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Pinakin Patel, an anti-terrorism officer
Photograph: Rob Greig

Things you only know if you’re an anti-terrorism officer

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…according to Pinakin Patel, 43.

The most sensitive issues are the ones that need to be talked about

‘I work on Prevent, which is part of the Government’s counterterrorism strategy. We run events with different communities and invite debate on hard topics, like foreign policy in Afghanistan and women in Islam. The key thing is to not shut down debate. You need a thick skin.’

The internet is the most common pathway to radicalisation

‘These days, we see more risk coming from people engaging with extremism via online groups and social media than face-to-face. So we work with students and parents’ groups to increase people’s resilience, critical thinking and online safety, and also deliver training in schools on how to spot concerns and pass those on to social services and the council.’

Right-wing extremism is the fastest-growing threat

‘We definitely don’t only tackle extremism in Islamic communities. I would love to dispel that myth. In fact, we’re getting more and more far-right cases – groups like National Action, or Holocaust denial and Islamophobia.’

Even the most suspicious people can be won over

‘In 2011 I set up an advisory body of faith groups and key members of the community. At the first meeting I was accused of being a spy for the government and of targeting Muslims. Not long ago, that same group threw me a surprise fortieth birthday party.  They were quite hostile in the beginning – cynical, perhaps. But we listened to them and now they’re our biggest champions.’

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