Exclusive:Matthew King: teen terrorist planned to torture police officers after being radicalised online during Covid
Counter Terrorism Policing told NationalWorld that those who are radicalised online are the “greatest terrorist threat”.
Matthew King’s behaviour changed during the coronavirus pandemic. Like everyone else, he had more time to spare - and also more time to spend online. But unlike most people's online habits during Covid, the teenager immersed himself in extremist Islamic State content.
The speed at which King, now 19, self-radicalised has been described by police as “alarming”. Within just a few months, he decided he wanted to “torture, mutilate, and kill” police officers and army personnel, and began forming plans to commit a terrorist attack in London.
Warning: some readers may find the content of this article distressing
He carried out reconnaissance missions at various locations, including army barracks and a police station in Stratford. He joined an online group discussing killing non-Muslims, and researched ISIS knife tactical training as he tried to buy a weapon online. He had conversations with a female friend online, in which he offered lengthy, graphic, and violent descriptions of what he would do to “these filthy kufr” (non-believers).
In one of these messages, King said he would get two marines in a room together and force them to rape each other. He also described how he would mutilate their toes and fingers, and then behead them - before holding their heads up to take a picture. “I just want to kill people,” he added.
He also made more public indications of his intentions. The teenager visited several mosques around London in an attempt to build support for his case - telling people they should “all be doing jihad” and describing Osama Bin Laden as a “great man”.
Members of the various mosques communities King visited raised concerns about his behaviour, with one person noticing he had updated his WhatsApp status to “Kill the Non-Muslims, wherever you see them”. It is understood that some of these people reported King to the police.
King was also reported by his mother, who had grown concerned about her son’s behaviour at home. He had started showing her videos on Instagram, including one which showed Muslims riding into battle on horses - overlaid with what she described as “motivational chanting”.
He also told his sisters to dress more modestly - calling them “slags” - and at one point entered his younger sister’s bedroom dressed in combat clothing, asking her if she liked his clothes. King’s mother as a result made contact with PREVENT (part of the government's counterterrorism programme), which ultimately culminated in her son’s arrest.
King was arrested on 18 May 2022, after officers forced their way into his home. During the investigation and interrogations which followed, police went through the teenager’s mobile phone. Here, they found Daesh propaganda videos, suicide bomber recordings, and filmed clips of mass executions - as well as evidence he had searched for well-known terrorists, such as one perpetrator of the London Bridge attack and the Manchester Arena bomber.
Commander Dominic Murphy, who leads the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command
The speed at which King self-radicalised and then began to start planning an attack was alarming
There were also several photos and videos on his phone of soldiers and police, with one picture - which showed officers standing outside a court building - captioned “target acquired”. King also photographed himself with flags associated with ISIS, one of which was accompanied by the caption: “By Allah I will never forget those who carried out the attacks around the world, what an honourable death protecting the honour of the Muslims”.
Prosecutor Paul Jarvis argued that King’s danger to the public must be considered when he is sentenced, pointing to comments he made on the phone to his mother while in prison. King said: “I need to start training offensive and defensive [if I go to prison]. When I get out, I’m going to be a machine. In my eyes, I haven’t done anything wrong. I’m not guilty but I might plead guilty because I will get 30% off my sentence’. Allah says he will punish the oppressors.”
In mitigation remarks, defence barrister Hossein Zahir KC said it was important to note that King’s radicalisation began during the pandemic and was “a likely product of isolation” - arguing that he was “slowly and steadily” disengaging from extremism. He also pointed to his age, saying he had been “immature” and highlighting that his “interest” began before he turned 18.
King pleaded guilty on 20 January to preparation of terrorist acts between 22 December 2021 and 17 May 2022. While sentencing King on Friday (2 June), Judge Mark Lucraft KC said he has considered the future risk and decided that the threshold for dangerousness has been passed. King puts the public in danger, he concluded.
King was sentenced to a discretionary life sentence with a minimum of six years in prison, minus the 367 days he has already spent in custody. Judge Lucraft said this does not mean King will be released after this time period, remarking that this will be a matter for the parole board. If he is released, he will be on licence and liable to be recalled to prison for the rest of his life.
