The UK Terrorists Who Failed

March 2023 9781787389298 272pp
December 2024 9781805261636 272pp
Available as an eBook
EU Customers


Since 2017, the UK has seen fifteen terrible terrorist attacks. But the atrocities on our evening news are the tip of a vast iceberg. Security services are striving to contain a staggering 3,000 jihadists, far-right extremists and other potential threats. We are in a new age of terror, with self-radicalising, hard-to-categorise individuals planning violence—but each one caught by the British state tells us something about British society.

For every successful plot in the six years since Westminster Bridge, more than twice as many have been foiled. Some were thwarted by nerve-wracking undercover operations; others were narrowly averted by heroic citizens, or ruined by the absurd mistakes of would-be attackers. Invariably, the all-too-human stories of these failed terrorists reveal the true picture of UK extremism.

Through interviews with senior counter-terror figures and astonishing court testimony, Plotters unpacks how and why British terror attacks happen—and don’t. From dating websites and prison cells to Telegram networks and Tesco knives, Lizzie Dearden’s deep dive offers one disturbing certainty: the plotters will keep coming. To confront them, we need to understand them.


Plotters gives a useful overview of the demographic and ideological composition of the current terrorist threat… This is, of course, a serious book, but it is also darkly funny.’ — The Guardian

‘[Plotters] unravels the story behind the terrifying—and sometimes Four Lions-style comically bizarre—British terror attacks that have fortunately failed since 2017. Dearden … offers a disturbing, powerful account of the changing profile of the terrorist.’ — The Independent

‘A meticulously researched and extremely readable deep dive into the motivations and methods of our growing population of thwarted violent extremists.’ — CapX

‘A well-researched and compelling book that sheds insight into the thinking and techniques of both terrorists and counter-terror operatives.’ — Morning Star

‘A deeply fascinating, highly informative and entertaining account of an overlooked subject. This brilliant book offers unique insights into the stories of would-be terrorists and foiled plots that could have changed the course of Britain’s recent history.’ — Julia Ebner, author of Going Dark: The Secret Social Lives of Extremists

‘A gripping, vivid and important book. By expertly analysing foiled and failed terrorist plots, Dearden presents highly original insight into the complex phenomenon of modern terrorism.’ — Richard English, author of Does Terrorism Work? A History

‘Terrorists try to present themselves as ruthless and calculating; Plotters shows that most of them are sad, lonely and inept. Yet these stories also reveal the enormous challenges facing the security services trying to keep us safe. Highly recommended for anyone wanting to learn more about terrorism, beyond the headlines.’ — Brendan Cox, anti-terror campaigner

‘A fascinating, forensic and highly engaging account of the diverse lives, motivations and backgrounds of Britain’s terrorist plotters—and the impossible challenge facing the police and intelligence agencies in trying to stop each and every one of them. This is a must-read.’ — Dame Sara Khan DBE, former UK Counter-Extremism Commissioner

‘The terrorist threat to Britain is mutating, and we need to adapt. This gripping and informative book explains why.’ — The Lord Anderson of Ipswich KBE KC, former UK Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation

‘Dearden paints a disturbing portrait of today’s terrorists, but even more chilling is her account of the near-misses, where only good intelligence and smart policing has saved us from further tragedies.’ — Sir David Omand, former UK Security and Intelligence Coordinator, and author of Securing the State

‘Excellent reporting and analysis that puts the threat of terrorism in perspective by revealing its often hidden dimension: the many plots that fail on their own, or are foiled by the authorities.’ — Martha Crenshaw, Senior Fellow, Center for International Security and Coooperation, Stanford University

‘An alarming portrait of the terror threat the UK faces in all its confusing complexity.’ — Raffaello Pantucci, author of ‘We Love Death As You Love Life’: Britain’s Suburban Terrorists

‘A compelling deep dive into UK terrorism and counterterrorism.’ — Petter Nesser, Senior Research Fellow, Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, and author of Islamist Terrorism in Europe


Lizzie Dearden is a journalist, a guest lecturer in security reporting at City, University of London, and former home affairs editor of The Independent. She has covered UK terrorism and extremism in depth since 2017, as well as global terrorism trends. She previously reported on Isis-inspired attacks around the world.

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