hatred and division by advancing extremist ideologies and in 2016 the CPS prosecuted Thomas Mair for the terrorist murder of Jo Cox MP.


Al-Qaeda is a militant Islamist multi-national organisation, responsible for the 9/11 co-ordinated terror attacks in the US. The group uses conventional techniques seeking to recruit new members in the UK to achieve mass civilian casualties. The CPS prosecuted Rangzieb Ahmed and Habib Ahmed for Al-Qaeda related terrorism.

Are terrorism cases dealt with differently from other cases?

Terrorism crimes and terrorist-related offences are subject to the criminal justice system in the same way as all other crimes. The CPS reviews the case and makes a charging decision in line with the Code for Crown Prosecutors. However, terrorism offences are distinct from other types of crime in that individuals who commit terrorism-related offences have political, religious racial and/or ideological motivations, unlike typical criminal motivations, which may be personal gain or revenge, for example. The CPS and Metropolitan Police have specialist units that were set up specifically to undertake terrorism cases and there are four other police Counter Terrorism Units (CTUs) around the country.

CPS Special Crime and Counter Terrorism Division (SCCTD)

The SCCTD deals with all terrorism, war crimes and crimes against humanity, official secrets and incitement to hatred cases. SCCTD convicted 61 people of terrorism offences in the year ending September 2016, up from 42 in year ending September 2015.

Specialist CT police

The Metropolitan Police Service Counter Terrorism Command aims to protect London and takes the lead in protecting the UK from the threat of terrorism, working closely with the four other CTUs. It brings together intelligence, operations and investigations functions. It also engages with a range of partners, including the British Security Service (MI5) and Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), to prevent terrorist related activity.

Terrorism or not?

Where appropriate, offences can be charged as having 'a terrorist connection'. This can lead to some confusion about whether the person convicted is deemed a terrorist as they are not charged with an offence under terrorism legislation.

Schedule 18 of Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 contains a list of terrorism offences, which include crimes that have 'a terrorist connection'. These include charges such as murder or causing an explosion. For example, the killings of Lee Rigby and Jo Cox MP were charged as murder but both amounted to a terrorism offence and those responsible for the 21/7 bombings were charged with conspiracy to cause explosions, which also amounted to terrorism offences. In all of these cases those convicted are considered terrorists, because even though they are covered by different legislation than the Terrorism Acts, the crimes committed clearly had terrorist aims.

Section 236A of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 imposes special custodial sentences for offenders of particular concern who have committed offences under Schedule 18. Certain serious violent and terrorist offenders will not be entitled to automatic release at the half way point of their sentence and will only be released early if they do not present a risk to the public.

Substantive Terrorism Offences

In recent years a number of offences and powers have been designed to counter the activities of terrorists. Before their creation these had not been addressed by permanent legislation. They include, but are not limited to, offences under the Terrorism Act 2000 (TA 2000) and Terrorism Act 2006 (TA 2006).

What are the most commonly charged offences?

Preparation of terrorist acts- (S.5 TA 2006)

Section 5 makes it an offence for a person to engage in the preparation of acts of terrorism, or to assist others in preparation of acts of terrorism. This includes attempts. It is an offence which requires proof that an individual had a specific intent to commit an act or acts of terrorism and can encompass a wide range of different levels of criminality, from a minor role in relation to intended acts all the way through to the planning of multiple murders. The maximum sentence in respect of section 5 is a sentence of imprisonment for life. In the absence of Sentencing Council guidelines the Court of Appeal identified general principles on sentencing under section 5. That judgment can be found here. Examples of prosecution in these cases include Mohammed Rehman and Sana Ahmed Khan, and Yahya Rashid. 25 people were convicted under section 5 in the year ending September 2016, up from 11 in the previous 12 months.

Collecting Information-(S.58 TA 2000)

Section 58 makes it an offence to collect or make a record of information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism, or to possess a document or record containing information of that kind. The maximum sentence in respect of s58 is 10 years' imprisonment. Examples include cases such as R v Mustafa Abdullah. Eight people were convicted of s58 in the year ending September 2016.

Dissemination of terrorist publications-(S.2 TA 2006)

Section 2 makes it an offence to distribute a terrorist publication with the intention of encouraging acts of terrorism. A terrorist publication is one which could be useful to a person in the commission or preparation of acts of terror. Examples include R v Abdul Miah and the maximum sentence in respect of this offence is seven years' imprisonment.

Can someone be charged with a terrorism offence if they know someone is about to commit a terrorism offence and don’t report them?

Yes.  Section 38B(1) and (2) of the Terrorism Act 2000 makes it an offence if someone does not inform the police if he/she believes that someone they know is in preparation of acts of terrorism. The maximum sentence in respect of section38B is for a term not exceeding five years’ imprisonment, although it is a defence to prove that he/she had reasonable excuse for not making the disclosure.

A person commits an offence if he/she does not disclose the information to the police as soon as reasonably practicable.

In 2007 four would-be suicide bombers were been found guilty of conspiracy to murder after planning a coordinated attack designed to cause death and destruction on the London transport system. Those who assisted them were charged and convicted under s38B and received sentences of imprisonment ranging between 4 years 9 months and 13 years.

Other common offences

Membership of a Proscribed Organisation (S.11 TA 2000)

Supporting a Proscribed Organisation (S.12 TA 2000)

Wearing a Uniform (S.13 TA 2000)

Finance and Money Laundering in relation to terrorism acts (S15-S17 and S18 TA 2000)

Weapons Training (S.54 TA 2000)

Directing a Terrorist Organisation (S.56 TA 2000)

Possession of an article for Terrorist Purposes (S.57 TA 2000)

Encouragement of Terrorism (S.1 TA 2006)

Dissemination of Terrorist Publications (S.2 TA 2006)

Providing or Receiving Instruction or Training for Terrorism (S.6 TA 2006)

Attendance at a place for Terrorist Training (S.8 TA 2006)


For further information on conviction of terrorists by the CPS see here.