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Britain alters strategy to tackle extremism

It said controversial efforts tried by the last government did not bring security benefits.

LONDON - Britain's Conservative-led government outlined a revised strategy Tuesday to tackle homegrown extremism, saying that tens of millions of pounds spent on anti-extremism projects had failed to steer young Muslims away from violence.

Home Secretary Theresa May pledged that the government would spend more time on actively identifying extremist threats - naming prisons, universities, and the health-care system as possible areas of focus - to target individuals and areas most at risk of radicalization.

"The last government strategy was flawed, and it is necessary to make changes," May told lawmakers.

The new approach comes after a lengthy review of Britain's anti-extremism policy, dubbed Prevent, which was launched after the July 7, 2005, attacks on London's transport networks.

Prevent aimed to provide alternatives to extremist Islamism by supporting mainstream groups through lecture tours by moderate clerics and by funding for outreach work by reformed extremists.

But the policy drew criticism from all sides. Some Muslims said it involved spying on young people, and taxpayer groups questioned the merit of funding adventure holidays or rap lessons.

May told lawmakers that the costly and controversial initiatives instituted by the previous Labor government did not produce security benefits for Britain and could even have helped fund groups that promote hard-line beliefs.

"We will not make the same mistakes," she said.

Rights groups welcomed her pledge to shake up how Britain fights extremism and avoid a repeat failure, but questioned how the new approach outlined in the review would be put into practice.

May said it would no longer be acceptable practice to fund groups that advocate extremist ideologies "on the grounds that they were better able to deal with challenges posed by radicalization."

"Neither Prevent funding nor support will be given to organizations that hold extremist views or support terrorist-related activity of any kind, in this country or overseas," she said.

British universities - long a focal point in the battle against extremism, since suspects in several high-profile terrorism cases were reportedly radicalized while studying on British soil - will also draw greater scrutiny.