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Number of British troops referred to anti-extremism Prevent scheme quadruples as fears grow over radicalised soldiers


The number of British troops being referred to the Government’s flagship anti-extremism scheme has quadrupled amid fears Neo Nazi gangs and terrorists are trying to infiltrate the military, MailOnline can reveal. 

Figures disclosed by the Ministry of Defence have shown at least 22 soldiers, sailors and RAF personnel were reported to Britain’s Prevent task force in 2023. 

The increase is the largest spike since records began in 2018, when just five people from the armed forces, and was tonight described as ‘extremely worrying’ by a former Colonel in British military intelligence. 

In the last five years, 73 British troops have been referred. But this could be just the tip of the iceberg, with Armed Forces minister James Heappey admitting the ‘figures exclude’ personnel referred to Prevent by the ‘Home Office, police or NHS‘.

It comes after several troops were investigated for their links to right-wing extremist groups, including two Royal Navy sailors – one of which was based on a Trident nuclear submarine and was a member of Generation Identity, a white nationalist group whose ideology inspired the 2019 Christchurch massacre in New Zealand.

Corporal Mikko Vehvilainen, who was convicted of being a member of neo-Nazi terrorist group National Action, and was jailed for eight years

Corporal Mikko Vehvilainen, who was convicted of being a member of neo-Nazi terrorist group National Action, and was jailed for eight years

He was veteran who fought in Afghanistan and was described as an 'outstanding' soldier

He was veteran who fought in Afghanistan and was described as an ‘outstanding’ soldier

While Sejr Forster, 26, was jailed in September after he was caught with instructions on how to make bombs on his phone

While Sejr Forster, 26, was jailed in September after he was caught with instructions on how to make bombs on his phone

Former spymaster Colonel Philip Ingram was worried the recent spike could point towards extremist groups ramping up their efforts to infiltrate the military. 

‘I was continuously concerned the whole way through my career that Neo Nazis were = targeting recruits – not just the regular military but the reserves and even cadet forces,’ the veteran commander told MailOnline. 

‘These groups are getting a level of military training and access to weaponry that’s extremely worrying. It’s dangerous.’

Colonel Philip Ingram, a former officer in British military intelligence said he was 'worried' by the increase

Colonel Philip Ingram, a former officer in British military intelligence said he was ‘worried’ by the increase

Speaking of the latest figures, Col Ingram said they represented only a ‘small percentage’ of the military but added: ‘This is a significant increase, so I am worried.’ 

It’s not clear if the latest cohort of troops referred to Prevent was due to links to right-wing groups, concerns over Islamist extremism or for taking part in activities with proscribed terror groups.  

However, concern over the number of right-wing troops entering the military has been steadily increasing in recent years. 

A recent report by the Intelligence and Security Committee found extremist gangs were targeting military personnel as potential recruits.

It said: ‘Extreme right-wing terrorists often display an interest in military culture, weaponry and the armed forces or law enforcement organisations — the director-general for MI5 noted that ‘many of these people are absolutely fixated with weaponry. This leads both to individuals seeking to join the military, and groups seeking to recruit within the military.’ 

In September a former British recruit was jailed for four years after he was caught with instructions on how to make bombs on his phone, Nazi memorabilia and indecent images of children. 

Neo-Nazi Sejr Forster, 26, joined the banned British terrorist group National Action when he was 13, a court heard, and had been referred to Prevent.

He began army training in 2017 but was found unsuitable because he had engaged in extreme Right-wing rhetoric on Twitter, with a court hearing he was ‘fascinated’ by such groups. 