Judge Lufcraft also praised King’s mother during his sentencing for reporting her son, saying that it was the “right thing” but he understood it would have been “difficult to do”. King’s family did not attend his sentencing, but did submit a letter to the court in which they said they would support the teenager during his time in custody - adding that he had expressed regret over his actions.
Counter Terrorism Policing spokesperson
Our casework is continuing to show a prevalence of misogyny, racism, and homophobia, mixed with the more clearly defined terrorist ideologies.
‘The greatest terrorist threat is the self-initiated terrorist’
King’s sentencing comes as a Counter Terrorism Policing spokesperson told NationalWorld that those who are radicalised online are the “greatest terrorist threat” the force currently has to deal with. Described as “the self-initiated terrorist”, these people - usually in their teens or early 20s - become “immersed” in online worlds where they start viewing radical and extremist content, which leads them to “move to violence alone”.
Officers said the “consumption of online content” regularly features in their casework on terrorist threats - and they have noticed that certain ideologies continue to crop up as related. The spokesperson explained: “Our casework is continuing to show a prevalence of misogyny, racism, and homophobia, mixed with the more clearly defined terrorist ideologies.”
They added that referrals relating to ‘Incels’ are also increasing. Incels - an abbreviation for ‘involuntary celibate’ - are men who think they will never be able to find a romantic or sexual partner despite desiring one, which often leads them to blame women and society for their plight. Incel culture has been associated with killings and acts of violence, particularly in the US.
In terms of the current state of terrorism in the UK, the spokesperson said: “Since 2017, Counter Terrorism Policing and our partners have stopped 37 late stage terror plots and we are currently working on over 800 live investigations.”
But with terrorism threats moving online, they are “harder to stop and harder to spot than ever before”, so the police are urging people to learn and keep an eye out for the signs of online radicalisation. “We often ask people to be vigilant when they’re out and about, but with the continued prevalence of dangerous online content, we need people to trust their instincts in the digital world too,” the spokesperson said.
‘The speed at which King self-radicalised was alarming’
Counter Terrorism Police have praised King’s mother and members of the public who came forward to report King because they were concerned about his mindset - something they said “directly led to police stopping him committing a deadly attack.”
Commander Dominic Murphy, who leads the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command, said: “It is notable that this investigation started as a direct result of calls to police from members of the public who were concerned about King’s extremist mindset. This case is a powerful example of how vitally important information from the public is to counter-terrorism investigations.”
He added that the “speed at which King self-radicalised and then began to start planning an attack was alarming,” meaning the information given by the public was crucial. “This case shows that people can and should have confidence in reporting concerns linked to terrorism to us,” he said. “Those calls really do make a difference, and police will act on the information to keep people safe.”
On how the police are handling the dangers of online radicalisation, a Counter Terrorism Policing spokesperson said: “Every year, our Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit carries out thousands of assessments of extremist and terrorist content and works with the sector to remove content. Our officers are also launching investigations to bring those responsible for the proliferation and creation of content to justice.”
“If you are worried about someone, or their behaviour, then please do seek support and advice, you won’t be wasting our time and you could save lives by reporting your concerns. The earlier we can intervene, the greater the chance to set people on a different path, and safeguard those who pose a risk to themselves and others.”
What are the signs of online radicalisation?
Dr Linda Papadopoulos, from online child safety charity Internet Matters, has highlighted the signs to look out for that may indicate that children, teenagers, and even adults are being indoctrinated or radicalised online. These include:
- Being secretive about who they are talking to or what websites they are visiting online
- Displaying a feeling of a lack of belonging, or a desperate need to find acceptance within a group
- Expressing intolerant views to people of other races, religions, or political beliefs
- A sudden conviction that their religion, culture, or beliefs are under threat and/or treated unjustly
- A conviction that the only real solution to this is violence or war
If you have any information about activity or behaviour that doesn’t feel right, you can report it to Counter Terrorism Policing by calling 0800 789 321 or by using the secure online form at gov.uk/ACT. In an emergency, you should always dial 999.