Neo-Nazi Sejr Forster, 26, joined the banned British terrorist group National Action when he was 13, a court heard, and had been referred to Prevent

Neo-Nazi Sejr Forster, 26, joined the banned British terrorist group National Action when he was 13, a court heard, and had been referred to Prevent

Forster accepted in police interview that he had been involved with far-Right groups such as the English Defence League and National Action which led to him being referred to Prevent

Forster accepted in police interview that he had been involved with far-Right groups such as the English Defence League and National Action which led to him being referred to Prevent

Total number of British military personnel referred to the Prevent anti-terror task group

In the last five years, 73 British troops have been referred to Prevent, the Government’s flagship scheme to tackle extremism.

Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said, in a written parliamentary response, that a breakdown of the information by military service was ‘not currently available’.

Five people were  referred in 2018. This increased to 12 people in 2019. 

In 2020 eight personnel were reported, while in 2021, 13 were referred to Prevent. 

This rose to 13 in 2021. In 2022 a further 13 were reported.  

Last year saw this largest number of reports, with 22 military personnel referred to Prevent. 

The Swastika-loving ex-soldier arrested was arrested at his Norwich home in May  2022, and police seized a number of items including terrorist publications the Advanced Anarchist Arsenal and US Army Improvised Munitions Handbook.

He had boasted of being an identitarian, a reference to a white nationalist movement, and used the word Übermensch, a term used by the Nazis to express racial superiority, on an Instagram profile.

He also posted a photograph of himself dressed in black, declaring: ‘The Blackshirts are back.’

Forster was discharged from basic training within weeks.

In a Facebook post from November 2015, Forster said he had been ‘kicked out of college for spreading extremist ideas and recruiting for an extremist organisation and raising racial tensions’.

After announcing his intention to join the Army, he told Facebook friends he would have to ‘remove a lot of things’ from his account ahead of an interview in June.

‘Do not worry, I am not leaving the movement and my views are not wavering,’ Forster said, passing on contact details for organising undisclosed ‘operations’ in East Anglia.

His trial heard that Forster had tweeted that prime minister David Cameron and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn should be hanged as traitors in 2015.

Three years later he messaged his girlfriend saying: ‘I’m far-Right never far wrong. I can make a fascist out of you yet’ and ‘I don’t like to brag but I am the master race after all’.

He also told his girlfriend: ‘You’re a woman you don’t need to work, please don’t be a feminist, don’t hit me or if you do at least hit the side of my face’ and ‘Knowing blacks commit more crime or Jews run the media is easy.’

In another case, a British Army veteran who fought in Afghanistan and was described as an ‘outstanding’ soldier was found to be at the heart of a neo-Nazi terrorist group which set its sights on recruiting from within the armed forces.

White supremacist and self-confessed racist Corporal Mikko Vehvilainen believed a ‘race war’ was coming and tried to establish an all-white armed stronghold in Powys, Wales, a court heard.

When raided Vehvilainen’s accommodation in Sennybridge Camp, Powys, in September 2017 they found swastika flags, Nazi memorabilia, CDs of Third Reich music and stockpiles of knives, guns and other weaponry. 

Corporal Mikko Vehvilainen believed a 'race war' was coming and tried to establish an all-white armed stronghold in Powys, Wales, a court heard.

Corporal Mikko Vehvilainen believed a ‘race war’ was coming and tried to establish an all-white armed stronghold in Powys, Wales, a court heard.

The Royal Anglian Regiment soldier who served with distinction since 2012 was convicted of being a member of National Action, and was jailed for eight years.

He was kicked out of the Army after his arrest in September 2017, along with another soldier, as he tried to form an underground network and stockpiled weapons.

Two other serving soldiers faced criminal charges but were internally disciplined and remained in the Army.

The Army’s most senior soldier at the time, Sergeant Major Glenn Haughton, posting a social media video which said: ‘If you’re a serving soldier or a would-be soldier, and you hold these intolerant and extremist views, as far as I’m concerned, there is no place for you in the British Army – so get out.’

A licensed firearms holder, Vehvilainen moved from Finland to the UK with his mother and sibling at the age of four when his parents’ marriage broke down.

His mother, formerly from Lincolnshire but now living abroad, said in court that as a teenager her ‘mischievous’ son was ‘a little bit challenging’.

Asked when he might have developed his ‘deeply offensive and racist views’, she said: ‘I really don’t know. I was in complete shock and disbelief [when he was arrested in September 2017].’

His father Erkki told the Daily Mail that when his son returned to Finland to work in his company he ‘appeared to be extremely interested in religion and kickboxing’. Vehvilainen married a Bolivian woman and moved to Bolivia with her and their daughter for three years, but returned but when the relationship faltered.

He settled in the Finnish city of Turku, where he met the Russian woman who was to become his second wife, and joined the far Right Finnish Resistance Movement.

Vehvilainen was arrested after threatening a neighbour with an air pistol in a dispute over loud music, although it is unclear whether he was ever convicted. He returned to the UK with his wife and their two children in 2013, when his application to join the British Army was successful.

Vehvilainen's weaponry, including an SS dagger (bottom row, second from left) was found when police searched his home as they investigated his links to the banned extremist organisation

Vehvilainen’s weaponry, including an SS dagger (bottom row, second from left) was found when police searched his home as they investigated his links to the banned extremist organisation

Jailing Vehvilainen, Judge Melbourne Inman QC told the disgraced veteran he had a ‘long and deep-seated adherence’ to racist ideology.

When searching two properties, police discovered Vehvilainen kept swastika bunting, an SS ceremonial dagger and a ‘crudely made’ electromagnetic pulse (EMP) device at his home.

Officers also discovered a swastika flag, Adolf Hitler stickers, and a CD containing Third Reich music at his properties in Brecon and Llansilin, Powys.

Machetes, knuckledusters, a crossbow with arrows, a large knife and a hammer were also recovered from the properties.

And he had a picture at the property in Llansilin, which showed him giving a Nazi-type salute at a memorial to his native Finland’s independence, in 1917.

Patrik Hermansson, a senior researcher at HOPE not hate, told me: ‘Although the numbers involved are small, this is a worrying trend and one that matches the overall increased interest in violence from extremist contexts.

‘While we don’t know the breakdown of ideological motivations behind these Prevent referrals, there is a significant interest from far-right activists in the military. They want to gain a capacity for violence and to prove their own masculinity.’

In 2019, a serving British Army soldier was investigated after abusing an MP and threatening ‘civil war’ over Brexit.

Vehvilainen practiced knife throwing on a dummy made with foil and old military uniform (pictured). He also kept swastika bunting and a 'crudely made' electromagnetic pulse (EMP) device

Vehvilainen practiced knife throwing on a dummy made with foil and old military uniform (pictured). He also kept swastika bunting and a ‘crudely made’ electromagnetic pulse (EMP) device 

In a tweet to Labour’s Angela Rayner, he wrote: ‘C***s like you will perish when civil war comes and it’s coming. 17.4 million people are gunning for blood if we don’t leave.’

The following year, alarm was raised in the Royal Navy after two sailors were found to have supported the Generation Identity white nationalist group. Both men were referred to Prevent.

The group spreads the ‘great replacement’ ideology, which has been the motivation for several international terror atrocities, and one of its leaders had communicated with the Christchurch shooter Brenton Tarrant.

Several people convicted of terror offences previously attempted to join the military, including National Action terrorist Jack Renshaw, who plotted to kill a Labour MP in 2017. He told fellow neo-Nazis he wanted to join the Army but failed the application.

Fellow neo-Nazi terror plotter Ethan Stables, who planned a massacre at a gay pride event in the same year, tried to join the Army, but told police he was turned down because of his mental health issues.

A Ministry of Defence spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘We do not tolerate extremism in any form and are committed to stamping out any unacceptable behaviour in our Armed Forces.

‘In all cases, we take early action to confront and challenge conduct that falls short of the high standards expected.

‘As part of the government’s counter terrorism strategy, we work with partners in the Prevent programme to stop people from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism.’



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